Know your rights at schools

March 14, 2016

Staff, parents and pupils can experience a range of problems in regard to matters of religion and belief at schools, due to both various legal exemptions and freedoms that faith schools have to act differently from other schools (including being able to religiously discriminate in staff employment and pupil admissions), along with special rules in place around Religious Education and Collective Worship at all state funded schools. Such troubles provide further reason for reform of policy and practice, and Accord campaigns for all state funded schools to be made open and accessible to all, regardless of people’s religious or non-religious views. However, while current unsatisfactory arrangements remain there are some avenues open – as we set out via the drop down links below – which may alleviate and improve the situation of families or individuals affected.

Please tell us about your experience

An important part of Accord’s campaign for reform includes highlighting and raising awareness of problems and difficulties that people face. Accord maintains a databank of personal testimonies of discriminatory and exclusive practices by schools. You can help the campaign – and thus ultimately other people – by letting Accord know about your negative experience and allowing us to publish it.

Faith schools background - increasing variability in policy and practices, especially in England

Just as there are several types of state funded school, so there are several types of faith school, with the freedoms they possess varying by type. One of Accord’s member groups, the British Humanist Association, has produced a table here, which helpfully condenses many of the powers that different types of faith school have.

Over a third of state funded schools in England and Wales are faith schools. They tend to be smaller than other state funded schools and the sector educates about a quarter of pupils. The largest providers are, by far, the Church of England and the Church in Wales, followed by the Roman Catholic Church for England and Wales. Until devolution to Wales the education systems in England and Wales were largely the same, but have diverged since, making the picture more fragmented.

In Wales, Roman Catholic schools are all voluntary aided, whereas Church in Wales schools are either voluntary aided or voluntary controlled (there is also one foundation Church in Wales school – foundation school governors have more powers than those at voluntary controlled and community schools, and most of the schools were formerly grant maintained  and funded directly funding by central government). The state funded faith school sector in England has similar features to that in Wales, though is more complex in some key ways.

Firstly, in England many schools have become academies, which (as is set out in the other drop down sections below) have slightly different and often greater powers than voluntary aided, voluntary controlled and foundation schools. There are no academies in Wales. Academies include free schools, studio schools and university technical colleges. In law they are state funded independent schools.

Secondly, there are many more providers of faith schools. Although the very large majority of state funded faith schools are Church of England or Roman Catholic (98%), there are also schools of other Christian dominations, a growing number of generically ‘Christian’ schools, and faith schools of other world faiths and, in some cases, denominations within those faiths.

The Church in Wales and Church of England has a proportionally larger presence in the primary, than secondary sector, whereas Roman Catholic schools educate a similar proportion of pupils at both stages. This largely accounts for why voluntary controlled schools (the majority type of school for in the C of E and Church in Wales sector) are still the more common type of faith school at the primary stage, and other types of faith school in the secondary.

Religious discrimination at faith schools

Religious discrimination in pupil admissions

Faith schools are able to have a pupil admissions policy that discriminates on the grounds of faith because they have the necessary exemptions from parts of the 2010 Equality Act. Accord campaigns to have the exemptions removed – the Fair Admissions Campaign (which Accord co-founded in 2013) helpfully sets out a range of reasons why such discrimination must be brought to an end.

Voluntary controlled schools have their admissions policy determined by their local authority responsible for education. Such schools can be given a policy that selects children on religious grounds when the school is oversubscribed, though Accord research from 2011 found that of the 80% of councils responsible for education that have any voluntary controlled schools, less than a third (43 of 137 councils) permitted any form of religious discrimination. Voluntary controlled schools are therefore generally not religiously selective.

All other types of faith school control their admission policy (they are their own admissions authority) and almost all have a blanket freedom to select on religious grounds when oversubscribed. Exceptions to this include the small number of academy faith schools that have opened since May 2010 that do not replace a pre-existing state funded school, called free schools. They are not permitted (via their funding agreement with the Department for Education) to select more than half of their pupils by faith. The only other faith schools to face any such limit are some pre-May 2010 academies, which also have the 50% cap.

All state funded schools must adhere to the School Admissions Code (there are separate Welsh and English versions), and all faith schools must also consult with and have regard for guidance issued by their designated religious authority (the representative rabbinical authorities are listed here and all other religious authorities for faith schools in England listed here). Both English and Welsh Codes require schools that determine their own admissions to publish and make freely available their policy, and for the local authority to publish the admission arrangements of all local state funded schools. These local authority admission directories can almost always be found on a Council’s website – in England they are required to be published there. Similarly, schools that set their own policy and which have a website are also required to publish their arrangements there.

The exemption from the prohibition on faith based discrimination for faith school’s admissions policy is enshrined in law. As such they need to be removed through legal change, whether of the primarily legalisation or/ and by changing the England and Welsh Admission Codes. Accord won’t rest until changes are implemented, and there are several ways you can support Accord.

In the meantime, if you or a close family member have lost out due to religiously selective arrangements and believe there are grounds for complaint, please see the two sub-sections immediately below. Please also consider contacting us with your testimony, so that we may use it to highlight problems peoples face.

School Admission Appeals

When a local authority or faith school that acts as its own an admission authority informs a parent of a decision to refuse their child a place at a school for which they have applied it must include the reason why admission was refused; information about your right to appeal; the deadline for lodging an appeal, and the contact details for lodging an appeal. Parents must be informed that, if they wish to appeal, they have to set out their grounds for appeal in writing. The admission authority and appeal panel must act in accordance with the School Admissions Appeal Code (England or Wales), the respective national School Admissions Code, and other relevant laws relating to school admissions and admission appeals.

If your child has missed out on a place at a school and you are unhappy you could first request to have them included on the waiting list – most schools hold these. This way you could be offered a place at a later date should other families reject a place they have been awarded. You could then appeal the decision. In the meantime, you may wish to accept the school place you have been allotted, so you know you at least will have that to fall back on.

In the paperwork that you submit before the appeal you will need to show why your child needs to go to the school you are appealing for. An appeals panel will look if the admissions authority has made a mistake in dealing with your application, or if the decision reached can be shown to unreasonable based on the information that was provided. If you are unsure about how to proceed you could contact your local authority responsible for education for advice.

In terms of further legal routes you can consider pursuing, appellants may complain about maladministration on the part of an appeal panel in respect of maintained schools to the Local Government Ombudsmen (for England) or the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales). For appeal panels for academies parents may complain to the Secretary of State for Education.

Other objections to admission arrangements

Complaining to an appeals panel and the Ombudsmen is the appropriate route for those who are seeking immediate redress for their child’s case. However, more generally, it is possible for anyone to complain about school admission policies in England which do not adhere to the School Admission Codes by taking an objection to the free state funded tribunal service called the Office of the School Adjudicator (OSA). If a Welsh school’s admissions criteria do not comply with the law or mandatory provisions of the Welsh Code only local authorities or other schools can object, so any complaints should be directed to these bodies.

The OSA can only rule on whether a school’s policy adheres to the law, the guidance from the school’s religious authority and the Admissions Code. Schools must comply with an OSA determination. The Fair Admissions Campaign (which seeks to bring religious selection in admissions to an end and which Accord actively supports) has found that to some extent most policies do not properly adhere to the Code. The Campaign provides advice on making a complaint to the OSA here.

Religious discrimination in the employment of teachers

Faith schools have sweeping powers to apply religious restrictions on teachers and in recruiting to fill teaching posts, although rules differ according to school type. Foundation and voluntary controlled faith schools have the ability to show preference on religious grounds in the appointment, remuneration, and promotion of up to 1/5 of their teachers who have been selected for their fitness to give Religious Education (RE) in accordance with the school’s religious denomination (this is despite these schools almost always providing non-instructional RE determined by their local authority).

Schools have the power to discipline and even dismiss reserved teachers due to any conduct on the teacher’s part which is incompatible with the precepts, or with the upholding of the tenets of the school’s religion or religious denomination, as defined by the school (rather than any central religious authority). In Wales reserved teachers at voluntary controlled schools cannot be the head teacher, but in England (since 2006) they can include the head.

Since the 2012 Education Act, foundation and voluntary controlled faith schools that reopen as an academy can only reserve up to 1/5 of their teaching posts, unless otherwise permitted to by the Secretary of State for Education. Earlier foundation and voluntary controlled faith schools that became academies, along with all other academies and all voluntary aided (as well as private) faith schools have the same powers over reserved teachers, but can apply them for all (100%) of their teaching posts.

This is regardless of whether a teacher has a pastoral role, teaches instructional RE or leads worship, or even if no regard was given to the teacher’s religion or beliefs when they were originally appointed. Faith schools can in theory apply religious restrictions to other staff posts, but would have to show that there was a genuine occupational requirement to do so (unlikely in Accord’s view).

Article 4.2 of the European Council Directive 2000/78/EC permits organisations with an ethos based on religion or belief to treat persons differently in recruitment and employment on the grounds of religion or belief where there is ‘a genuine, legitimate and justified occupational requirement’ and ‘to require individuals working for them to act in good faith and with loyalty to the organisation’s ethos’. In contrast UK law gives faith schools a blanket freedom to discriminate and the much wider power to dismiss teachers for conduct they determine is incompatible with the precepts of their faith. Accord believes the UK law is disproportionate and overdrawn. We await for the European Commission to finish their investigation into whether EU law in this area has been correctly transposed.

It is difficult to gather evidence beyond the anecdotal about what it happening in practice in the faith sector. Government does not actively monitor the situation, while disciplinary matters are by their nature usually treated confidentially and teachers have little incentive to be open about them. Staff and applicants very unlikely to take issues around religion and belief to Employment Tribunals when it is widely perceived that faith schools are not acting illegally.

In September 2012 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) highlighted in their wide ranging report into equality issues around religion and belief ‘Religion or belief, equality and human rights in England and Wales’ that ‘there is a [unmet] need to monitor the practical impact of discrimination that is permitted within the education system, in relation to … employment’ (p xvii). Their call has so far been ignored by the Department for Education.

It is for individual schools to determine what their religious tenets are, so practice between them may be highly variable. However, we know of worrying issues through our work, such as media reports of people losing headships at Roman Catholic schools over remarrying. The Al-Madinah School in Derby was alleged to have required female staff to cover their head – this is something the school later wrote to parents was not required, but arguably could have been possible under the law.  Again, due to the general confidentially around school employment and a lack of monitoring there is uncertainty about what is taking place.

Schools’ conduct should be exemplary. Excellent teachers and support staff are key to giving children and young people a high quality and rich education they need and deserve. Neither should be victim to discrimination, and nor should discrimination be a part of school life. If you or someone close to you who has been employed by a school or applied to work at a school and been negatively affected tell us.

Religious restrictions in the appointment of school governors

Governors at non-faith state funded schools cannot be selected or disbarred from serving on account of their religion or non-religious beliefs – to do so would be discriminatory and illegal. Such selection is permissible for some governors at faith schools.

About one quarter of governors at voluntary controlled faith schools are appointed by the relevant religious authority. At foundation faith schools it is usually about a quarter, though is some cases it is a majority, and at voluntary aided schools it is over half. All of these governors can be appointed on religious grounds.

At academy faith schools the situation varies. If an academy is sponsored (these are sometimes referred to ‘mark one’ academies) then, other than two parent governors and the school principle, the sponsor can appoint all the governors, all of whom can be appointed for religious reasons. If the school replaced a pre-existing state funded faith school (sometimes referred to as a ‘mark two’ academy) then the school’s governing body, foundation body or trustees form the new academy trust that (other than two parent governors and the school principle) selects all other future governors, all of whom can be appointed for religious reasons.

Some groups (such as some academy chains) have a religious foundation and run academy schools that do not have a faith designation. The schools are not considered faith schools in the traditional sense, but because of the religious foundation of the sponsor the school’s governors may also be appointed for religious reasons. This would be permissible if the sponsor could show there was a genuine occupational requirement  for the restriction – that such discrimination was justified and proportionate because the role at the school was senior. Accord refer to these kind of schools as faith ethos schools.

Curriculum – at faith and non-faith schools

Religious Education
What schools must provide

RE is currently in the anomalous position of being the only compulsory subject in state maintained schools in England and Wales that is not part of the National Curriculum. Community schools and all voluntary controlled and foundation schools (whether faith based or not) follow a locally agreed RE syllabus produced by their local authority responsible for education. Academy schools are required to provide RE through their funding agreement with the Department for Education. Some academies are required to follow the local RE syllabus, especially the earlier ones created, including some faith academies. All other state funded faith schools and non-faith academies are free to determine the RE curriculum they follow.

The committee that writes each local syllabus is called an Agreed Syllabus Conference and one must be convened within every five years. Each local authority must also organise a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE), which is a standing body that monitors the effectiveness and appropriateness of the agreed syllabus. SACREs include local representatives of religious groups (and very often a humanist), teachers and the local authority. In England the Church of England enjoys a privileged position within the committee structure of all SACREs – its voice is weighted the same as that of all other religion and belief groups combined.

Local syllabuses must, as per the 1996 Education Act, ‘… reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain’. Local authority syllabuses vary. They are generally broad in scope and refrain from promoting any particular doctrine.

Many non-faith academies and some non-denominational faith academies (such as many of those designated as ‘Christian’ and most others which replaced a former foundation or voluntary controlled faith school) have funding agreements specifying that they must use the locally syllabus. Where non-faith academies are free to determine the RE they teach, they are still required to provide RE which accords with the 1996 Education Act (again via their funding agreement). In practice many such non-faith academies still opt to follow the local syllabus. All other faith academies and all voluntary aided faith schools are free to determine the kind of RE they provide. Some may choose to follow the local syllabus, but most do not. They are free, if they wish, to focus on the school’s faith or denomination, or/and present it as objective truth. Unlike other subjects, Ofsted and Estyn do not inspect the teaching or content of RE in faith schools.

A right to instructional RE at faith schools

At foundation and voluntary-controlled schools with a religious character the parent of any pupil can request that RE is provided in accordance with provisions of the trust deed relating to the school (or, where there is no provision in the trust deed, in accordance with the religion or denomination mentioned in the order designating the school as having a religious character). It is a little known or exercised right but, where it is exercised, governors must make arrangements for securing that RE is provided to the pupil in accordance with the relevant religion for up to two periods a week, unless they are satisfied that there are special circumstances which would make it ‘unreasonable‘ to do so.

A right to RE that follows the locally agreed syllabus at most state funded faith schools

At voluntary aided faith schools where parents prefer their children to receive RE in accordance with the locally agreed syllabus, and they cannot conveniently send their children to a school where the syllabus is in use, then the governing body must make arrangements for RE to be provided to the children within the school in accordance with the locally agreed syllabus, unless they are satisfied that there are special circumstances which would make it ‘unreasonable‘ to do so.

Although the law is clear on the governing body’s duty in this matter, if the local authority is satisfied that the governing body is unwilling to make such arrangements then it is obliged to make them instead. This right may also be provided at an academy faith school, but depending on the funding agreement, and since 2012 the Department for Education’s standard academy funding agreement has obtained this for parents.

An academy should freely share with you its funding agreement. You are entitled since the Academies Act 2010 brought all academies under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

A right to RE at FE Colleges

Further education colleges are required to provide RE for those students that wish to receive it. Where a college was previously a former voluntary sixth form college or state funded school with a religious character, the form and content of the RE must be in accordance with the provisions of any trust of the institution, and not contrary to the religious traditions of the institution before it became a further education college. In the case of other further education institutions, the form and content of RE must reflect (just as with local syllabus RE) that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.

A right to withdraw a child from RE at any state funded school

The parents or carers of a pupil at a state funded school have the right to have their child excused from all or part of the RE a school provides. These rights are secured in law at community, foundation or voluntary schools and via the funding agreement for parents of pupils at academies.

The right of withdrawal does not extend to other areas of the curriculum when there are issues related to religion that arise in other subjects, such as history or citizenship, or where pupils may spontaneously raise questions on religious matters. Where RE is integrated in the curriculum with other subject areas a school will need to discuss the arrangements with the parents or carers, to explore how the child’s withdrawal can be best accommodated. Schools have a duty to supervise pupils withdrawn from RE, though not to provide additional teaching or to incur extra costs. Pupils will usually remain on school premises.

Parents do not have to provide a reason for withdrawal and schools must comply with their request. Schools should explore whether parents are aware of the RE syllabus and informed about its content and educational objectives, which may assist in finding a better or more workable outcome.

Parents may wish to avoid exercising their right of withdrawal – because of concern that their child may be singled out or/ and with dissatisfaction with the substitute lesson a school would otherwise provide. It might be possible instead for parents to have the school agree to change some of its language or assumptions that they find most problematic. Accord considers learning about other people’s beliefs a positive thing. If you are concerned about bias or proselytizing you could counter its by teaching your child that what they are taught is merely what some people believe, not what they must believe.

Pupil’s rights?

Pupils do not have the power to withdraw themselves, and RE is compulsory for all pupils at state funded schools up until the age of 19 (including those in sixth form, but not students at FE colleges). There is however nothing to stop parents agreeing to exercise their right of withdrawal, so pupils could ask their parents or parent to exercise it on their behalf.

Accord does not think ‘confessional’ education should be a job of the taxpayer funded school system. However, where such RE is still provided it believes there is a strong argument for the right for parents to withdraw their children from RE to be transferred to pupils who are of sufficient maturity (when children and young people meet the Gillick competency). As the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights observed in 2008, ‘provisions which fail to guarantee children of sufficient maturity, intelligence and understanding the right to withdraw from compulsory religious education and collective worship are incompatible with their human rights’.

More generally, Accord believes there is a compelling case for children and young people to be given an curriculum entitlement to a broad and balanced education about the range of beliefs in society. Not only is such as education important for general knowledge and as a pathway to good citizenship, but it would better uphold children’s right to a broad education under the UN’s Convention on the Right of the Child. The Convention states that children in education have the right to ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds …’ and be prepared for ‘responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups …’. You can join Accord’s supporters list here.


Every school governing body and local authority is required to have an accessible route through which parents and others can make a complaint about educational or other matters, including the provision of RE. A copy of the complaints procedure should be available in each school, and the school prospectus must make reference to it. Local authorities can seek advice from their SACREs in addressing complaints about RE. Ultimately complaints about locally maintained schools can be taken to Local Government Ombudsmen (for England) or the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales), and complaints about academies to the Secretary of State for Education.

Collective Worship
What does the law require of schools?

In England and Wales state maintained schools are required by statute to hold a daily act of worship for all their pupils. In the case of schools with a religious character this worship must be ‘in accordance with the tenets and practices of the religion or religious denomination’ of the school. In the case of schools without a religious character the worship must be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’. The same requirements are made of academies through their respective funding agreement.

In Accord’s view this requirement fails to respect the autonomy of pupils and staff, and is theologically incoherent. As the Bishop of Oxford, The Rt Revd John Pritchard, said while commenting on the Collective Worship laws in a BBC interview in July 2014, ‘worship is by definition a voluntary activity. The Bishop was the then Chair of the Church of England’s Board of Education and the Episcopal spokesperson on education in the House of Lords.

In addition to primary legislation is statutory guidance on the provision of Collective Worship, called Circular 1/94 in England  (please note the part relating to RE was withdrawn in 2010) and Circular 10/94 in Wales. Rather than encouraging schools to provide inclusive assemblies, the circulars offered an uncompromising interpretation of the law, defining worship as ‘… concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power’ and requiring broadly Christian worship to ‘… contain some elements which relate specifically to the traditions of Christian belief and which accord a special status to Jesus Christ.’ However, the guidance also reveals that schools have flexibility, highlighting that they can interpret requirements in creative ways, which is certainly the case.

Only a majority of acts of worship in a given term need be of a ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ and of these majority of acts, not all of the act must be of a broadly Christian character. At the least, only a majority of 51% of acts needs to be of a broadly Christian character for schools to comply with the law. In reflecting upon the broad traditions of Christian belief, schools may also choose to draw upon, not doctrine or traditions of worship, but belief that is broadly Christian. Schools could explore broad Christian beliefs and values which are shared by other belief systems and people from many backgrounds.

However, because of way the law and statutory guidance is written schools can, if they so wished, opt to only provide Christian worship (as long as it is not distinctive of any particular Christian denomination) for all of its assemblies. A school might pursue a more inclusive approach to its assemblies but, because of the appointment of a new head teacher or governors, then change to a more traditional and less inclusive provision.

In recent years there has been a growth in the number of ‘faith ethos’ Academy schools – schools that have not been designated as having a religious character (a traditional definition of a faith school), but which are run or sponsored by a group with a religious ethos or foundation. These schools do not have powers to discriminate in admissions, employment or to provide doctrinal RE, but they can take advantage of the rules around daily worship to provide traditional assemblies that some may find zealous or otherwise inappropriate.

The law on Collective Worship is largely unenforced. In 2004 Ofsted stopped asking its inspectors to consider it, citing at the time that 76% of secondary schools were non-compliant with the law – either not having worship every day or not having worship at all. It is perhaps not unsurprising that such an oppressive law is widely ignored, but this is an unhealthy position in a democracy. Society currently faces some schools implementing repressive laws and others simply not providing assemblies at all – the worst of both worlds.

Determinations at non-faith schools

Non-faith schools can be offered a determination that allow them to provide religious worship of a different faith. These are granted upon request by school’s local SACRE and are usually granted to schools that have many pupils from families who adhere to a non-Christian faith. These assemblies cannot be distinctive of any particular denomination.

Brent Council’s SACRE has been particularly inventive and agreed determinations for several schools for worship that is multi-faith. Academies can seek a determination, but must appeal directly to the Secretary of State for Education.

A right of withdrawal

Unlike with RE, sixth form pupils at any state funded school can withdraw themselves (partly or wholly) from worship. Parents of all other pupils have the right to have their child partly of wholly excused from worship. These rights are guaranteed for pupils and parents at maintained schools in statute and at academies via the respective institution’s funding agreement.

Accord is regularly contacted by parents who face a dilemma about withdrawing a child. Some parents chose not to withdraw their child, anxious their child may be made to feel or appear different, or/ and because they are concerned that their child will otherwise miss out on notices given and the wider spiritual, moral, social and cultural aspects that assembles may provide. A school continues to be responsible for the supervision of any pupil withdrawn, but they are not required to provide alternative assemblies or other activities. We have known of withdrawn pupils left to sit on their own unsupervised and unstimulated, whereas others have been able to spend the time during which they are withdrawn in the library or elsewhere doing work. It may be the case that a more satisfactory outcome can be found through dialogue with the school, and we certainly think it worth trying.

Some schools may be willing to keep the worship and non-worship elements of assemblies separate, allowing time for pupils (and teachers) to leave the room when worship takes place. There is also nothing to prevent a school from agreeing that a pupil should be allowed to remain physically present during the Collective Worship, but not be required to take part in it. It may be that a school is unaware of the extent to which some pupils and parents have problems with their assemblies, and they may be willing to adapt. You could helpfully highlight that there is an onus on schools to be inclusive in the statutory guidance – paragraph 64 of both the English and Welsh guidance notes ‘The extent to which and the ways in which the broad traditions of Christian belief are to be reflected in such acts of collective worship should be appropriate to the family backgrounds of the pupils and their ages and aptitudes.’


At non-faith schools teachers cannot be required to attend or lead collective worship. They do not have a right to withdraw from the non-worship parts of assembly. At voluntary controlled and foundation faith schools, and most academy faith schools that replaced such a pre-existing controlled or foundation school, only those ‘reserved teachers’ (up to one fifth of those teachers chosen for their competence to provide RE in accordance with the school’s religious ethos) can be required to attend or lead worship. At all other state funded faith schools all teachers can be required to take part – the only protections from this offered are to non-teaching staff.


As stated above, every school governing body and local authority is required to have an accessible route through which parents and others can make a complaint about educational or other matters, including the provision of Collective Worship. A copy of the complaints procedure should be available in each school, and the school prospectus must make reference to it.

As with the determination process, SACREs have can have a role in hearing a complaint about the provision of worship at a local non-faith non-Academy school, especially if a parent, pupils or staff has exhausted the school’s complaint procedure. At non-faith academies complaints can be taken directly to the Secretary of State for Education. Ultimately at maintained schools complaints can be taken to the Local Government Ombudsmen (for England) or the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales).

Need for reform

The legal arrangements around worship are clearly unsatisfactory, both in how they have allowed for a culture where many schools do not take assemblies seriously and in how they infringe upon people’s autonomy. Accord wishes that the laws on compulsory worship be repealed and replaced with guidance for assemblies that draw upon a range of sources, which are genuinely appropriate for all pupils and staff, regardless of their religion or beliefs. You can support the campaign here. If you or a close friend or family member has been affected by the provision of mandatory worship please contact us with your testimony.

Sex and Relationships Education

What schools provide

Locally maintained schools do not need to provide sex and relationships education (SRE) beyond the basic sex education in the National Science Curriculum. Much to Accord’s regret, the latest National Curriculum for England introduced in September 2014 has reduced the prescription around sex education in Science further. As academies are free to determine the curriculum they follow this means they could simply ignore sex education altogether.

SRE is however normally taught in schools and as part of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education. The best schools already provide high quality SRE, but its development is frustrated in others by a narrow lobby lacking in evidence, which seeks to delay when information surrounding how human reproduction occurs is presented. Religious arguments are sometimes misapplied to justify such approaches.

A right of withdrawal

Currently parents can withdraw their children from sex education, except for the basic sex education provided for in National Curriculum Science. All schools must have an up to date policy on SRE which is made available for parents. It must include information about parents’ right to withdrawal.

A right to SRE?

Accord believes children and young people should have a right to learn about how their bodies work and risks they may face. High quality SRE gives children and young people the tools to be clear about personal boundaries, understand how their bodies work, resist pressure, seek help when they need it, as well as challenge misleading and inappropriate messages in the media. Faith schools should be able to teach about a range of religious and cultural perspectives on matters related to sex and relationships, but it is vital that schools be required to promote an acceptance of sexual diversity and transgendered people above all other considerations. Otherwise in some schools efforts to tackle prejudice could be undermined.


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