Patten tells heads to obey law on religion

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The Independent Online
Head teachers were on a 'collision course' with the Government over school assemblies and religious education last night after John Patten warned them that they must obey the law.

Mr Patten, Secretary of State for Education, rejected criticisms from the National Association of Head Teachers that rules forcing schools to hold Christian RE lessons and daily assemblies were unworkable.

He told delegates at the association's annual conference in Eastbourne that the law could not and would not be changed. Head teachers retorted that it must be, and that the issue would be a major bone of contention between themselves and Mr Patten in the coming months.

However, the mood at the conference yesterday was much more amicable than it was when Mr Patten met the association last year. Then, in the midst of a bitter dispute over testing, he was booed and hissed.

Earlier this week the NAHT published a survey showing that eight out of 10 head teachers found the rules unacceptable. Seven out of 10 schools, and three out of 10 church schools, said they were unable to satisfy the requirements of the law.

Mr Patten told them yesterday that despite a circular on RE earlier this year, the law had changed little since 1944 and he saw no reason to change it now. 'Parliament looks to head teachers, as upholders of order and discipline in your own community, the school, to ensure that the laws of the wider community are observed. Campaign vigorously for change, of course; that is every citizen's right, just as it is every citizen's responsibility to obey the law. It is as simple as that,' he told the conference.

Mr Patten has the right to direct a school to obey the law on worship or RE if a parent or interested person complains to him. However he said last night that there had been no such complaint so far.

He suggested that heads who did not believe in God should turn to local advisory committees on religious education for advice. Imams and rabbis as well as priests could be invited to take assemblies, but the main focus over a period should be Christian.

David Hart, general secretary of the association, said that while the atmosphere between the head teachers and Mr Patten had improved, they were still on a 'collision course'. The NAHT would continue to lobby for changes in the law.