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withdrawal from RE/Collective worship AND Gifted/Talented

(643 Posts)
outofthebox Thu 18-Jul-13 12:08:20


I have searched this forum but have been unable to find a specific discussion on the experience parent have had when withdrawing their children from RE and Collective Worship.

We are Jewish Humanist (Atheist) and I object to my son being involved with prayers or any kind or being in a christmas play- nativity involvement is specifically out of the question.

We are also American so my husband and I never had to deal with feelings of exclusion regarding the above issues because religion is not allowed in public schools YEY! We don't really understand the RE system and my first child is just turning 4.

His school has assembly every morning. From what I understand, it is usually of an ethical theme which is terrific, yet it follows by a prayer at the end and then once a week there are hymns and once a week there are relgious plays of a nature which has not yet been made specifically clear or to me.

The school headmistress has not offered any solutions or plans except to say we'll deal with it. This last school year, my son was taken out from practicing for school christmas songs but I know he felt sad about being separated from friends as he was only brought into another room to play with playdough and overheard everyone but him practicing. I'm not sure that overhearing practcing is consistenet with honoring re withdrawal rights. Also as the school is a christian private school run by cognate, I'm not sure if they have the ability to do what they want vs a state school.

My initial thought is to just bring my son to school 15 minutes "late" each morning so he won't even know what he is missing - of course if there is an awards day or something I don't know how this would be handled. The headmistress really gave me the indiciation that in circumstances like this, she wouldn't know what to do either- yet I think the school has a duty to come up with some accomodations doesn't it? In regards to being "late" it was communicated to me that my son might in future be marked "late" which would interfere with the attendance policy.. don't know what to do about this.

Finally, on top of it all, my son is listed as gifted for reading and math. This past school year I was just thrilled because the wonderful year 2 teacher met with him once a week and encouraged him. I thought that just maybe,. if the school is going to give support here, that they do so when my son would otherwise be in RE or collective worship as he might not feel excluded specifically. I get the feeling that while that one teacher was thrilled to offer up her time, the headmistress really doesn't want to ask her staff to sit with my son and would rather pressure us to confirm or leave. We are not the type to just bow under pressure-

SO! With all of the above in mind- any tips? What has your experience dealing with withdrawal been like? How to deal with a headmistress or ensure your rights are enforced?

Thanks so much.

OhBuggerandArse Thu 18-Jul-13 12:17:47

I grew up atheist, and attended school assembly and RE lessons perfectly happily. I learned a lot from them - culturally, intellectually, musically - but never felt compromised or as if I was expected to conform in terms of my own belief. On the whole RE lessons in schools don't teach 'this is true', but 'this is what some people believe'.

Your child's belief systems will come from you and his own exploration and development, not from school; I would be inclined to relax about both assembly and lessons, myself.

FranKatzenjammer Thu 18-Jul-13 12:18:36

Why did you decide to send your son to a Christian school when you clearly don't agree with its ethos?

Somethingyesterday Thu 18-Jul-13 12:21:02

OP I am certain I must have misunderstood your post - because it strikes me as being at the upper end of extraordinary.

There are three things you say that make your position a little difficult to understand:

1) You don't really understand the RE system
2) Your child is at a Christian (private) school
3) You object to your child being within hearing of other children practising for Christmas songs

It might be helpful if you could say how long you have lived in the UK (?) And why your child has been sent to a school directly in opposition to your beliefs....

eddiemairswife Thu 18-Jul-13 12:26:17

Presumably you knew you knew you were choosing a CHRISTIAN school for your son. If you don't like it find somewhere else!

iseenodust Thu 18-Jul-13 12:31:24

I think if you chose a Christian school you knew what you were getting into but thought you'd have your cake and eat it.

DS attends a C of E state primary and the teaching is all of the 'some people believe' type and in RE they have looked into Judaism (visited synagogue) & Sikhism amongst others. He'll still tell you he hasn't been christened and doesn't believe in any god. You trust yourself to instil your family values/beliefs, your child to form his own opinion or you get a new school. YABU.

adeucalione Thu 18-Jul-13 12:38:47

A school assembly of a 'broadly Christian' nature is compulsory but many schools focus on spiritual or ethical (rather than religious) topics.

Those children who wish to be excluded should be able to sit out for the first part (missing any hymns or religious songs) but join in towards the end for any announcements or awards. The school is not under any education to provide an alternative lesson, your children will just sit outside for the ten minutes or so that the assembly is going on.

As the singing will involve the whole school, and be quite loud, and I don't see how you can insist that your child doesn't hear this.

The RE curriculum is really interesting, and I suggest you google it. I can't understand why anyone would want to exclude their child from learning about other cultures and religions.

FWIW we are an atheist family and my children have always chosen to attend assemblies and Christmas concerts. If I insist that they be excluded, and make the decision for them, then I am no different from those religious families who decide what religion their child will be at birth.

My children tell me that they sing the songs because they enjoy them, but do not say the prayers or bow their heads.

adeucalione Thu 18-Jul-13 12:39:36

* under any obligation

exexpat Thu 18-Jul-13 12:40:16

I am an atheist, and am bringing my children up to make up their own minds. They started out in a US-influenced international school, so no religion at school, but have been in the UK system since they were aged 8 and 4 respectively.

Despite my lack of belief, I did not feel the need to withdraw them from assemblies. I would much rather that the 'collective worship' requirement was abolished (I am a member of the National Secular Society and support their campaign on this) but I think that withdrawing children from assemblies is just making too big an issue of it, and does isolate them from the communal life of the school.

Most of the time assemblies are not very religious (it depends largely on the school and the individual head), and when they are very religious, my children just found them laughable - their old primary school had the local children's minister in once a week, and she tried way too hard to be 'down with the kids', to the extent of trying to squeeze connections to bible-based lessons out of High School Musical and so on. I think most of the children sat there cringing with embarrassment - they certainly weren't converted.

Schools know that the majority of children do not come from Christian families, so although they are obliged by law to have nominally Christian assemblies, in practice they are fairly secular. Even Catholic and Church of England schools sometimes have a majority of Muslim or Hindu pupils, very few of whom are withdrawn from assemblies, as far as I know. The only families who generally seem to insist on withdrawal are Jehovah's Witnesses, who don't want their children getting an alternative view of religion.

Even nativity plays these days are often only loosely connected to the bible story - the one my daughter was in was called something like 'The very hopeless camel' and Mary & Joseph were virtually bit-parts...

My children are now 14 and 10, and both identify as atheists, but still sing hymns in school assemblies. Obviously I talk to them about religion, and make sure that they don't feel obliged to pray or accept anything they were taught as fact; they are both quite confident and assertive enough to be open about their lack of belief at school.

Although I oppose religious assemblies, I actively support RE lessons in school, as these days they cover all major religions and are meant to be taught in a neutral rather than doctrinal way (this doesn't apply in Catholic schools etc). I think it's important for children to learn about religion, just so they understand world events a bit better.

Sorry this probably isn't very helpful to you, if you are dead set on withdrawing your child, but you might want to rethink whether it is really necessary - all British schools are to some extent religious, but they seem to produce very large numbers of atheists (unlike the secular US school system) so I don't think you need to worry about your children suddenly 'catching' religion.

OhBuggerandArse Thu 18-Jul-13 12:51:26

The other strategic reason for going is that a good knowledge of bible stories (including 'Old Testament' which presumably you wouldn't have such an issue with) is pretty much a pre-requisite for an understanding of Western canonical literature. Getting a child-friendly introduction through assembly = short cut to literary appreciation... wink

<Still reeling from discovering that I needed to explain the Parting of the Red Sea to second year Uni students in my medieval literature class>

outofthebox Thu 18-Jul-13 13:00:48

Thanks everyone, but I really wanted to hear from moms who have actually withdrawn their child.

For the atheist moms out there- as your parents were more likely to be christian or catholic etc, of course you would have no objection because things like christmas are part of your culture. They are NOT a part of a jewish culture. Primarilly, jewish humanists rally against what we view is hypocrisy and strive to live an authentic life- just personal views we expect our son to incorporate.

Re the christian school- it is listed as outstanding and is fairly local. I am not looking to change the school, just excercise the statutory rights... this discussion is for figuring out how to do so...


senua Thu 18-Jul-13 13:02:54

We are American ... We don't really understand the RE system and my first child is just turning 4.

This says it all.
We Brits don't make a big deal of religion. We have a 'live and let live' approach. Chillax!

However, I think your antipathy to nativity plays is misplaced. It would be like me going to the US and banning my DC from participating in Thanksgiving. It tends not to be overly religious (it is, but it isn't, in a typically muddled British way) but is one of those cultural moments that bond people together. I suggest that you rent a copy of the film Love Actually to see what nativity plays mean to us. (lobsters IIRC grin)
My DD was Mary (twice!) but has grown up to become atheist. DS was Father Christmas (I don't remember him being in the bible!).

outofthebox Thu 18-Jul-13 13:05:38

also - for others- we have the same problem originally described, -no matter which school we choose-. Whether CofE, or even a Jewish school... so having selected a christian school initially really has no bearing on the original question.....

exexpat Thu 18-Jul-13 13:05:44

Unfortunately, I think you won't find many people on here who withdraw their children because, as I mentioned, the only families in the UK who tend to withdraw their children are members of extreme/fringe religions who don't want their beliefs challenged. None of the Hindu or Muslim families I know do, and obviously Christmas, the bible etc are no part of their culture either.

I don't have a problem with my children sitting through assemblies and thinking critically about them, and I don't think that makes me a hypocrite.

OhBuggerandArse Thu 18-Jul-13 13:06:19



'Christian school... outstanding... not looking to change the school'

Just sayin'.

senua Thu 18-Jul-13 13:07:55

x posted with your second post but I still stand by it.

Still reeling from discovering that I needed to explain the Parting of the Red Sea to second year Uni students in my medieval literature class

This is the sort of thing I mean. RE as cultural history is important.

things like christmas are part of your culture. They are NOT a part of a jewish culture.

Um, do you wander around with your eyes shut at Christmastime then? It's a bit hard to avoid.confused

outofthebox Thu 18-Jul-13 13:10:11

Senua- that comment is totally insensitive to the basic tenants of judiasim vs christianity....

exexpat Thu 18-Jul-13 13:11:13

Also, I don't quite understand your objection to RE lessons - why is it a bad thing to learn about religion, when it is such a fundamental part of world culture, good and bad (art, literature, wars, terrorism etc)? I see RE lessons as very important in helping children understand the world they are growing up in.

senua Thu 18-Jul-13 13:12:21

judiasim versus christianity.

I repeat. Live and let live. There is no "versus"

OhBuggerandArse Thu 18-Jul-13 13:12:50



sonlypuppyfat Thu 18-Jul-13 13:13:15

I'm sorry for sounding a bit dim but what on earth is an authentic life? And perhaps you are finding it hard to find anyone to help you is because no one withdraws their child from assembly. Perhaps the school could put a sound proof booth up so know one would have to listen to a hymn.

ouryve Thu 18-Jul-13 13:16:43

If you feel that strongly, why are you sending your child to an overtly Christian school?

We're atheist, we have no problem with the boys having RE lessons as a lot can be learnt about society through them (and DS1, also in year 4, quite firmly believes that it's all nonsense, anyhow, but it would be up to him what to believe, as far as I am concerned). No way would we send him to a private school that is overtly Christian, though. Your choice of school reflects that you did have a real choice.

IThinkOfHappyWhenIThinkOfYou Thu 18-Jul-13 13:17:06

Ramadan, Diwali and Thanksgiving aren't part of my culture but my life is enriched by knowing that they exist.

RE is religious education, it's a different thing from indoctrination or worship. Even in my DCs Catholic school with real live nuns they have a 'some people believe' approach to Catholicism and study another faith in depth every year.

As far as I know private schools aren't under any obligation to make special arrangements but the bottom line is you can't have it both ways. You can't choose a private Christian school, want him separated and then say it's sad for him to be separated from his friends. Nativity plays are fairly culturally important in the UK, a Christian school isn't going to abandon them.

SoupDragon Thu 18-Jul-13 13:17:07

I am an atheist mother.

I didn't withdraw my children from anything because I prefer them to understand the religions of others, learn tolerance and also that singing a song or hearing a prayer doesn't mean they are worshipping.

Senua- that comment is totally insensitive to the basic tenants of judiasim vs christianity....

Which, as an atheist, you surely don't care about?

outofthebox Thu 18-Jul-13 13:17:10

exexpat- that is interesting... really. Extremists.. hmm. Even at the American school here, they teach RE because it is a requirment and well, there are a lot of "bible belters" around who don't mind the lack of separation between church and state.

well... anyway, we are withdrawing and so surely some people have excercised their rights and don't understand why people are being oppositional vs helpful. It is not as if I am going to change my mind just like they are not going to change theirs because someone challenged their beliefs...

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