The Accord Coalition has welcomed the contribution from the Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Revd John Pritchard, to the public debate around the laws that require state funded to provide daily Collective Worship of ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’. Speaking in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ programme, which was prompted by the recent call from the National Governors Association that the Collective Worship laws be repealed for non-faith schools, the Bishop said:
‘I think the problem is with the word worship. It worked in the 1940s and so on, but worship is by definition a voluntary activity, and I think it may be better to reframe the discussion, and to call this time that we are discussing spiritual reflection … I think this reframing in terms of spiritual reflection might be helpful, might liberate schools if we reframe what we are doing, informed by Christian values.’
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said, ‘All state funded schools should respect the beliefs of parents and staff, as well as the autonomy of pupils, and instead of offering compulsory worship, should seek to provide assemblies that are genuinely accessible for all.
‘The Bishop of Oxford recognises that there are problems with the current system – that many schools do not find it workable and that worship has to be voluntary – and he believes progress would be better served by schools being more inclusive by providing assemblies that draw upon a range of values. For this his comments should be widely welcomed.
‘In any tolerant and pluralistic society schools should not compel staff and pupils to worship. They should instead use assemblies to develop unique moments to lift the children away from facts and figures and venture into vision and perception and purpose, taking inspirations from different approaches and understandings.’
The Bishop is Chair of the Church of England’s Board of Education and episcopal spokesperson on education in the House of Lords. Earlier this earlier the Church of Scotland and Humanist Society of Scotland made a joint call for the law requiring Religious Observance in Scottish schools to be replaced with a ‘Time for Reflection’, to make school assemblies ‘more inclusive and clearly not gatherings where one faith or belief system is promoted over another’.
In 2011 a ComRes poll commissioned by the BBC indicated that only 28% of pupils attended daily worship at their school. It also showed the public did not think the requirement to provide a daily act of worship should be enforced, by 60% to 36%.