Religion can be a polarising issue – especially when it’s woven into the fabric of a school’s culture.
However, parents in England who prefer schools to be like oil and water to religion may be heartened to note that Humanist UK – a campaign group that advocates secularism – has come up with an alternative model to make daily school assemblies secular and free of religion.
However, on its website, Humanists UK said “worship is out of place in schools and that the repeated demands of recent Education Acts for collective worship that is ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ are unworkable, hypocritical, counterproductive and divisive.”
The group has developed a programme called Assemblies for All, which advocates no particular religious belief. They said it consists of 200 inclusive assemblies for Key Stages 1 to 5 across 30 diverse themes, and claims it’s suitable for all pupils, regardless of their religious or non-religious background.
These assemblies cover diverse themes including the environment, physical and mental health, arts and culture, and religious and secular holidays. They were developed by various organisations, including leading the Government, charities such as Unicef UK, Amnesty International and WaterAid, the UK Parliament, the BBC, businesses, among others.
The group has a platform for teachers to access scripts, presentations, videos and speaking notes. Teachers can also explore a calendar of over 250 events and plan assemblies around key dates including holidays, festivals and international awareness days.
Should religion be kept out of non-faith schools?
While students in non-faith schools engage in a “broadly Christian” daily act of worship, according to reports, many schools regularly flout this.
An estimated half of primary schools do not take part in a daily act of collective worship (that is “broadly Christian”) while almost no secular secondaries are delivering a daily act of collective worship, according to a report by the TeacherTapp.
Calls for religious education to reflect the modern face of Britain have been brought up in recent years.
In The Guardian, Harriet Sherwood wrote that Britain was a predominantly Christian country in the 1940s. However, today, “a majority of people say they have no religion, and there are parts of the country where people of other religions form a significant proportion of the population”.
Quoting the British Attitudes Survey, TeacherTapp said: “Across the general public, 52 percent of people say they do not belong to a religion and just 12 percent of Brits currently describe themselves as followers of the Church of England.”
Some parents may strongly argue that they should decide what religious upbringing their children receive, while school assemblies that cater to one religion undoubtedly alienate students of other faiths.
Critics of religious assemblies advocate for “no-faith” or “multi-faith” alternatives. But should more schools follow those that have already opted to stop daily Christian worship?
Only time will tell.