Collective worship should be scrapped, report recommends
A new report into the role of religion and belief in schools calls for a reform of collective worship in assembly.
The study by former Education Secretary Charles Clarke and professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, Linda Woodhead, argues that requirements have failed to keep up with changes in attitudes to religion since collective worship was introduced in the 1940s.
Instead, schools should be allowed to do what they want when it comes to what they have in morning assembly.
In a series of suggested reforms, he called for a new national syllabus for teaching religion and claimed the phrase religious education should be changed to religious and moral education.
The report argues that there should be a stronger and more relevant form of religious education in schools, which should be compulsory for all schools and include non-religious beliefs, such as humanism.
These lessons in religious literacy would teach pupils about different faiths and involve visits to different places of worship.
Mr Clarke said the concerns about radicalisation and fundamentalism meant that this was a very necessary lesson, and that it was important to teach about mainstream, moderate interpretations of religion, rather than letting extremists dominate the argument.
Mr Clarke said: "The current requirement in statute for an act of collective worship should be abolished, and the decision about the form and character of school assemblies should be left to the governors of individual schools.
"On this basis we propose a new educational settlement which can better foster genuine understanding of modern religion and belief, and allow young people better to explore their own and other people's religious and non-religious beliefs and come to their own conclusions."
The former Labour MP for Norwich South also called for a religious and moral education syllabus to be determined by the education secretary in agreement with a newly created advisory council consisting of experts on religion and education.
This would follow formal consultation with representatives of religions, humanism and other belief systems.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Chair of the Accord Coalition, said: "The report's call to end the requirement for compulsory daily worship, to make RE at most schools a nationally determined subject, and to end compulsory instructional RE at all state funded faith schools, helps demonstrate the broad and long existing consensus about how religion and belief should be approached in the school curriculum.
"The report should serve as a further wakeup call to our political leaders about how the current statutory framework for RE and assemblies is working to detriment of children's education and needs urgent reform."
The report calls for a range of changes in the way religion and belief is negotiated in state funded schools in England, including:
- making Religious Education (RE) a nationally determined subject at all state maintained schools, which covers the broad range of religious and non-religious beliefs in society
- asking Government to seek agreement from faith school sponsors so that if their schools provide instructional RE they provide it apart of the formal school day
- abolishing the requirement for compulsory worship in schools, and replacing it with non-statutory guidance on the provision of school assemblies
- that OFSTED should re-establish 'a strong inspection system' to ensure all state funded schools are again inspected on their duty to promote community cohesion.
- that faith schools and their sponsors make 'further effort ... to developing ... procedures which balance the rights of families of faith to have their children educated in that faith with other considerations of fairness to others and serving the whole local community ... and that changes to the current legal position should be considered as an urgent matter if faith bodies fail to make progress'
A Department for Education spokeswoman said that religious education was vitally important to help children develop the British values of tolerance, respect and understanding for others.
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