A large number of schools in England are ignoring a statutory requirement to provide daily collective worship, a survey has found, renewing debate over whether the law should be repealed.
Almost two thirds of parents questioned said their children don't attend daily collective worship at their schools.
The research, conducted by ComRes on behalf of BBC Local Radio suggests maintained schools are forgoing their statutory duties to provide worship to reflect the “broadly Christian” traditions of England.
Of the 500 parents questioned, 64 per cent said their child did not attend worship assemblies. But the Church of England insisted the results of the poll were unreliable saying it did not differentiate primary and secondary schools where the former regularly had daily worship or reflection.
A spokesman for the C of E said: “Collective worship is when pupils of all faiths and none come together to reflect - it should not be confused with corporate worship when everyone is of the same belief. Evidence collected in Church school inspections shows that schools place a high value on collective worship.
“The Church strongly supports the law - although it is not its job to enforce it - as it provides an important chance for the school to focus on promoting the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of its pupils.
The most recent legislation concerning the requirements for collective worship is in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. This builds on previous acts, dating back to the Education Act in 1944, when compulsory collective worship was first introduced.
The 1998 Act states: “Each pupil in attendance at a community, foundation or voluntary school shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship”. In community schools the majority of worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character” and accord special status to Jesus.
Chief executive of BHA Andrew Copson said: “The fact that so many schools don’t enforce the law shows that as it stands, the law is not workable. Teachers don’t want it, parents don’t want it, pupils don’t want it. Where it is enforced it is a violation of young people’s right to freedom of religion or belief and a barrier to the development of inclusive assemblies which would build community and be educationally useful.”
Independent schools are not covered by the education acts, but the newly established free schools and academies are. Schools can apply to have a multi-faith worship policy but this must be approved by the Secretary of State, and they cannot apply to veto faith worship altogether.
Martin Cooper, deputy head teacher of Mile Oak School, near Brighton, told the BBC fulfilling the government's worship requirement was difficult.
"Having a pressure within an Ofsted expectation to be seen doing the daily act of worship, in the way they want it to be every day is challenging," he said.
"In a school like ours, there isn't a great Christian ethos, so the message has to be a social one really. It has to be about how they are going to behave."
If state-maintained schools, including academies and free schools do not have a specific faith they adhere to, they must practice “broadly Christian” worship.
But the survey revealed 60 per cent of the 1743 adults interviewed are against enforcing the collective worship law.
Chairman of ComRes Andrew Hawkins said: ““This poll tells a story of declining support for Christian worship in schools. Relatively few parents say their children’s school complies with the law. Support for the current law is best described as lukewarm.”