End could be nigh for daily school prayers

Headteachers' conference: Collective Christian worship attacked as out of date and impractical
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The Independent Online
HEADTEACHERS will this week defy both the Government and Christian campaigners when they call for an end to the daily act of collective worship in schools.

The law requires schools to hold an act of worship of a broadly Christian nature each day. But members of the National Association of Head Teachers, whose conference begins today in Eastbourne, East Sussex, say it is impractical in an age when most teachers are not Christians and do not want to lead daily worship.

They also say that they have evidence that more and more pupils of other faiths are being withdrawn from assemblies because their parents do not want them to take part in Christian worship. A group of church representatives who reported earlier this year on the future of collective worship failed to agree and called on the Government to carry out a review.

David Hart, the association's general secretary, said: "We are in the nonsensical situation where the Office for Standards in Education is reporting that a very large number of secondary schools are not observing the law on the act of worship. For secondary schools, the law is an ass and if the law is an ass it should be changed."

There were real practical difficulties in assembling the whole school each day, he said, because many schools simply did not have the facilities to do it. "For both secondary and primary schools there is a difficulty in getting enough teachers to come forward to lead daily worship. It is out of date to insist on a daily act of Christian worship."

The emphasis should be on morality rather than religion, he suggested.

A motion to be debated at the conference on Thursday asks the Government to change the law to end the requirement for daily worship to allow schools to tackle the teaching of moral values and citizenship elsewhere in the curriculum.

Charlie Colchester, executive director of Christian Action Research and Education, said: "These people are flogging a dead horse. The desire to disenfranchise the Christian content of British education is against the wishes of most parents and the interests of children. Polls show that parents are overwhelmingly in favour of collective worship. We have a Christian education system in this country ... There is protection in law for people of other faiths, many of whom want us to recognise that this is a Christian country."

Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute, said that between 80 and 90 per cent of primary schools which dominated the association's membership complied with the law. "I can only assume that this is an attempt to secularise schools."

David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has said that he had no intention of changing the law on collective worship in schools. The School Standards and Framework Bill before Parliament ensures that the existing arrangements will continue in the new types of school which the Bill creates.