Collective Worship in Schools

New research for the BBC indicates that the law requiring a daily act of collective worship in state-maintained schools in England appears to be widely ignored and to command relatively limited public support. The obligation was originally laid down by the Education Act 1944 and has been carried forward, with some amendment, into subsequent legislation.

The survey, published on 6 September, was conducted by ComRes by telephone among a sample of 1,743 adults aged 18 and over in England between 15 and 24 July 2011. They included 500 parents of children of school age living in the household. The study was commissioned to coincide with a series of faith-based programmes on BBC local radio. Full results can be found at:

Parents with school-age children were asked whether, to the best of their knowledge, their children attended a daily act of collective worship at school. Only 28% said that they did, with 64% replying in the negative, and 1% reporting that they had withdrawn their children from such worship (as they are legally entitled to do). 8% were unsure of the situation. There was some variation in the replies by demographic groups, although small cell sizes necessitate that the disaggregated data should be treated with caution.

The mean was somewhat brought down by the inclusion of parents with children aged under 5. 37% of parents of children aged 5-10 reported that their children attended a daily act of collective worship at school, compared with 33% of those aged 11-15 and 30% of those aged 16-18. It has long been known that secondary schools have struggled to comply with the law, but these statistics imply that primary schools are also failing, at least in the understanding of parents.

The full sample, comprising parents and non-parents, was asked whether the requirement for a daily collective act of worship in state schools should be enforced. Three-fifths said that it should not be, rising to two-thirds among parents of school-age children. Proponents of enforcement numbered 36% overall, being greatest among the over-55s and the bottom (DE) social group. 4% expressed no views.     

These findings are likely to fuel the growing campaign among secularists, teachers and even some faith leaders to persuade the Government to repeal the legislation. The National Secular Society has been especially strident, condemning compulsory collective worship as a breach of human rights.

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