Has anyone opted their child out of 'worship'

(92 Posts)

We moved last year to a small town with one primary school which is CofE. Despite that not being ideal as an atheist I was keen for them to go to the local school, and anyway, the next 4 nearest schools are also all CofE.

At first there were no issues and my children were healthily critical of religious aspects of the school. However since then three issues have made me consider opting them out of 'worship'.

Firstly my daughter and a friend did not bow their heads to pray and were pointed out by the headmaster and he said he was very disappointed in them!

My son and a friend were doing some RE work and discussing god in the way of a story but were told they were not to talk of 'God' like that because he does exist and they must talk about him like he does exist!

Then in an Assembly (or as they call it, worship) the story of the three little pigs was read out. Then the children were told that the pigs whose houses were blown down did not trust in god, that is why they got eaten! And the pig whose house stayed up had trusted in god and that is why he was 'saved'.

In addition to this, I feel making a stand against the prevalence of CofE schools in this area as unless you go private you have to send your child to a faith based school.

So I found a local humanist website with a template letter and lots of good advice on opting out (although this website bizarrely reminds me of a religious cult website). Has anyone here done this? Has it been okay? Any advice please would be appreciated!

School sounds a bit over the top. I work in a church school, teach RE and plan all the collective worship and would never order children to pray. Be respectful of others who wanted to pray, yes, but you can't force someone to pray. Guidance given to schools by local dioseses is about including all and offering a positive experience to all. Not to say that some local vicars/headteachers might not be a bit more reactionary.
Also, RE lessons are to teach children about religious belief, not to indoctrinate. Lessons will have to present Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc in the same way as Christianity (although Christianity will get more curriculum time).
None of this is going to turn your child into a believer - or for that matter a non believer - for life. Children will eventually make up their own minds. Our job, I feel, is to teach them understanding and respect and keep their minds open.

toomuchicecream Wed 13-Feb-13 22:05:40

I've taught in schools where there were JW/Muslim children withdrawn from assembly. They sat in the corridor with a book, bored witless.

Staff who aren't in assembly spend their time doing 1001 other things (including small group work with children, preparing for the next lesson etc etc) so they won't be available to supervise your child beyond keeping an eye/ear out for them. Your child will miss out on any notices or important information that are given out in assembly too - with the best will in the world, it just isn't always possible to go round giving the same messages to all children who weren't in there all the time.

If you also intend to withdraw them from RE, will you be withdrawing her from all Christmas craft making, singing of harvest/Christmas songs, being in a Nativity etc etc? As a teacher, it's a real pain having children who can participate in none of those things. The Christmas where I could make no angels, Father Christmas, presents, Christmas cards etc etc etc is firmly etched on my memory. As is the problem of what to do with the JW boy when we rehearsed for our performance of Joseph.

You have legal right to withdraw your child. But I don't recommend it unless it is something you feel extremely strongly about as you will be making her stand out and be different. Withdrawing your child from assembly is not the way to make a stand about the prevalence of CofE schools because it will make absolutely no difference to the wider situation at all.

admission Wed 13-Feb-13 22:57:08

I agree with toomuchicecream that it would be far better for your child to be completely involved in all school activities including religious education.
The problem here for me is that we have a school that is going beyond where they should be going. The school's version on the three pigs is just so wrong and I think that you need to ask questions of the head teacher as to why such stories are being slanted to a religious belief.

sashh Thu 14-Feb-13 07:10:18

Withdrawing your child from assembly is not the way to make a stand about the prevalence of CofE schools because it will make absolutely no difference to the wider situation at all.

If all atheist parents did it, it would.

As for notices etc, the school has a legal duty to ensure a child missing assembly gets to hear them. And it is not difficult.

You put the messages first or last so that children withdrawn from worship can attend that part of the assembly.

Or you give notices out in class.

Toomuchicecream
You are very wrong saying the child misses notices and important information.

The framework is clearly laid out that worship forms only a part of the assembly. Therefore if you withdraw from the worship only part, they have to seperate the two components of the gathering.

Your school is very wrong if they do not comply with your request to withdraw from collective worship AND this is NOT assembly.

My children are withdrawn from any assembly the local vicar attends for the duration of his speaking only!

Oh and they can't leave them in the corridor with a book either. They have to be supervised during the withdrawn period.

I suggest your head would find it all a bit inconvenient so stand your ground.

The head would find it inconvenient and probably irritating. I would not want my child to be seen as inconvenient and irritating!

Of course they have to be supervised. They will be placed in a classroom with a book. They will feel very different and conspicuous.

If you really object, take your child elsewhere. (That being said, I would say that the school you describe sounds rather unhinged. My church school is nothing like that.)

howdoyouknowjenny Thu 14-Feb-13 21:51:08

I was withdrawn from worship as a child and didn't feel ' very different and conspicuous' !!! And didn't miss any important messages (that I'm aware of)

If your children understand your decision, I can't see that there would be any problem.

I imagine that writing letters to father Christmas wouldn't be an issue as this is a cultural tradition rather than the indoctrinating of young minds with beliefs that their parent neither believes or supports

exoticfruits Thu 14-Feb-13 22:00:03

There are no secular schools in England and there is very little difference from a faith school or community school which are merely non denominational.
Yours does seem a bit OTT.
However - does your child want to be withdrawn?

BrittaPerry Thu 14-Feb-13 22:03:01

I would object to any 'teaching religion as fact', not 'as culture'

For example, when learning about Ancient Greece, it s fine to tell stories about Zeus etc. Fine dress up as them. Fine to make little model parthenons. Fine to study The Iiliad.

Not fine to make the children recite that they worship Athena or to have representives from the temple coming in and telling them how great Apollo is and that all the girls MUST sacrifice to Artemis or they will die in childbirth.

I HE, but I would give very very serious consideration to withdrawing from worship if I start using schools again.

SavoirFaire Thu 14-Feb-13 22:05:38

Have you spoken to the school about it? Do that before reacting too far in one direction.

ravenAK Thu 14-Feb-13 22:18:11

I would probably begin with a letter citing the incidents you raise, & explaining that your dc choose not to pray, & are currently inclined towards atheism, so it's inappropriate for them to be expected to discuss 'God' as a genuine entity.

I'd go on to say that I accepted that the school was CofE & therefore was going to promote a certain worldview, but that my dc, not being members of the CofE, were not obliged to share it or pay lipservice to it, beyond normal courtesy - eg. listening reasonably attentively & refraining from disruption during 'worship'.

I'd say that I had seriously considered the option of withdrawing my dc from worship but wanted to avoid a) excluding them from aspects of the normal community life of the school & b) the school having to make separate provision.

I would conclude by saying that I was confident that the school would, in future, respect that my dc were not members of the CofE & would not be participating in acts of worship.

...& then I'd leave the school to chew on that for a while.

<not a fan of faith schools>

exoticfruits Thu 14-Feb-13 22:19:42

I would begin by asking DD.

exoticfruits Thu 14-Feb-13 22:20:12

Sorry - asking DD what she wants to do.

dikkertjedap Thu 14-Feb-13 22:33:56

I wouldn't withdraw them as you risk that they get singled out and excluded. It is not supposed to happen but IMO there is a real risk that it will.

I taught at a state school, I am atheist. However, it was one of our duties as staff to pray with kids before lunch and ALL kids had to say the prayer otherwise they were made to repeat it on their own unless their parents had opted out and then they had to wait in a separate area.

Our assemblies were a mix of religious stuff and non-religious but there was quite a bit about heaven and hell and all that. We were also told that we had to teach that the Bible was a true book, i.e. non-fiction. A lot comes down to the Head of the school and how the Head interprets things (and how religious the Head is hmm).

So, don't have your hopes up and I would just explain at home how you think about these things but that at school it is best just to blend in even if you don't think it is true.

In my school I say, 'I am going to say a prayer and if you agree, you can say 'amen' at the end.' The children know that quiet and respect is expected. I would see no reason to withdraw a child from that and indeed, no-one ever has.

Dromedary Thu 14-Feb-13 22:45:49

It's not the case that there is no difference between C of E and other schools. I think that C of E schools employ only Christian staff? The children at our school are very much taught Christian beliefs as facts, even though very few come from Christian families. There are altars in every classroom. I once saw a little Muslim girl being physically forced into the Christian prayer position at end of class prayer time. Muslim children who were not prepared to wear the school symbol of a cross on their jumpers have been expelled. The weekly evangelical Christian club are allowed to bribe the children with sweets, which are otherwise forbidden in school.

Based on how you feel about your school (I feel with you about the little pigs story - how about all those Christians eg in Africa who die horrible deaths every day, despite all their prayers?) I would either make an issue of it, or would put up with it but explain your view of things to your children. For whatever reason, few children who go to C of E schools seem to become, or at least to remain, Christian. The examples you cite are pretty hard for an atheist to stomach, and I think it would be reasonable to talk to the Head about it. He must have come across the Atheist viewpoint before! You are allowed to withdraw your children from RE lessons if you like.

steppemum Netherlands Thu 14-Feb-13 22:46:34

I am surprised at the extreme practice at your C of E school. I was a parent governor at a village C of E school. I know that 2 of the 4 teachers were practising Christians, but they were very sensitive in how that was delivered.

Having said that, the legal situation allows the school to do all that the head is doing, but it is normally considered to be a bit OTT.

Labelledame if our school presented it the way yours does I wouldn't have an issue whatsoever.

Ours is like the OP. you will pray now and say thank you to god children. Ummmm, no, my child won't thanks.

Whathaveiforgottentoday Thu 14-Feb-13 23:04:47

I think your school is a bit OTT and should be more respectful of different views. I'm a bit surprised that all your surrounding schools are faith schools so would be thinking along the same lines as you. Normally I'd say either put up with it or move schools but looks like that isn't an option for you, so I'd say YANBU to opt your child out of religion in the school.

NotMostPeople Thu 14-Feb-13 23:12:24

My Dc's all went to a C of E primary school, I once accompanied DD's class to the church and heard the Vicar tell the three little pigs story you mentioned in your OP and I was appalled. I'm an atheist DH is a lapsed catholic who can't quite cope with admitted to not believing as the guilt kicks in.

I was all ready to kick up a fuss, I can't remember why I didn't but tbh with hindsight I didn't need to. My eldest two (13 & 11) have come to their own conclusion that there is no God and my youngest aged 10 believes in God. I am happy that they have come to their own conclusions, you could say that without the input from school we were overly influencing them. Clearly they are still young and may well change their views, but I'm clear that they were presented with all sides of the argument and allowed to make up their own minds.

I wouldn't worry.

BrittaPerry Thu 14-Feb-13 23:21:32

I went to a community primary school, where the holiday club was run by the local evangelists (and wasn't advertised as such, I think it had the same name as the youth bible study group at their church which was something like Friends Club) they also came into real lessons and assemblies.

This is why I, from a mostly atheist family, fairly clever and well read, thought that evolution was a crazy theory when I started high school. Because, not oly had it been taught as such, a huge deal had been made of it.

Dromedary Thu 14-Feb-13 23:25:51

I thought that teaching creationism was illegal, BritaPerry? I suppose they just did it anyway? Did they teach wives being subservient to their husbands as well?

LittlePushka Thu 14-Feb-13 23:27:29

I just wanted to offer a thought from a completely different view point, but which supports your concerns over the incidents,

I wholly agree with your concerns and I would be frankly up in arms with our school if these incidents occured to any child, notleast my own, in the school. However, what is interesting is that I say that as a committed Christian with a faith which I am neither afraid nor ashamed to declare or demonstrate or discuss.

Quite apart from the respect he ought to afford to non-Christian students, his view is shamefully narrow and no Christian that I know (and I hang out with a fair few) would ever express such extreme views.

Firstly, if someone told me that they were disappointed that I did not bow my head to pray I would be furious...as if there is a "right" way to present when praying, ...he is being utterly ridiculous. Secondly, in what way does he think that talking about God in a way suggestive of actual existence make God more real? A Christian can no more "prove" His existence than non Christians can prove He does not. Stating He is real does not of itself make it so, the Head is talking utter drivel .

And thirdly I would be extremely upest if a primary school Head used a known fairy tale as a religious allegory...what next... Cinderella struck down in privation and poverty until she found and accepted Prince Jesus Charming?.

So I just wanted to offer you a bit of solidarity on your views from a very grounded Christian. smile

As for withdrawing i have no experience but I can only say this: I want my own children to go to worship because I also want them to feel totally free question things preached to them by others or which they read in a bible - I want them to question my faith, their faith, all faith generally,...I do not want them to accept wholesale anybodys view as "absolute truth". I want them to be equipped to make up their own minds, and in order to do that they have to be exposed to all sorts of views and all sorts of interpretations. ( I regularly am enraged with the bible and the church - I never take it any of it "spoon fed" and regularly chew it up, spit it right back out and pull a face at the ...it does not make me any less of a Christian!). But I would want all that for my children if I were atheist too.

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