All state sector schools which do not have a religious character are legally obliged to provide daily collective worship ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ for all registered pupils. Proposed legislation to remove this legal obligation for non-faith state sector schools is currently going through Parliament. The Education (Assemblies) Bill (the “Bill”) will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 14th January 2022, having already received its third reading in the House of Lords in December.
Although non-faith schools with a large proportion of their pupils from non-Christian backgrounds, or of no faith, may apply either to the ESFA (if they are an academy) or to the local authority’s ‘Standing Advisory Council on RE’ (if they are a maintained school) for an exemption from the obligation that such collective worship be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’, such an application depends upon the backgrounds of its pupil base. Instead, should this Bill become law, non-faith schools are to provide daily assemblies which are ‘principally directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils regardless of religion or belief’. Moreover, the school will no longer be allowed to organise acts of worship or other religious observance in school (although staff members or pupils may arrange voluntary acts of worship on the school premises).
For faith schools, parents and sixth form pupils will continue to have the right to request that their children/they be excused from attendance at any acts of worship or other religious observance organised by or on behalf of a school. The Bill will, however, oblige the faith school to provide an assembly ‘of equal educational worth, which shall be principally directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils’. Although the proposed amendments will reverse what has previously been seen to be somewhat of an anachronism for non-faith schools, in doing so, faith schools should be aware of these additional obligations contained within the Bill.