Schools warned to obey law on worship

Shephard rejects Archbishop's call for rethink on religious assemblies. Judith Judd reports
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The Independent Online
Teachers must not flout the law on daily worship, Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education warned yesterday, taking an uncompromising stand against the call from the Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, that the law should be reviewed.

She told a press conference at the North of England Education Conference at York University that she had no intention of changing the law. "Teachers must be very clear about the requirements of the law it is as it stands. There are no plans to change it.Collective worship can make an important contribution to the ethos of a school."

The Archbishop said on Thursday that he understood protests from Christian groups about the poor quality of school worship and suggested that if fewer religious assemblies were held their quality might improve.

Surveys show that eight out of ten schools are breaking the law that requires a daily religious assembly.

Mrs Shephard said "I would hope the church could always find positive things to say about moral and spiritual development within schools."

She believed the Archbishop had been talking about practicalities, not principle. There was a lot of help available to teachers on how to overcome difficulties created by school halls which were not big enough to hold the whole school and non-believing teachers who were unwilling to take assemblies. Parents wanted daily religious assemblies she said and added that a survey in the Independent 18 months ago showed that 70 per cent were in favour.

Parents of children at schools which did not hold daily worship could complain to the Department for Education, which would investigate. Dozens of schools have been investigated in such circumstances in recent years.

Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education are required to examine pupils' spiritual and moral progress.

Mrs Shephard said there was no question of a review of the law, which had been examined at the time of the 1993 Education Act.

The Archbishop's remarks provoked anger among traditional Christians, who say teachers are using practical difficulties as an excuse for not conducting daily worship. The Tory MP and former deputy headmaster Harry Greenway said: "He is talking into his mitre. He is No 2 in the Anglican Communion and he should think again."

Colin Hart, director of the Evangelical Christian Institute, said the Archbishop was leading the way down a slippery slope.

"He is naive to assume that reducing the number of days on which religious assembly is required will lead to an overall increase in school worship. It won't - it will lead to its near elimination," he said.

However, David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Headteachers, said: "I am delighted that the Archbishop has seen reality. An increasing number of schools are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to deliver daily acts of worship." a parents' spokeswoman, Margaret Morrissey, said many parents did not want formal religion for their children every day.