Assembly lines

The archaic rules on collective assemblies for schools are put under the spotlight in this opinion piece for the Barking and Dagenham Post published 2 May.

The non-religious are the largest growing group in England according to Government statistics just published – a staggering 46% increase in seven years, and over half the population. It’s time the Government caught up with this social revolution.

Examples of anachronistic religious privilege are rife. Take the automatic right of Bishops to sit in the Lords. Iran is the only other country in the world where unelected clerics can make law. Another striking example is the requirement that state schools hold a daily act of collective worship ‘wholly or mainly of a Christian character.’ It dates back 75 years to the 1944 Education Act.

Polls show most parents oppose it. Opt-outs are available, and in practice many schools ignore the requirement with impunity.  But some schools do still observe it. Their assemblies divide children based on their parents’ religion and which pupils take part. They put religious belief on a pedestal, while sidelining those of us who are non-religious, as if our views on leading a good life don’t count.

One positive development has been a surge of interest in inviting Humanists to speak at assemblies about ethical non-religious perspectives. Our speakers have proved beneficial in helping meet the twin obligations of promoting the spiritual, moral and cultural development of children and social cohesion. The current law is clearly redundant. It should be replaced with a new duty for all schools to hold worship-free assemblies which are respectful to and inclusive of all pupils, regardless of religious or non-religious belief.

Paul Kaufman
Chair East London Humanists

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