Collective worship in schools

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Section 70 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 stipulates that pupils of community, foundation or voluntary schools in England and Wales must take part in a daily act of Collective Worship,[1] unless they have been explicitly withdrawn by their parents.[2] The same requirement is applied to academy schools via their funding agreements,[3] so it is true to say that all maintained schools in England and Wales are subject to the same rules. However, in practice there is widespread non-compliance with the legislation, which has not been monitored by Ofsted since 2004.[4]

The responsibility for ensuring that the rules are applied rests with a school's head teacher, its governing body and the Local Education Authority. Local Education Authorities normally exercise this function via a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE).[1]

Definition & Aims of Collective Worship[edit]

Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) defines worship in this context as "reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power."[5] It makes a distinction between the terms "collective worship" and "corporate worship", with the latter being worship amongst a group with beliefs in common.

It also describes the aims of the legislation as follows: "Collective worship in schools should aim to provide the opportunity for pupils to worship God, to consider spiritual and moral issues and to explore their own beliefs; to encourage participation and response, whether through active involvement in the presentation of worship or through listening to and joining in the worship offered; and to develop community spirit, promote a common ethos and shared values, and reinforce positive attitudes."[5]

Required Attributes of Collective Worship[edit]

The nature of the required daily act of collective worship in England and Wales is set out in Schedule 20 of the School Standards and Framework Act.[6] This defines collective worship as "a single act of worship for all pupils" or separate acts of worship for groups of pupils. It should normally take place on school premises. The nature of the acts of worship should take into account the ages, aptitudes and family backgrounds of the pupils.

Schools with a formal faith designation are required to arrange worship in accordance with their trust deed or, if they have no trust deed, in line with the practices of their designated faith. For schools without a formal faith designation, the majority of the acts of worship should be "of a broadly Christian character". In practical terms, this has been interpreted to mean that 51% of school days each school term must have an act of worship of a broadly Christian character.[7]

The legislation is supplemented by non-statutory DfE guidance.[5] This makes it clear that sixth-formers can decide for themselves whether or not to take part in collective worship. It also sets out circumstances under which a local SACRE can grant a formal determination that an individual school can provide alternatives to the "broadly Christian" collective worship arrangements required by the legislation.

While head teachers have a duty to ensure that the law on collective worship is upheld within their school, they cannot themselves be required to participate in it, or to direct other teachers to participate it, against their will. Nor can they make the willingness to participate in, or lead, collective worship a condition of teachers' employment.[5] If necessary, head teachers are required to source "appropriate people from the local community who would be willing and able to lead collective worship".[5]

Compliance with, and Challenges to, the Law on Collective Worship[edit]

When the head of Ofsted announced that it would no longer inspect the provision of Collective Worship in 2004, he stated that 76% of secondary schools were not compliant with the law.[4] An opinion poll commissioned by the BBC in 2011 indicated that 64% of parents in England say their children do not attend a daily act of worship at school, and that 60% of the general public are not in favour of the law on collective worship being enforced.[8]

In 2011, amendments were proposed to the law on collective worship, which would have made it optional at schools without a formal faith designation, and which would have also made it easier for pupils to opt themselves out of collective worship. The amendments were debated in the House of Lords, but were not adopted.[9]

Groups campaigning to amend the law on Collective Worship include Humanists UK and the National Secular Society, who argue that the requirement for daily worship should be replaced by a requirement for inclusive assemblies instead.[10][11] The National Governors Association is also seeking an end to compulsory collective worship in schools without a religious affiliation.[12] In 2014 a leading education spokesperson for the Church of England, Bishop Pritchard, publicly expressed a view that the term collective worship should be re-framed as "spiritual reflection" to make it "more honest, and more in tune with contemporary culture."[13] The Liberal Democrats have adopted a policy to make collective worship in non-religious schools optional rather than compulsory,[14] and a change in the law has also been called for by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.[15] In 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child called for an end to compulsory collective worship in UK schools. [16]

History of the Law on Collective Worship[edit]

The law on compulsory collective worship was first introduced by Section 25 of the 1944 Education Act.[17] The legislation was subsequently developed by the Education Reform Act 1988,[18] by Chapter III of the Education Act 1996,[19] and, most recently, by the School Standards and Framework Act 1998.[1]

Collective Worship in other parts of the UK (Scotland and Northern Ireland)[edit]

Collective worship is also a daily legal requirement in Northern Ireland, although regulations on the nature of the worship are different to that of England and Wales.[15][20]

In Scotland there is no requirement for collective worship, but the practice of religious observance should be available to pupils, unless the local education authority has resolved to discontinue it and this resolution has been approved by local electors.[15][21]


  1. ^ a b c "Section 70, School Standards and Framework Act 1988". Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  2. ^ "Section 71, School Standards and Framework Act, 1988". Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  3. ^ "Religious Education (RE) and Collective Worship in Academies and Free Schools Q&A" (PDF). National Association of Teachers of Religious Education. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  4. ^ a b Curtis, Polly (11 June 2004). "End daily worship in schools, says Ofsted head". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Collective worship in schools". Department for Education. Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  6. ^ "Schedule 20, School Standards and Framework Act 1988". Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  7. ^ ""COLLECTIVE WORSHIP" AND SCHOOL ASSEMBLIES: YOUR RIGHTS". Humanists UK. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  8. ^ "BBC COLLECTIVE WORSHIP POLL". ComRes. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  9. ^ "Education Bill, Amendments 92 - 95". Hansard. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  10. ^ "COLLECTIVE WORSHIP". Humanists UK. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  11. ^ "Briefing: Collective Worship in Schools" (PDF). National Secular Society. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  12. ^ "NGA responds to Telegraph article on Collective Worship". National Governors Association. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  13. ^ Holness, Margaret (11 July 2014). "'Rethink collective worship', says Bishop Pritchard". Church Times. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  14. ^ "F16: The Role of Faith in State-Funded Schools". Liberal Democrats. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  15. ^ a b c "Collective Worship and Religious Observance in Schools: An Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK" (PDF). Arts & Humanities Research Council. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  16. ^ "Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". OHCHR. Retrieved 18 February 2018.
  17. ^ "Section 255, Education Act 1944". Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  18. ^ "Education Reform Act 1988". Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  19. ^ "Chapter III, Education Act 1996". Retrieved 17 February 2018.
  20. ^ "The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, Sections 21-22". Retrieved 19 February 2018.
  21. ^ "Education (Scotland) Act 1980, Sections 8-9". Retrieved 19 February 2018.