Schools disobeying rules on religion: Head teachers call for change in law on Christian worship

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The Independent Online
HEAD TEACHERS are calling for a change in the law on Christian assemblies and religious education in schools after a survey revealed that 8 out of 10 do not support it.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), which published the results yesterday ahead of its annual conference in Eastbourne starting today, claims the support of the Church of England bishops in its opposition to the regulations.

Seven out of 10 heads said they were unable to satisfy a requirement to hold a daily act of Christian worship in their schools, and 6 out of 10 said they could not deliver the religious education curriculum.

Even more strikingly, one-third of church-school heads said they could not comply with the law on assemblies or religious education. Half of the church-school heads said they found the requirements to hold a daily act of Christain worship and to teach broadly Christian religious education to all pupils unacceptable.

Almost one-third of the 2,300 heads who responded to the survey said they were thinking of exercising their rights to opt out of participating in or leading Christian assemblies. One in 10 of the 600 church-school heads questioned felt this way.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said last night that the Bishop of Ripon, who had seen the survey results, had promised to pass on the association's concerns to the Secretary of State for Education, John Patten. Mr Hart accused Mr Patten of failing to recognise that moral values could be taught outside the context of religious assemblies and RE lessons.

'We are not opposed to the teaching of moral values - far from it - but we feel the Government's approach is too prescriptive. There seems to be a clear thrust coming from the Secretary of State that you teach moral values through the medium of collective worship or RE. There seems to be little recognition of the fact that teachers teach moral values day in and day out.'

The association believes teachers' and head teachers' objections to the rules on RE and collective worship are largely practical rather than ideological, and it does not believe that Britain should make education purely secular.

However, many schools face the difficulty that a large proportion of their pupils and staff are not from Christian backgrounds.

The NAHT has argued that the content and approach of RE and assemblies should be decided by the head teacher and governing body of each school, a view supported by 96 per cent of its members. It has called for fresh discussions between ministers, church representatives and teachers' organisations to revise the rules.

The requirement for a daily Christian act of worship has been in place since 1944, but a circular earlier this year strengthened the Christian content of RE.

The conference will today debate a motion calling for the withdrawal of the circular, which has led to teachers in almost 50 per cent of schools withdrawing from the teaching of RE.

Graham Locke, treasurer of the NAHT, died in his hotel room at the conference on Monday. Mr Locke was head of one of the first schools to opt out of local authority control, Audenshaw High School in Greater Manchester.