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VIEWS & OPINION


Untangling schools’ “collective worship”


obligations Comment by ANE VERNON, Partner at Payne Hicks Beach


The requirement that pupils participate in daily acts of collective worship was introduced some 75 years ago. How does this fit in with today's society and recognised concepts such as freedom of religion or belief and equality laws? Parents of children in an Oxfordshire Primary


School recently applied for a Judicial Review of the school's arrangements for children withdrawn from collective worship. The parents challenged the compulsory attendance of


religious worship in school assembly and sought the right for a secular alternative. They also argued that it was in breach of equality legislation that, having withdrawn their children from collective worship, they were not offered an alternative assembly of equal educational worth. The school contended it had complied with the law, including


respecting parents’ right to withdraw their children from collective worship. The case was due to be heard in court in autumn 2019, but ended with an out-of-court settlement by which the school agreed to provide children withdrawn from religious worship and prayers with alternative materials and teacher supervision. In England and Wales compulsory collective worship was


introduced in 1944. The requirement has since been restated and developed with subsequent legislation which provides that “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 and foundation schools that do not have a


religious character, the worship must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”. The majority of assemblies must meet this requirement, although they may contain non-Christian material and secular assemblies may be held as well. In voluntary schools and foundation schools with a religious


character, worship must be in accordance with the school's trust deeds or the tenets and practices of the school’s religion or religious denomination. Free schools and academies must provide worship as required by


the funding agreement. In the case of independent schools, the requirements will usually be set out in the foundation deeds or in policy laid down by governors. Schools that consider the requirement of “broadly Christian”


worship should not apply to them may seek a determination which allows alternative provision, including multi-faith worship. Parents have the right to withdraw their children from attendance


at religious worship and Sixth Form students may withdraw without their parents’ permission. The value of collective worship is seen as a focus point for pupils'


development as a body and opportunity for reflection for the individual student. However, it is recognised that there is widespread non-compliance with the letter of the law. Many head teachers admit they are unable to satisfy the daily worship requirement and some years ago the then head of Ofsted questioned the sense in including provision for collective worship in their inspection criteria. The Oxfordshire parents' challenge resulted in settlement saving


time and money on both sides and allowing the parties to move on with an agreed solution. Without a trial, no judicial determination provides guidance examining the potentially conflicting legislative provisions. Short of a future court case a parliamentary review is needed to align schools' obligations taking account of social dynamics in their communities.


January 2020 Education in an age of


protest Comment by FELICIA JACKSON, Chair of the Learn2Think Foundation


Coverage of Greta Thunberg and other young activists has pushed the thorny issue of young people’s role in climate action to the top of the agenda. They will be most affected by the decisions we make today, yet they have no say in the agreements that are made. 2020 has been called a ‘Super Year’


for increased ambition across governments and across society and


nations are being asked to submit enhanced national climate plans known as NDCs under the formal UN process. Climate is an intergenerational challenge of awesome proportions and one that will not be solved by a short term technological fix but rather requires a long-term socio-economic behavioral change. This means, many experts believe, that there is great urgency to


increase the coverage, depth and quality of climate education if a new generation is to cope with the challenges of climate and environmental change that are rapidly emerging world-wide. Linking environmental education with civic education is a way of


linking teaching to real experiences and could prove a powerful response to children and citizens around the world who are agitating for action. The importance of a change in our overall thinking and praxis could underpin a step-change in the need for action on climate change. Yet climate is taught in a piecemeal fashion and what does exist


is hidden in different silos across science, geography, history, social and more. Environmental literacy used to be a big deal - in the US in the 70’s it was considered critical as part of national security. Today however, education around the world uses different facts and figures dependent on political affiliation. The challenges children face are too important for this not to be


addressed. Nick Nuttall, Strategic Communications Director at the Earth Day Network warns that we have already lost a couple of generations since the original introduction of environmental education and says, “Don’t lose more to muddled thinking and incoherent information.” As it stands, few countries offer climate education at a level


sufficient to support long term change. There is however a critical momentum building, with both Italy and Mexico having announced that climate education will become compulsory in 2020. In Mexico it has even been added to the constitution, putting its implementation beyond the political cycles of government. In December 2019 at the Madrid climate negotiations, the Earth Day Network, the UN, education NGOs and such countries announced plans to promote the idea that all countries adopt compulsory climate education. Italy’s Minster of Education Lorenzo Fioramonti said that rather


than teaching students about isolated subjects, climate education should encourage students to think in systems. “We need more and more systems thinkers and fewer erudites who know very well one thing but completely ignore all the rest,” said Fioramonti. “[Education is] about connecting knowledge and being able to see the interconnections across different types of knowledge.” In the UK, where the next climate change conference is to be


held in Glasgow in late 2020, it’s something that all educators should keep in mind. Nuttall said plans should be in place by Earth Day 22nd April so that by the Glasgow negotiations in 2020 all countries will have adopted this as a critical outcome and central to addressing climate change. If that plan succeeds, it’ll be time to rethink the way that we teach as well as the way that we think.


www.education-today.co.uk 25


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