Do any secular schools exist in the South East?

(21 Posts)
agoogler Sat 15-Jun-13 00:24:51

Hi all good Mumsnet people, this is my second post :-)

My partner and I have a 2.5 year old daughter and we are looking to move out of a fairly deprived area of inner London to the hopefully leafier suburbs later this year. We're looking to find some good schools first, then look for houses second. However we have encountered a real headache in terms of schools and we are hoping we can find some help here on Mumsnet:

Basically we have something that appears to be a most unusual requirement; we are looking for a school where the pupils don't do worship and prayer as part of their daily routine.

We know it is possible to opt children out of collective worship but we don't want our daughter to be the social outcast, having to stand up and walk out of assemblies 5 mins before they finish so the other kids can pray without her. We'd rather try to find a school where the kids don't have to pray, full stop.

We have emailed a number of school heads in a number of areas we've been interested in in Hertforshire and so far every head that has taken the time to respond have confirmed that not only do they pray as part of their assemblies, many even invite Christian church groups in for an hour a week to teach the kids. Coming from countries where church and state are more separate than here, we are horrified and we're getting increasingly desperate to try to find a more secular school.

From speaking to friends, I know many others are out there who aren't overly keen on having their kids preached to / prayed with etc. If you are one of them, or - even if you think a little bit of prayer won't hurt them - if you know about schools that are more lax about prayer/worship, could you please let us know where we should be looking? We can be flexible on area as long as we find a good school...

FYI some inks with more information about the issue if you are interested:
www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6300167
m.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/sep/23/schools.faithschools
www.secularism.org.uk/news/2012/11/government-confirms-collective-worship-guidance-can-be-ignored
www.secularism.org.uk/collective-worship-and-the-law.html

(This is a slight cross post from the Local Hertforshire forum but we realise that a secular school might not exist in Hertfordshire at all, so I thought I'd post in this group too!)

BoffinMum Sat 15-Jun-13 00:28:49

A daily act of collective worship is a legal requirement in all state schools.

Justfornowitwilldo Sat 15-Jun-13 00:32:28

What BoffinMum said.

agoogler Sat 15-Jun-13 00:33:03

BoffinMum: it was a legal requirement - now it is up to the head of each school - so we're looking for a school with a progressive head, basically.

Justfornowitwilldo Sat 15-Jun-13 00:35:32

In reality that's more about fitting it into the timetable and the difficulties getting the whole school together at once than any actual easing off of the religious aspect.

Lonecatwithkitten Sat 15-Jun-13 04:20:33

As you move further out if large cities more and more schools are church maintained (churches own the premise) making it less likely for the heads to have freedom to choose not to pray.
Living in the 'leafy burbs' where a lot of our churches are bursting with families who have left the city for a better life. I would say that you are more likely to find what you are looking for in a city that outside.

nooka Sat 15-Jun-13 05:39:19

I think you are more likely to have responses from heads that think including religion is important than those that don't to be honest, because they are all supposed to have assemblies with some sort of prayer component. When my children were little they went to the local community school and it turned out to be quite religious, with the local vicar frequently holding assemblies etc. The the head changed and the vicar never visited again and the religious overtones disappeared.

On the whole the only schools that completely ignore the regulations tend to be secondary schools,but by that point you may not be so bothered because older children tend to be much more questioning of authority and make their own minds up about faith or the lack of it.

We currently live in Canada where education is completely secular so I can see that for you it's probably a bit of a culture shock, but I think you will find it very hard to assess the religious tone of non-faith schools from a distance, and then actually get into that school (do you come from a school system where if you are in the local area you automatically get into the school? it's not like that in the UK sadly).

englishteacher78 Sat 15-Jun-13 05:41:51

If it's just a prayer in assembly nobody actually forces them to pray. At our school only a quarter (if that) of the students do, the rest stare into space like they do for the rest of assembly.
We also get people from a wide variety of faiths and world views into speak to the students.
Unless it is an RC school I think you may be worrying over nothing (the religious element of assembly takes 1 minute - if that!). Why not ask to visit the schools to see what the provision is before worrying?

Ladymuck Sat 15-Jun-13 11:04:08

Not Hertfordshire, but Ridgeway school in Sanderstead also used to get a comment from Ofsted about its failure to comply with act of worship (and usually had otherwise excellent Ofsteds)

SoupDragon Sat 15-Jun-13 11:13:39

As I understand it, there is no such thing as a secular school in the UK.

However (although my children are not here to ask) Ridgeway does not, to my knowledge, require children to pray, nor does it "preach" to them. However, it is still a Christian school - they do go to one service in Y6 at a local church and celebrate with a telling of the Christmas story in KS1.

tiggytape Sat 15-Jun-13 14:37:05

There is no such thing in the state sector because the law requires daily worship.

Any school that has been pulled up by Ofted on this issue is unlikely to be allowed to continue not providing what they are legally required to. Therefore any school you find that currently dodges the issue may not still be ignoring it by the time your DD starts.

You may find a private school that meets those requirements though or you can opt her out. Otherwise, if you only want state schools, you will have to accept that the worship requirement exists even if your child doesn't personally take part.

meditrina Sat 15-Jun-13 14:39:25

Heads can move. Unless there's a change in the law, you won't find what you're looking for in the state sector.

Effjay Sat 15-Jun-13 14:42:40

There are schools out there who don't include this as part of their daily life. I'm a Governor of one and I've sat in on assemblies that has included no religion. I would look at the area and schools you are interested in and simply drop an email to the school, (office@) or head (head@) to answer what is a very fair question.

tiggytape Sat 15-Jun-13 14:52:12

Effjay - I cannot imagine any school willing to email the OP to tell them that they are failing in their statutory duty and disregarding the law!

The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (Section 70) means daily collective worship is required in all state schools. It is non-denominational and the majority of acts should be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, reflecting the broad traditions of Christian belief.’ Parents have the right to withdraw their children from collective worship. Students over the age of 16 and teachers can withdraw themselves. The school prospectus must include information about collective worship.

So that means your school too may be obeying - it doesn't have to be preaching or overtly religious - Christian traditions can mean kindness, charity and all sorts of other things that spill into non religious life as well and that's what many assemblies are about anyway.

Xenia Sat 15-Jun-13 15:24:01

Private schools may be a good bet. Montessori for little ones is I think totally secular.

BoffinMum Sat 15-Jun-13 15:31:23

In community schools it is easy to opt out of praying while the others do. I don't think it does any harm to stand or sit quietly while the others get the god stuff out of their systems, and hearing about the Christmas story and so on is useful from a cultural point of view. But you won't find evangelism in community schools and it's swindle just to poodle along being yourself.

BoffinMum Sat 15-Jun-13 15:32:16

Simple

TondelayoSchwarzkopf Sat 15-Jun-13 15:40:47

DS attends a non-denominational and very diverse state primary in London. In their act of collective worship, they celebrate the community in which they live, their school, teamwork, kindness etc. There is almost no religious content whatsoever. They observe almost every religious and cultural festival - mainly in terms of food, music, storytelling and language - not theism.

If you are interested the National Secular Society campaigns for removal of the daily act of worship and for removal of religious privileges / requirements within the state sector so it will be worth joining them and advocating for that when you become part of your school's community.

TondelayoSchwarzkopf Sat 15-Jun-13 15:41:49

BTW my non-denominational state secondary observed the 'collective act of worship' criteria by writing an inspirational quote (usually from John Lennon lyrics) on the blackboard each morning.

Our school adheres to the requirement for a 'A daily act of collective worship' by sitting quietly for a minute or two and reflecting on the theme of the assembly they have just seen. Our head teacher plays a buddhist singing bowl while the pupils reflect but it's not called prayer or anything.

BoffinMum Sat 15-Jun-13 19:18:37

TBH many schools' act of collective worship is about getting them to feel da love and be nice.

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