Lords to consider change to Collective Worship laws in England

May 28, 2021

A Private Members Bill seeking to remove the obligation on state funded non-faith schools in England to provide daily worship has been brought before the House of Lords. The Education (Assemblies) Bill was introduced yesterday by Baroness Burt of Solihull, whereupon it received its first reading.
Baroness Burt’s Bill seeks to replace mandatory worship with a requirement for assemblies that instead boost the ‘spiritual, moral, social, and cultural education’ of all pupils, regardless of religion or belief. It follows the Peer having been drawn high up in a House of Lords Private Members’ Bill ballot earlier this month. Peers will get to debate the substance of the Bill at a later date.

The latest news about Baroness Burt’s Bill was preceded last week by the release of fresh
 guidance from the Church of England about the provision of daily worship at its schools. The guidance describes daily worship as ‘central to fostering a sense of community’, though also states that worship should be ‘consistently invitational. There should be no compulsion to “do anything”.’

Despite this, most teachers at state funded faith schools can be required to take part in worship and, similarly, pupils at any state funded school are unable to excuse themselves from it. Parents meanwhile can formally withdraw their child from collective worship but rarely do so, with many finding withdrawal a crude and unsatisfactory alternative.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said ‘Pupils should learn and grow up with those from different religious and ethnic backgrounds but, without a shared religious faith, they cannot worship together. Advocates of collective worship are failing to accept that if England ever was religiously homogeneous, it certainly is not now, and that the provision of compulsory worship is at odds with the needs of our increasingly diverse society.’

‘Accord is delighted that Baroness Burt’s Bill is to be debated. Many schools flout the compulsory worship laws, often because they find them unworkable, while others adhere to them and fail to properly respect the autonomy of pupils and staff. Replacing the compulsory worship requirements is long overdue and we look forward to Peers being reminded of the powerful case for change.’

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