Questions about "collective worship" and atheism(15 Posts)
We're starting to look at primary schools for our DC. We grew up abroad, so the British school system is new to us and we'd really appreciate some enlightenment regarding "collective worship".
How is this "practiced" in non-religious state schools? Is the focus on providing an overview of world religions, or is it on Christian prayer and religious practices? Or does it vary from school to school?
We are in London, so schools tend to be quite diverse, with kids from all sorts of backgrounds. In addition, we are atheists and while we want our children to understand about different religions, we do not want their schools to be steering them toward religious practice.
Is atheism (or agnosticism, humanism, etc) given a place as a valid belief system?
How common is it for families to opt out, and how do the kids spend their time instead?
Finally, is "collective worship" part of secondary education as well?
There are no secular state-schools in Britain - every school must by law have 'a daily act of worship of a broadly Christian nature'. Christianity is the state religion in the way that our Head of State, the Queen is also Head of the Church of England.
Schools are divided into Community Schools and Faith Schools. The faith ones obviously subscribe to that belief system, but that can depend on the school. Many people have no choice other than to send their child to a Faith school - small villages may only have a CofE primary, but the religious element can be less than you would find in some community schools.
Community schools vary in the amount of religion pretty much depending on the personal beliefs of the Head. Some schools are pretty full on - prayers, religious songs, bible readings, many go for a vague nod to religion in that assembly covers topics such as 'being nice to people'.
Most community schools will have Nativity plays, Easter celebrations etc, but the nativity play often has things like Lobsters and Father Christmas and other creatures that do not appear in the bible!
Certainly in multicultural areas, most schools will also celebrate Diwali and Eid.
Religious Education nowadays is mainly about world religions and ethics.
My husband and I are both militant atheists and secular humanists - plus I come from a culturally CofE background while he's from a Jewish background. We both sat on our local SACRE which is the authority that looks into Religious Educational Standards. We didn't get a vote (atheist reps don't get one) but we did get to put our opinions forward and the religious reps on the committee were very pleased to get a couple of atheists along to put our views into the mix.
Some schools are starting to include Humanism as a philosophical belief choice in RE, but not nearly enough. The British Humanist Association campaigns on this kind of thing and produces good booklets for schools.
I wouldn't withdraw my child from Assembly or Collective Worship. They basically have to sit in a classroom on their own with nothing to do and it both singles them out and makes it forbidden fruit.
I would have a major issue if she was told to pray or believe things - unless she particularly wants to - we are not bringing her up as anything, we want her to decide for herself. The UK is turning out more and more non-believers so I don't think our non-secular schools are succeeding in indoctrination of any kind. Weekly bums on pews in churches in the UK are only around 10% of the population.
My DDs both went to schools with Chapels attached and the schools welcomed all religions. Some took it seriously and were confirmed, and some did not. It was Methodist. However, now they are older they are not bothered about religion and have not taken it any further in their lives. I felt they were given boundaries and guidance but it was not rammed into them. Children grow up with their own ideas and views and whether you have no religion or take it seriously, you can learn how to be pleasant to each other. At primary school the community school taught this far better than the C of E one incidentally so visiting a school is a good idea to see the impact of religion on the daily life in the school. It can be very low key. We are not militant anything and were happy that our children were well adjusted, kind and capable of making up their own minds without us telling them what to believe, or not, as the case may be.
Other than Jehovah's Witnesses, pretty much nobody removes their child from collective worship.
Hope all that helps!
Be warned that if every school in your area is over-subscribed and you don't get a place in the ones you have selected, then there is always a chance that you could be allocated a Catholic school where in many, religious practice is pretty full-on and incorporated throughout the day.
Unfortunately there is no allowance for not believing in any of it and the best you can do is get on waiting lists for everything else.
How is this "practiced" in non-religious state schools?
There is no such thing as totally non-religious state schools. All state schools teach R.E (so teach about world religions) but also must have collective worship of a broadly Christian nature (so prayers, hymns and Christian teaching). It applies to secondary school as well although many of them are so large that collective worship every day can be a bit more hit and miss in practice.
You can write to the school and ask that your children are not included in any of the worship and the school must respect that. Atheist views are common and of course respected but in practice, most parents do not opt their children out. I don't know why but very few do even if it is something they feel strongly about.
Non-church aligned schools are called non-denominational and their "collective worship" varies wildly - depending on the Head and Board of Governors.
DS goes to a non-denominational London primary, in a very diverse, multicultural area. They "collectively worship" the community, friendship, sharing etc - they also celebrate everything - Chinese New Year, Christmas, Diwali, Eid - festivals are used as a jumping point into language, history, geography, food etc.
Also there is a big difference between learning Comparative Religion (X believe this, Y believe that) and having a Religious Education (God created X and that is the Truth)
I am a secular atheist so very much against collective worship and state funding of faith schools. Some London boroughs have a lot of faith schools so make sure you know your options and put your reasons in your application. If you feel strongly, the National Secular Society is a good organisation to join.
You can put your reasons in your application but there is no priority to give children of atheist parents a non-denominational school. If the only school the child qualifies for is a church school, that is the one that has to be allocated. The admission rules do not recognise wish for a single sex school or wish for a non-denominational school as being part of any admissions practice.
As such, it is a good idea to list non-denominational schools on the form that are very local to home even if they aren't the one with the smallest classes / best Ofsted etc. Distance is almost always a tiebreaker for non church schools and as such, it is best to list your closest ones or the ones you knwo you can get a place at (eg due to having a sibling there).
I would also say the churchiness of church schools varies wildly.
The primary I went to was CofE so we sang hymns in assembly. That was about it other than an occasional visit from the local vicar. He was the stepdad of someone in my year so we all found this hilarious. I don't think any attempts were made to indoctrinate us in any way (and I refused to be confirmed when I was 10 because I thought it was all rubbish so I would have noticed if there had been).
By the time you get to secondary they all ignore the collective act of worship as it doesn't physically work - very few secondaries can fit all their pupils in one room. It is more likely to be a 'thought for the day' type thing if any effort is made at all. But they do have compulsory RS/ethics lessons. These vary wildly in quality - can be brilliant, encouraging pupils to develop their own views on all kinds of topics or can be (often older) Christians who still fall in to the habit of teaching about the bible etc as if it was truth.
Non denominational schools can be more religious than C of E schools. It depends largely on the Head and their interpretation of the law.
I have never met anyone who was converted to a religion through a school assembly-the churches would be full to overflowing if they were!
How religious collective worship is really depends on the head.
I'm atheist; my DCs used to go to church primary with a very diverse intake. The head was not actually Christian, as far as I know, so most of the assemblies were fairly wishy-washy, let's be nice to each other, and maybe sing a song sort of thing, apart from when the local children's minister came in and tried to do assemblies that made bible stories hip and happening (my DCs cringed a lot at these but mostly managed not to laugh out loud). I made it clear to my DCs that they were under no obligation to sing religious songs or close their eyes and pray. They also had assemblies on Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year and pretty much anything else that would relieve the tedium.
I would guess that by far the majority of parents at that school were atheists, with a handful of practising Christians and other religions, but no one withdrew their children from assembly -it is part of the collective life of the school.
RE lessons are meant to present different religious beliefs in a neutral, non-dogmatic way.
I would say there is very little risk that the kind of religion your DCs will be exposed to at state schools will turn them into practising Christians - the British education system produces large numbers of atheists and agnostics, unlike the secular US education system.
Individual schools vary a lot - some 'faith' schools are not very religious at all, some community schools are surprisingly religious. A lot depends on the HT. I wish we could opt for truly secular schools.
I don't withdraw my DCs from collective worship, I am very happy for them to learn about all religions and celebrate all different festivals, but I am not happy that DD has been instructed to pray (not a faith school, very religion-keen head)
That's really helpful and explains a lot. Thanks, everyone. Will now know to ask about this when we visit schools.
and TBH as an atheist parent, it really never bothered me that they got a dose of God each day as by year 5 they had both seen through it.
My dc have gone to community primaries rather than church primaries, which I think does lessen the religious side a lot - when one teacher who'd come from a church primary started saying grace with them there was a rash of parental complaints and she stopped.
We're raving atheists and I would prefer my children to have a properly secular education, but we haven't removed them from RE or assemblies because you miss out on too much of school life if you aren't in assemblies, it's about much more than the religious bit (which is quite minimal in our current primary). You miss out on notices, awards and prixes, interesting talks, Star of the Week, etc. I've said I'll remove them if they like, but it's not such a big deal really.
In RE, my dc are all dong very well and enjoying very much. I think this is because we talk about religion, atheism, ethics a lot at home and they are quite well set up for the discussions on religions norms, animal rights etc. But it might be different at a faith school.
There is very little difference between a community school and a faith school and the community school can be more religious. Many villages only have a faith school.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.