The Department for Education has revealed that it no longer considers its own guidance on the provision of Collective Worship in schools, called Circular 1/94, to be official guidance, and that local authorities and schools are free to choose whether or not to use it.
The Government recently revealed its new position to the National Association of Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (NASACRE) and the Association of Religious Education Inspectors, Advisers and Consultants (AREIAC). The news has now prompted the two groups to advise in a joint statement that schools do not use the controversial guidance.
Although schools have to adhere to same laws around Collective Worship as before, NASACRE and AREIAC believe that the law can be read it a way that allow assemblies to be less confessional and so narrowly focused on Christian teaching, as Circular 1/94 sets out. Both groups argue that Circular 1/94 has acted as a barrier to better school assemblies, and are instead now urging local authorities and schools to pursue a more inclusive and educational approach.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said ‘The green light offered by Government, enabling schools and local authorities to dispense from the repressive Circular 1/94, is an important moment, and the move, along with the more inclusive and educational approach advocated by NASACRE and AREIAC, is to be welcomed.’
‘However, the continuing legal requirement that schools provide daily worship of a “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character” still prevent schools from providing an inspiring programme of assemblies that are truly respectful and genuinely inclusive of all staff and children. As society does not have a shared faith we cannot worship together.
‘Furthermore, state funded schools are still free to provide the kind of narrow and instructional assemblies that is now widely held to be inappropriate. While the latest advice is a positive step, the legal regime around Collective Worship needs urgent reform, while the narrow and repressive Circular 1/94 in England and Circular 10/94 in Wales should be taken out of circulation altogether.
‘Assemblies at their best can be an enormously important part of the school day – creating a sense of unity and communicating shared values – so the more they are used for this, and the less they are hijacked for doctrinal purposes, the better. There is nothing wrong with worship, but it should be done voluntarily in a church, mosque or synagogue at weekends, and not be one particular faith forced midweek on children of different beliefs or no belief’.
The latest guidance on Collective Worship for schools produced by NASACRE and AREIAC can be found at http://www.nasacre.org.uk/downloads/CollWorRevisit.pdf.
A July 2010 YouGov poll commissioned by the Accord Coalition found that 43% of GB adults agreed (to 30% against) that the laws that require schools to provide daily collective worship, including in faith schools, should be replaced by a requirement that they hold assemblies which consider spiritual, moral and ethical issues shared by different religions and by those who are not religious: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Accord-Coalition-Opinion-Poll-by-YouGov-July-2010.xls.
‘Worship in School Study’ for the BBC by ComRes in July 2011 suggested that only 28% of children took part in a daily act of collective worship at their school, while 60% of adults (to 36%) thought the Collective Worship laws should not be enforced: http://www.comres.co.uk/polls/BBC_Religion_Worship_in_schools_results_(plus_regions)_July11.pdf.