I have enjoyed many of the school assemblies that I have witnessed, as a pupil, teacher and headteacher. Assembling together with all the form, house or school, has been quite a dramatic social gathering, with a frisson of mystery, anything might happen.
I can recall Mrs Negus, a teacher at Junior School, who would burble spittle as she sang Holy, Holy, Holy especially on the line ‘glassy sea’. There was the appearance of Jimmy Hill clothed in CCFC credibility and the moment we marked the death of Nehru the leader of India.
As for the religious bits, they tended towards the tedious. I spent more time cruising with St Paul around the Mediterranean than I do with Rob Bryden and I continue to have no idea why Paul’s Letters are so revered.
As a headteacher, there were quiet moments, as we considered some dramatic event ‘ As we hold the people of Dunblane in our thoughts or prayers’. For that assembly in March 1996, the whole community was invited in, one quiet, sombre Sunday. I also remember the awful grief that was present when children, pupils and parents gathered to mark the death of a pupil or the two teachers who died, in service, over the years.
There were joyful times, when individuals or teams marked successes and there were many performances: vocal, dramatic and instrumental that delighted, ranging from a growing Junior School Brass Band to the loud and raucous accompaniment that went with our Bhangra Dance Group.
Were we in awe?
Yes we were, in awe of the talents, diversity and skills of each other.
That’s what a school assembly can be, the gathering of a community, in which there are different world views and religions, emphasising what we have in common, what we share.
Government to ‘remind schools of their duty’ to carry out Christian collective worship
April 1st, 2021
In a departure from its previous approach, the UK Government has said that if it is made aware of English schools breaching a requirement to carry out a daily act of worship, they will be ‘investigated’ and ‘reminded of their duty on this matter’. Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for compulsory school worship to be replaced with inclusive assemblies – has expressed alarm at the statement, which marks a ramping up of enforcement of the archaic policy.
The statement was made by Education Minister Nick Gibb MP in response to a parliamentary question from fellow MP Sir John Hayes, who asked ‘what steps [the Department for Education] is taking to ensure that a daily act of worship is taking place in every maintained school.’
The UK is the only sovereign state in the world to impose worship in all state schools, including those without a religious character. In most of the latter, this worship is expected to be ‘broadly Christian’. Although schools with a high number of pupils from non-Christian backgrounds can apply – via a process called ‘determination’ – to have worship in line with another faith, they cannot opt-out of worship altogether. Parents may withdraw their children from this worship and sixth form pupils in England and Wales may withdraw themselves, but younger pupils may not withdraw without parental permission. And the process is often difficult with no meaningful alternative to worship offered in the strong majority of schools. This leaves parents to choose between exposing their children to religious indoctrination or isolating them from their peers with little or nothing of educational worth to do. It also leaves children who are too young to withdraw themselves forced to participate in religious acts of worship they may well not believe in.
In February, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child pressed governments across the UK to ‘to repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure that children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious observance at school.’ A prior report by the same Committee in 2016 also said the requirement should be abolished. This makes the Government’s enforcing of the law even harder to justify.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:
‘Compulsory collective worship threatens the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families and is totally out of step with the kind of inclusive education we should be offering in a diverse 21st century democracy like the UK. The fact that the Government now appears to be saying it will enforce this archaic law to an extent that hasn’t been the case in over fifteen years is particularly alarming.
‘The Government should instead be taking steps to instead require inclusive assemblies that are suitable for all pupils regardless of background or belief.’