The Education (Assemblies) Bill, a Private Members’ Bill sponsored by Baroness Burt of Solihull, goes to Committee Stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday 10th November. The text of the Bill can be found here and Explanatory Notes can be found here.
This is a welcome opportunity to reform an outdated area of law. The current law on religious worship is out of date and there have long been concerns that the letter of the law is not followed in many schools
The Bill provides that schools in England without a religious character would hold assemblies rather than acts of collective worship but they would still be daily – which would raise some of the same practical problems as found in the current law. It provides:
Each pupil in attendance at a school to which this section applies must on each school day take part in an assembly which is principally directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils regardless of religion or belief.
Acts of worship could be organised by staff or students in such schools but they would be voluntary. The existing opt outs would apply to them but not the daily assemblies. These opt outs and the right to opt out in schools with a religious character would be strengthened so that, in the words of the Explanatory Notes, there would be provision
‘for pupils who have been withdrawn from faith-based collective worship in faith schools to receive an alternative assembly of equal educational worth directed towards furthering their spiritual, moral, social, and cultural education regardless of their particular religion or belief’.
For further discussion of the requirements under the current law see this letter from Baroness Chisholm.
The Bill does not apply to Wales – where education is devolved. But it takes a similar approach to what the Curriculum and Assessment (Wales) Act 2021 has done in relation to the teaching of religion in schools in Wales in that it makes the provision in schools without a religious character pluralistic and pupil-focused and therefore removes the right to opt out while retaining the denominational status quo in schools with a religious character and retaining the opt out there.
If the Bill was passed, then there would be a need to change the position in Wales too. However, the current law on worship seems even more outmoded in Wales now that the law on religious education has been reformed.