Should Collective Worship be a Statutory Requirement in all Schools? Essay

1870 saw the implantation of the Education Act. The 1870 Education Act set the structure for schooling of children from the ages 5 to 12. This act was the first educational act that began to govern what schools would teach and what the children would learn. Before the 1870 education act was introduced, the church was the main provider of schools in the UK. The schools the Church set up were for the ‘poor of the parish’. In today’s society the Church still makes up a considerable amount of a third of all schools in the main sector of England (Gay, 2003). Before 1870, as the church was the main provider of school in the United Kingdom, Religious Christian Education was a fundamental part of teaching.

In 1944 the Butler Education Act was introduced. Under the 1944 Act, religious education was to be a compulsory subject on the curriculum. The Butler Education Act of 1944 stated that a form of collective worship or prayer was mandatory in all state funded schools. This was to be integrated into all schools as part of Religious Education. It was compulsory in all schools across the UK, not only the faith schools but all state schools. The act aimed to instruct children in the Christian faith, an instruction that was to be reinforced by a daily act of collective worship. The worship that would take place must be broadly Christian in religion. In Religious Education in the Secondary School, Wright (1993) believes that ‘by teaching Christianity in a nurturing environment, the central values of faith would, so it was hoped [by the Government], become embedded in the hearts and minds of the nation’s youth’

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However, the 1960’s brought a severe questioning of compulsory religious practice. With declining church attendance, England during the 1960’s was turning into a more secular culture and society. Furthermore in the 1960’s immigration brought new faiths and religions into the country. This opened the debate whether or not religious education should play a part in school life and the broadly Christian approach to teaching and learning began to be examined. With the influx of new and diverse religions in society, the Christian approach to teaching was scrutinized. The question arose that the new generation of children needed to understand, appreciate and welcome the diversity and multiculturalism that was fast becoming a part of Britain’s culture and customs. This is seen through the implementation of the 1988 Education Reform Act (ERA), a piece of legislation that would change the nature of education in England and Wales (Wright, 1993).

The 1988 ERA combined with the 2004 Non Statutory Framework for Religious Education laid out certain aims and expectations of religious education in schools. The aims were to develop student’s knowledge of Christianity and the other principles religions in the UK. The induction of the 1988 National Curriculum shows how the UK’s teaching was changing to suit the multicultural society of Britain. The framework highlights the importance of understanding, awareness and familiarity of major religions within the UK. The curriculum shows the key role that RE has in our schooling system and the consequential national curriculum. Religious education opens children’s minds to difference between individuals. Not only does religious education give the children the knowledge and insight into different religions and the concept of faith itself, it strengthens and lays the foundations for children to base their moral judgements by assessing moral issues and debates. Collective worship aims to further develop on the moral judgements for students in school.

The execution of the Education Reform Act 1988 was an equally complex and divisive move by the government in regards to education. The Education Reform Act (1988) seemed to strengthen Christian morals in our schools but also incorporate and integrate the new multicultural, multi faith society that England had become.

Collective Worship was a prominent feature of the 1988 Education Reform Act. It stated that all pupils at a state school must be a part of a daily act of collective worship that was mainly Christian in nature.

Collective worship became a legal requirement within schools to extend the pupils social, moral, spiritual and cultural development (SMSC). However there is debate about how to define the term ‘spirituality’. Hay and Nye (2006) think that spirituality is inclusive whereas Erricker (2001) believes spirituality to be based on experience and the impact of these experiences on the child. Wright’s (2004) and Berryman’s (1997) both see spirituality linked to religion and a relationship with the Transcendent. This is the opposite of Watson (2009) and the Humanist Philosopher’s group (2001) who think spirituality is set apart from religion (Brendan, 2001). Wright (2004) and Berryman (1997) have the most prominent definition when related to the term ‘Collective Worship’ as labelled in the 1944 Education Act.

This notion of spirituality being linked with Religion therefore is difficult to achieve in a non faith school as there are many differing faiths within the school so it is complex decision for the school to keep Collective Worship broadly Christian whilst trying to include all religions. However the DES in The Supplement to the Curriculum 11-16 (1977) highlighted that the word ‘spiritual’ not only referred to a religious concept but also inner feelings and beliefs. This idea of spirituality can resonant through collective worship in school with no religious character. Andrew Wright in his book Spirituality and Education (2000) defines spirituality by it’s…’relationship of the individual, within community…ultimate concern, value and truth…through an informed, sensitive and reflective striving for spiritual wisdom’ (p. 7). It is this understanding of spirituality and consequently the point of collective worship that makes it a necessity with in all schools, for all children, up and down the United Kingdom.

The aim of collective worship can become lost within a constrained and hectic timetable and is often overlooked by teachers pressured by exams and results. Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural develop of children in school should be of paramount importance with collective worship being a tool to achieve this.

Moral Education refers to the responsibility of teachers to help young people to make decisions about how to treat themselves and others. Social Education helps students to understand the relationship between themselves and others, while cultural education helps them to explore their own sense of belonging and how that might be similar or different to that of others (McCreery et al, 2008, p.70)

Collective worship although requested by the government to be broadly Christian this does not mean that all acts of collective worship need to be solely focused on Christian traditions. Most religions promote the same morals and values so this link through religions should be encouraged and promoted.

Faith schools have the ability to use their faith to enable them to successfully integrate the celebrations of their religious calendar into collective worship. Catholic schools, for example can regularly celebrate mass together as a whole school or year group this gives all students and teachers the chance to pray and worship together collectively. They can use their faith and traditions to say simple prayers each day and fulfil the guidelines set out by the 1988 Education Reform Act.

As Collective Worship appears to go hand in hand with Religion, non faith schools struggle to incorporate it into every day school life. The question then arises, how do non faith school use collective worship of a broadly Christian nature in school with students who do not have a specific religion or a different faith? Also with the constraints of the time table and the demand on league table figures, taking the time to gather as a school or year group to ‘worship’ becomes less important and in some cases obsolete in non faith schools (Humanist Philosopher’s Group, 2001).

An Ofsted report of Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) (2004) stated that collective worship must be appropriate for the students and character of the school. This allows schools to fully embrace the character of their school and implement it to suit the students and diversity of their pupils. Some teachers and parents strain to see the benefit that collective worship can have on a student’s academic success. Collective Worship encourages togetherness and community within the school society and taking the time out as a school encourages and promotes a good strong community with firm implemented values and a school that produces students with positive morals and the abilities needed to achieve and succeed in the world outside of school. Although collective worship may not have a direct link to improving academic standards the fundamental backbone of it is there to promote and encourage development in students of a different kind. SMSC development is a key and essential tool to formulate students that are well rounded and have the skill needed in today’s variable society. SMSC broadens student’s minds from the curriculum and embraces the dimensions of life the curriculum cannot.

Schools, particularly secondary schools due to the larger number of students struggle to find the space to accommodate large numbers of pupils in one room. A Study by Hampshire County SACRE found that ‘many schools do not have a room in which the whole school can assemble. Those which do would balk at the time needed to gather the whole school together every day in this era of a compulsory national curriculum.’ (2011) This contention of ‘collectiveness’ provide many issues on schools with little resources and space.

The multi cultural nature of England today causes problems for teachers and schools. The Education Act takes into consideration the diverse nature of society and allows schools to make provisions for pupils of differing faith to the mainly Christian thinking. However the diversity and cultural differences between pupils should be embraced rather than cause problems. Teachers should welcome and incorporate these differences and use them to their best advantage. Schools can choose to opt out of the mainly Christian guidance and chose a religion that better represents the majority of the students of the school. For example for a state school’s intake of students are from a largely Muslim background they can choose to suit their collective worship and religious education to best suit the needs and background of the pupils from the school and opt to teach broadly Islamic topics.

In Mcreery, Palmer and Voiels’ book Teaching Religious Education (2008) they explain why teachers should make sure that everything done in school is of value to the students as people, it should help them understand themselves and the world around them. Collective worship is key in provide children with this chance, it helps them develop a strong sense of identity but at the same time being a part of a community setting and having an awareness of the role they play within their community.

In most secondary schools the only time when a whole year group will gather will be once a week for the school assembly, where notices, announcements etc will be given for the week ahead. The whole school depending on the size of the school will congregate together maybe at Christmas and the end of a school year. However these assemblies do not contribute to collective worship and the two must not be confused. Collective worship can be done as a whole school or simply in form groups across the school. Doing collective worship on a smaller scale makes it easier and more accessible to both the teachers and the students. Small reflections are at times more poignant and resounding for young people. Working in small imitate groups can give all children the chance to open up and discuss more sensitive and personal topics and issues. This in turn helps students discover things about themselves that the curriculum cannot cover or provide.

As collective worship usually is the Religious Education (RE) teacher’s responsibility, collective worship can have all the benefit that RE has and more. Hill (1999) believes that religious education has in today’s society has never been more relevant, engaging and challenging. Religious education he believes gives children a valuable insight into the diverse beliefs, ethics and opinions of Britain today. RE helps with children’s own personal development, supporting and engagement with the spiritual, moral and social questions that will surface in their lives and their communities. RE has the ability to tackle difficult questions and provides pupils with a valuable knowledge and understanding that can work to challenge stereotypes promote cohesion and tackle extremism. The benefit that a non faith school can have in regards to RE and ultimately collective worship is that there is a variety of students from different backgrounds, cultures and importantly religions.

This benefits all the students of the school as it allows all pupils to mix and make friendships with each other. These friendships facilitate the students to have an insight into different people’s lives, culture and way of life. Having a diverse set of pupils in a class has a positive impact on the students and the overall teaching and understanding of religion and diversity. It gives the ability to teachers to use the students own personal experiences to allow all pupils the chance to understand how one particular religion is practiced. Students can observe and appreciate how ‘real’ people practice a particular religion rather than merely learning ‘facts’ about a faith from a textbook. This insight into real life faith develops young people to become more tolerant and more open minded citizens who are able to value, respect and embrace the differences in our society. This is a huge advantage for non faith schools, an advantage that most do not utilise in regards to collective worship. The variety of students only promotes and encourages different and exciting ideas for collective worship sessions. Getting the students involved in collective worship is beneficial to everyone as all students and teachers can learn from each other’s experiences. At a non faith school there will be a greater variety of cultures and experiences which in turn will only add to the fulfilment, enjoyment and success of collective worship in the school.

Collective worship originally intended to reinforce children’s chances of growing in religious faith. However the question arises about the need for a religious faith in an ever increasing secular and multi faith society. Do schools need collective worship of a broadly Christian nature to enhance student’s SMSC or can this development be matured and nurtured in other ways? Ultimately I think there is an essential need for SMSC in schools. This development of children is key for them to grow personally as people and develop their own sense of self worth and belonging. However some people suggest that collective worship is outdated in schools with no religious character (Humanist Philosopher Group, 2001) and therefore provides no benefit to the student’s spiritual or moral growth. The issue I feel that arises for collective worship in non faith schools is the word ‘worship’ itself. By the very nature of the word ‘worship’ it immediately consigns to the belief in a God or something greater and therefore a religion. This name creates an automatic negativity towards the collective act by students, parents and teachers that have no faith or belief in God.

Many parents believe that collective worship will ‘indoctrinate’ their children into worshiping something or someone they themselves do not value. The term collective worship is misunderstood by many. The act of collective worship helps to enrich and deepen students understanding of the world and broaden their dimensions away from the curriculum which most would agree is a necessary device to prepare children in life. One of the main problems is with the term collective worship itself and not with what it has set out to achieve. In view of that, collective worship would be better referred to by another name that improves the meaning and makes it clearer and more accessible to all people especially for students at schools with no religious character. A more appropriate name would be ‘Collective Reflection’ as this stops the immediate pessimism and cynicism that surrounds religion in non faith schools. Children and parents who have no faith or are opposed to a belief in religion can retrieve a positive sentiment from collective reflection. Also teachers that have little concept of religion and who are apprehensive about discussing worship with a secular group of students can also find comfort in the change of name but can achieve and promote constructive, affirmative and positive response in reflective thinking.

Reflection is something that must be encouraged in young people by schools. Children must learn and comprehend how to reflect on their own acts and develop the skills to improve themselves and learn by their actions. Collective Worship aims to give this chance for children to reflect but the name ‘collective reflection’ promotes an additional positive approach which allows young people the quiet time needed to emphasise, consider and ultimately develop their spiritual, moral, social and cultural side that is so important in schools today. Changing the name alone creates an improved and refreshed approach to collective worship that is so lacking in non faith schools today. Collective worship is important within schools but due to the terminology is confronted with negativity from all. The simple name change will further ensure students have the chance to consider their own actions and develop within themselves as individuals whilst experience their own personal roles with their school community and the community as a whole. The term ‘reflection’ also gives pupils the opportunity to ponder over other people actions and the choice people face. This can link directly in with evil and suffering in our World and exploration of why people do bad things and the lengths people and charities go to in order to help those in need of it. Charity work and fundraising can have strong links with children’s SMSC develop which is a key idea of collective worship. All schools including non faith schools promote the idea of charity and this can be implemented through the act of collective worship.

My overall understanding of collective worship and the impact it has within schools and ultimately within children is that it is of key and paramount importance to all students regardless of faith or not. The issue I have with collective worship is the lack of it in schools and the negativity it faces in non faith school. Faith schools are mostly successful in promoting and implementing collective worship as the school itself promotes its religion in its ethos and overall running of the school. The main negativity stems from non faith schools particularly secondary schools, due to the number of pupils and size of the school. SMSC which is a result of collective worship is necessary in these non faith schools but collective worship is not happening in these schools. The main reason for this is the term ‘worship’ being linked so closely with religion and God. Teachers seem to be afraid of this term but are larger happy with the aims and results of collective worship.

Within non faith school, I deem it essential for the success of SMSC to deliver the aims of collective worship in a new way and completely stepping away from the broadly Christian and religious aspect that it currently has. Religious Education is sufficient in schools to provide children with the appropriate knowledge of the main religions in our world, this gives the chance for collective worship to help and assist student’s development in a different dimension under a total revised system and terms. However some believe that Religious Education is not sufficient and continues to have a low profile even with the efforts from Religious Education Council, RE is still struggling to achieve recognition and status (Watson and Thompson, 1994).

Despite this, SMSC and therefore collective worship should prosper. In Jeanette Gill’s (2004) research into collective worship and the perspective of the students she found that it faces much opposition. Her findings conclude my argument for collective worship in schools today. Rather than collective worship being a positive beneficial thing it has became a widely dreaded, pessimistic and harmful feature within schools. This clearly highlights the desperate need for a fresh, innovative, new approach to the aims that collective worship set out to achieve. Collective worship is and should remain a statutory requirement in all school however the aspirations and intentions of the act should be widely and seriously questioned for its suitability in today’s ever changing and ever differing multi faith, multi cultural yet secular society.

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