Governments in the UK urged to reconsider the practice of collective worship and religious observance in schools

Posted by ap507 at Nov 13, 2015 12:15 AM |
Report launched at international conference, University of Leicester, Friday 13 November

Issued by the University of Leicester Press Office on 13 November

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Is there a place for 'collective worship' or ‘religious observance’ in UK schools?

The majority of schools in the UK are required by law to organise acts of collective worship (England, Northern Ireland, Wales) or religious observance (Scotland) for their pupils.

What is the purpose of collective worship/religious observance?

A report launched today at the University of Leicester strongly recommends that governments in the UK should urgently consider afresh the rationale underlying these duties. It argues that there is currently no accepted rationale – and only when one is agreed can an informed debate begin on whether the current duties should be maintained or amended.

The report recommends that if no rationale can be found for a collective activity in schools, then the current duties should be abolished.

It acknowledges that the different countries in the UK may choose to take different approaches to the question of whether to maintain, abolish or amend the duty in light of the aims and values of each country’s education system.

The report, ‘Collective Worship and Religious Observance in Schools: An Evaluation of Law and Policy in the UK’, is the result of a two-year Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project, led by Dr Alison Mawhinney (Bangor University) and Professor Peter Cumper (University of Leicester).   It is launched today at an international conference taking place at College Court, the University of Leicester, on Friday 13 November between 10:00am – 4:00pm.

In addition to urging a reappraisal of the current duties, the report makes a number of recommendations with respect to the current implementation of the law and policy surrounding collective worship and religious observance.  It recommends that:

  • All educational authorities in the UK should issue guidelines to schools to clarify that the right to withdraw from acts of collective worship/religious observance extends to all schools
  • All schools in the UK should clearly publicize the content and format of acts of collective worship/religious observance so that parents and pupils are knowledgeable about what happens during these activities, and able to make informed decisions about whether to opt out
  • All schools in the UK should make parents and pupils aware of the right to opt out of acts of collective worship/religious observance
  • All schools in the UK should provide appropriate alternative activities, with educational value, where opt outs have been requested

Specific recommendations for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, in regard to collective worship/religious observance, are also made in the report.

In examining the issue of collective worship and religious observance, the project has brought together ten scholars from across the UK, with expertise in a number of relevant disciplines including education, law, philosophy, and spirituality.

In addition to the presentation of the Network’s findings, the conference – which will be chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood – will feature presentations from a number of influential figures from the UK and overseas.

Speakers include: the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt; the Professor of the Sociology of Religion, Linda Woodhead MBE (Lancaster University); the Professor of Theology and Education, Mary Elizabeth Moore (Boston University); and the Professor of Education, Geir Skeie (Stockholm University).

More details of the research project can be found at:


Notes to Editors:

For enquiries on Friday 13 November please contact College Court to leave a message for Professor Peter Cumper.

For more information about the content of the report please contact Dr Alison Mawhinney on or Professor Peter Cumper on

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