Collective Worship and Religious Observance in SchoolsAn Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK

Authors Organisations
  • Peter Cumper(Editor) (Editor)
    University of Leicester
  • Alison Mawhinney(Editor) (Editor)
    Prifysgol Bangor | Bangor University
  • Claire Cassidy(Author)
    University of Strathclyde
  • Aideen Hunter(Author)
    Ulster University
  • Julia Ipgrave(Author)
    University of Warwick
  • Frankie McCarthy(Author)
    University of Glasgow
  • Farid Panjwani(Author)
    University College London
  • Norman Richardson(Author)
    Stranmillis University College
  • Ann Sherlock(Author)
  • Jacqueline Watson(Author)
    University of East Anglia
Type Commissioned report
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPrifysgol Bangor | Bangor University
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781842201381
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2015
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Abstract

The vast majority of schools in the UK are required by law to organise acts of collective worship (England, Northern Ireland, Wales) or religious observance (Scotland) for their pupils. The duty in England, Northern Ireland and Wales was introduced under the Education Act 1944, and arose from the settlement between Church and State when the State took on responsibility for the provision of education. Even though various forms of religious observance had taken place in many schools prior to 1944, the legal requirement to provide acts of worship represented the first instance of a statutory duty in regard to religious matters in schools. Those who opposed it at the time noted that the requirement represented a ‘revolution in British educational history.’ 1 In Scotland, the Education (Scotland) Act 1872 gave schools the freedom to continue the customary practice of religious observance, which was not to be withdrawn unless there was a resolution in favour of discontinuation by the local electorate. Equivalent provision continues to this day. The statutory duty to provide an act of collective worship/religious observance in schools has been controversial for decades. Issues include: disagreement about the appropriateness of such acts in an increasingly pluralistic, multicultural UK; the degree to which the current system properly affords respect for the rights of individuals and minority groups, including those with no religious faith; and concerns that the present arrangements do not adequately develop the spiritual/moral education of pupils, or promote a community spirit and shared values in schools. This report aims to stimulate fresh thinking on collective worship and religious observance in schools. It sets out the law and educational concerns relating to each country, and considers the merits of a range of options available to policy makers. While many of the observations made in the report apply to all schools, the report restricts the majority of its recommendations to schools without a religious character, on the basis that separate and distinct consideration should be given to those schools with a designated religious character. Education is a devolved matter. It is thus open for each of the four countries in the UK to consider the challenges, opportunities and recommendations set out in this report, and to choose the path most appropriate to its people, society and values in the 21st century.