Guidance for West Sussex Community Schools























Comments from Andrew Edmondson appear in BLUE


Collective Worship in schools is important. (Collective Worship means the collective veneration of a deity, which can hardly be important to the proper functioning of a community school)  It makes a major contribution to the spiritual and moral development of pupils, which is a main aim of education. (Moral lessons at a morning assembly may contribute to moral development of pupils, but worship cannot. Spiritual development is a loose term that is commonly associated with religion, and is used to give greater importance to religion in secular matters such as education) Collective Worship contributes towards schools’ statutory obligation to provide opportunities for students’ spiritual and moral development. (Collective Worship is a legal requirement that is inconsistent with the Human Rights Act and Equality laws. It is an unenforceable law, broken every day by most secondary schools) It helps to equip young people to understand more about themselves, foster a sense of the aesthetic and to cope with life-changing moments. (Collective Worship is likely to foster resentment amongst the non-religious pupils, who are the majority in secondary schools)


Collective Worship is also of educational value to children, young people and adults within school. It provides a means of developing an appreciation that goes beyond the material world, fostering a concern for others and providing a forum for exploring shared values. (It is unnecessary to coerce pupils into taking part in collective worship in order for them to appreciate the non-material world or to care for others)


It is important that children and young people become familiar with the language and silence common to many forms of public worship. They are all likely to attend, at the very least, at some point in their lives, a funeral, a wedding or a baptism. (Non-religious pupils have no interest in the language of public worship. Is it really necessary to oblige pupils to take part in a communal act of worship every day, from the age of 5 to 16, in order to teach them how to be silent on those rare public occasions they are required to do so?)


Collective Worship is a shared experience. It offers children, young people and adults an opportunity to participate in humanity’s shared search for God (the non-religious do not wish to search for God), and in doing so builds community in and beyond the school. It offers opportunities for co-operation and the fostering of strong relationships between individual schools and the local communities they serve. (Obliging pupils to take part in collective worship can only divide society) Local faith leaders should be utilised as a resource and invited to play a part in Collective Worship in schools in their own localities. (This is wholly unacceptable in a community school. There may be an argument for involving religion and belief representatives in school debates and lessons, but certainly not for the purposes of collective worship)


It is generally accepted that Collective Worship should provide pupils with space for reflection and should be evocative and challenging. Words can be very powerful, but they do not always have the desired effect and impact in a world of fast action multimedia presentations. Through words, still and moving images, sound, active participation from pupils and well chosen moments of silence and contemplation collective worship makes a unique contribution to pupils’ spiritual and moral development and more generally to a positive school ethos. (Pupils will have less respect for a school that imposes collective worship on them. They should be given a choice in whether to attend or not. Collective worship should be replaced by secular assemblies)







Schools need to provide collective worship that meets statutory requirements and reflects the age, aptitude and family background of the pupils. (Most primary schools have a daily act of worship and therefore fail non-religious families, which comprise between 17% and 36%, or more, of the population)


The Education Reform Act uses the word collective rather than corporate in the same way as the 1944 Act did.  This is a reminder to us that school worship is not intended to be the same as church worship where the participants are there by choice and are a body of believers. (The law effectively forces pupils to pray) This is an important distinction in which we accept that pupils in our schools will respond to worship in very different ways. Indeed, it is likely that there will be a very wide variety of responses to worship from pupils.


Schools need a broad understanding of worship if the appropriate provision is to be made. This appropriate provision will vary depending on the age and aptitude of the pupils. It must in some sense reflect something special or separate from ordinary school activities.


This broader understanding might be:-

          -        to provide an atmosphere where pupils can be encouraged to reflect meaningfully on life;

          -        to allow those pupils who want to worship to do so; (This is impractical)

          -        to introduce pupils to religious worship in a meaningful and honest way; (Coercing them to attend is hardly honest)

          -        to bring pupils to the threshold of worship. (Community schools are not churches)






All Schools

·         All pupils in attendance at a maintained school shall, on each school day, take part in an act of collective worship.

·         This may be a single act of worship or separate acts for pupils in different age groups or in different school groups.

·         It may take place at any time of the school day.

·         Parents have the right to withdraw their children from worship

·         Teachers have the right to withdraw from collective worship.


For Community schools

·         For community schools (not voluntary schools) the act of worship shall be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".

·         Community schools may apply to the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) for a determination that worship in their school could be other than wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.

·         Worship should take place on the school premises.


For Voluntary Schools

·         The type of worship to be provided in voluntary schools is the responsibility of the Governors in line with Trust Deeds.





This clause in the Act of Parliament is difficult to define but there are some fairly clear points that attach to it.


The requirement for worship to be of a "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character" is for community schools and does not apply to voluntary schools. Worship in community schools should not be distinctive of any particular denomination.


There is nothing in the Act or the Circular 1/94 that suggests any form of content. This means that the content, such as the use of hymns, prayers, Bible readings etc is for the Headteacher in community schools to decide.  (Christian worship is impossible without at least one of these) In making this decision the Headteacher must take into account:-

          a)      any relevant circumstances relating to the pupils' family background; (Impossible, since all pupils are grouped together)

b)           their ages and aptitudes.

It is not necessary for every single act of worship to be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character but within each school term, most acts must be.

The acts of worship should contain some elements which relate specifically to the traditions of Christian belief and which accord a special status to Jesus Christ. (Circular 1/94) (This is contrary to freedom of religion or belief)


An act of worship which is "broadly Christian" need not contain only Christian material provided that, taken as a whole, it reflects the traditions of Christian worship.


The term "broadly", however, discourages a narrow interpretation being given to Christian worship and encourages schools to use a variety of resources and methods.


Although the Act and Circular say little about how to interpret Christian worship we are told that it must relate to the "broad traditions of Christian belief".  It is very clear that within these broad traditions we see a wide range of practices in use, any of which could be used in school worship. 


The Act of Parliament talks of exploring Christian "belief" and not "practice".  This point emphasises that the worship found in schools will not be the same as that found in churches but will be a different type of worship that is relevant to the pupils and helps them to explore Christian beliefs.


Whether a school has worship that is "wholly" Christian or "mainly" so is for the school to decide. It is intended that the character of the worship is such that all pupils will take part unless they have been withdrawn by their parents.


(This is an exercise in how schools can bend the rules as much as possible and still claim to be carrying out collective worship, when they don’t really wish to do so)





Neither the Act of Parliament or the government circular gives us guidance on the length of worship, but it should be of a reasonable length. In the final analysis only a court of law could decide what is reasonable.


Advice is that a quick prayer, a short blessing or grace at meal times would probably not be considered as reasonable, however a short period of worship handled with care and sensitivity which included, for example, a reading and a prayer would seem acceptable.


It would also be quite acceptable, and probably desirable, to vary the length of worship depending on the setting so that some days would consist of a relatively short act of worship while other days would consist of a longer event.


(Secondary schools have voted with their feet. Most teachers refuse to hold collective worship. Also they fear a backlash from the 64% of pupils who are non-religious. Primary school pupils are more compliant)





The Act of Parliament talks of collective worship while schools usually refer to assemblies. Assemblies are a general term to describe occasions where pupils get together and will often include both collective worship and other activities. (They should be separated. Pupils who wish to pray together could stay later after school or come early, provided there were teachers willing to participate. Collective worship takes place during assembly because of the captive audience)


Collective worship is legally different from curriculum matters and when calculating the amount of curriculum time in the week the time given to collective worship is not counted. The programmes of study of the national curriculum and religious education should not be taught during collective worship. There is nothing in the Act to suggest that collective worship should be carried out in isolation from assemblies and it is acceptable for "Assemblies" to consist of both worship and other activities. In order to enable aspects of the curriculum to be covered alongside worship it would be wise to identify this formally and to allocate the time to be given to each area.


A school would need to be able to identify the distinct part of the activity which is the collective worship required by the Act and care would need to be taken to ensure that collective worship could properly be described as wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.


(In other words, schools cannot opt out of collective worship)





A determination is a process whereby schools can apply to SACRE that their worship could be other than “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.



Which schools can apply to SACRE and for what?

·         Applications for a determination can be made only by community schools.

·         Community schools may apply to SACRE for worship in the school to be other than "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character".

·         They may apply on behalf of the whole school or groups of pupils in the school.

·         The considerations that may apply are:

          “any circumstances relating to the family background of the pupils concerned which are relevant for determining the character of the collective worship which is appropriate in their case e.g. the faith of the family.”



How can a school apply to SACRE?

·         If any school in West Sussex is considering an application to SACRE the Headteacher should first contact the General Adviser (R.E.) who will be able to explain the procedures.

·         Before an application the Headteacher must consult the school's governing body.

·         The governors may wish, in turn, to seek the views of parents.


What form will worship take following a determination?

·         SACRE will give their determination in writing to the Headteacher and the worship will have to be carried out in accordance with those instructions.


(No school in West Sussex has ever applied for a determination. Surprise, surprise)




The provision for parents to withdraw their children from collective worship was first put in place in the 1944 Education Act and has been re-enacted in subsequent acts of parliament since with little change. The original purpose was to allow parents who for reasons of conscience did not want their children to attend collective worship to withdraw them from attending.


The Statutory Requirements

Subsequent acts of parliament were brought together in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The provision for withdrawal is set out in section 71 and subsequently amended by the 2006 Education and Inspections Act to include a clause about sixth form students


The main requirement is set out in subsection (1)


(1A) If the parent of any pupil at a community, foundation or voluntary school other than a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at the school, the pupil shall be so excused until the request is withdrawn.


(1B) If a sixth-form pupil requests that he may be wholly or partly excused from attendance at religious worship at a community, foundation or voluntary school, the pupil shall be so excused.”





Summary of requirements

If a parent asks that a pupil should be wholly of partly excused from attending collective worship, then the school must comply.

·         Parents are not obliged to state their reasons for seeking withdrawal.

·         Schools should not divulge information about withdrawal to other schools without the agreement of the parents.

·         This applies to all LA maintained schools – community and voluntary.


If the request is to be partly excused the school must make all reasonable attempts to comply but have the flexibility to deny the request if the logistics of agreeing makes it too difficult.


A parent may request that a pupil be withdrawn from school premises to receive worship of a denominational nature. A school may comply so long as the LA is satisfied that this will not interfere with the child’s attendance at school other than at the beginning or end of the school day.


A parent may request that, once the child has been legally withdrawn, a child receive collective worship of a denominational nature on school premises. The school is required to allow this request if:

-          the provision cannot be conveniently provided elsewhere;

-          the school does not meet the costs;

-          the school does not consider that because of the special circumstances it would be unreasonable to do so. 


There are some special conditions relating to boarders allowing them to attend a place of worship on Sundays or other days exclusively set apart for religious observance.


A school continues to be responsible for any child withdrawn by its parents from collective worship unless the child is lawfully receiving collective worship elsewhere.


Schools are required to set out the right of withdrawal in their prospectus.


(In practice, most parents would not dream of withdrawing their child from any collective school activity, for fear of ostracising.  Instead of a right to withdraw, there should be a right to opt in. Of course, pupils under 16 years of age have no right to opt out, presumably because they do not have the moral competence to decide (even though they may be about to take their GCSE in Religious Education). And yet children aged 10 and over are considered old enough to be prosecuted, because they have sufficient moral awareness. It is clearly immoral to coerce pupils to take part in collective worship; perhaps a topic for GCSE Religious Education?)



Advice for Schools


What should a school do if a request is made?


  1. As this is a legal provision the school should ask for any request for withdrawal to be made in writing.
  2. To avoid any misunderstanding a head teacher will find it helpful to establish with a parent wanting to exercise the right of withdrawal:
    • the religious issues about which the parent would object to their child being taught and the elements of worship they would object to the child taking part.
    • The practical implications of withdrawal
    • The circumstances in which the school can reasonably be expected to accommodate parental wishes; and
    • If the withdrawal is partial, whether the parent will require any advance notice of such collective worship.
  3. This should not affect the fact that parents do not have to state their reasons for seeking withdrawal.
  4. The school must then make arrangements to enable the withdrawal to take place and ensure the health and safety of the pupil.


How to organise withdrawal?


·                    The pupil’s health and safety is the most important responsibility the school has.

·                    It would be normal for withdrawal to be exercised through the physical withdrawal of the pupil from the place where the collective worship is taking place.

·                    However, if both the parent and the school agree that the pupil could remain physically present there is nothing in the law that prevents this.

·                    It is good practice to ensure that the pupil is gainfully employed when withdrawn so if they do not bring work from home a check should be made to ensure they have something to do. (If schools could offer an attractive alternative, e.g. more maths tuition, I wonder how many parents would withdraw their child?  In practice, nothing of benefit is offered, else this could be seen as encouraging withdrawal)

If the pupil is withdrawn from worship a number of organisational options are used by schools such as:

    • the pupil works in the back of  class and is supervised by that class teacher;
    • the pupil woks in another classroom
    • the pupil works in a library and is supervised by the librarian or other adult;
    • in smaller schools the pupil may sit outside the office and be supervised by the office staff.

·                    There is nothing to stop the pupil joining the assembly for those aspects that are not worship and parents do not have the right of withdrawal from these aspects.



What about withdrawal from school premises?


If a parent requests that a pupil should be withdrawn from the school premises for of collective worship the LA is the responsible party.

The school should contact the General Adviser (RE) for advice on how to proceed.

No costs can be met by the school or LA.


How should a school respond to a request for alternative collective worship to take place?


·           Some times where a group of pupils are legally withdrawn from collective worship a parent or other responsible adult will offer to come into school to run the worship. This is often a convenient way of making the provision.

·           The school is still responsible for those children and needs to feel secure that the person running the session is capable and has the confidence of the school. This would include conducting an advanced CRB check

·           The school must consider this request if made and must agree unless there is good reason not to.

·           No costs should be met by the school’s budget share or otherwise by the local authority.




Collective worship is an important event in schools and should be planned carefully. It is recommended that outline plans for the whole year and detailed termly plans are made.

Records should be kept:

          - to enable the planners to arrange a coherent experience for the pupils;

          - to provide evidence of the daily act of collective worship;

          - to provide evidence in a community school demonstrating that  collective worship is wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character;





Schools need to plan for worship to be of educational value for ALL who attend. (An impossible aim)  In trying to meet this end the following principles might prove useful.


1.   There is a need for a clear whole school policy which should involve a wide audience for discussion (But presumably not including pupils, because of their inability to make informed decisions about their beliefs) and include a clear statement of aims.

2.   There needs to be an assembly co-ordinator. This could be the Headteacher or a senior member of staff or another member of staff, who need not be the R.E. co-ordinator. It needs to be recognised that this is a difficult and time consuming responsibility if it is to be done well. It may be appropriate for a team to undertake this work with a leader to co-ordinate the whole programme.

3.   Although assemblies may deliver aspects of personal and social education this is not collective worship and care needs to be taken to ensure that these aspects do not predominate.

4.   There is a need for worship to be an activity and experience to which all can contribute and from which all can benefit irrespective of personal commitment or life stance. (Impossible. Simply requiring a non-religious pupil to attend a gathering with the aim of any form of worship is a disbenefit)

5.   There is a need to regard assembly as a planned learning experience which does not place the presenter or recipient in an awkward or less than honest position. (Most secondary school teachers are unwilling to conduct an act of worship)

6.   There is a need to value groups of pupils coming together as the whole school community or part of the community in a meaningful way. The assembly can then have the purpose of fostering a sense of belonging and affirming and celebrating the ideals and values of the school. (The only way this can be achieved is to omit worship, which can only divide the community)

7.   Where possible, pupils should be encouraged to play an active role in collective worship. (Coercion to worship is immoral)





Schools are free to choose how they organise their worship. It may be at any time of the school day and in any grouping that is also used for other activities. The organisational strategies differ in primary and secondary schools with size and space being important factors.



·         whole school assemblies – proves to be the most successful strategy.

·         Separate Infant and Junior assemblies – allows the content to be focussed more carefully on the age and aptitude of the pupils. Normally a successful strategy.

·         Class assemblies. Proves to be the least effective strategy because it depends on all staff being able and comfortable in taking the worship. (If the staff are unwilling, how do you think the pupils and their parents feel?)

·         The beginning of the day is still the most effective time for worship but this is under pressure as it is the best time for learning. (Incorrect. The best time for learning has been shown to be the afternoon. There is no best time for a non-religious pupil to worship) Immediately before the end of the day is the least effective. (Compulsory worship is best applied to a captive audience)



·         For most secondary schools the whole schools assembly is not practicable due the numbers of pupils involved and the size of accommodation available.

·         Smaller units such as the year or house assemblies are common and work effectively.

·         Form assemblies are not very successful.






Music is used widely in school assemblies and enables pupils to listen to music, to sing and to perform with instruments. Music is often used to help create an atmosphere that is conducive to worship and can contribute to the spiritual development of the pupils. (Once again, the term “Spiritual” links religion to all positive human experience and endeavour, such as music, as if they could not exist without religion. In practice, music in assemblies is there to make religion more palatable)


Music in assemblies


There is very little doubt that music enhances the assembly in a number of ways and that it can contribute to the music curriculum provided it is planned coherently. (Music at assembly seems very sensible in its own right. Linking it to religious worship detracts from the listening experience)


Singing Practice


In order to learn hymns/songs for assemblies schools often have an identified period of learning and practice. If it is well done children enjoy the singing and the process adds to the success of the assemblies.


Singing practice itself is unlikely to constitute the daily act of collective worship but it would be possible to develop the occasion to meet the requirements. For example it would be easy to have brief explanations of the words in the songs and to allocate a short period at the beginning or end of the practice that would, for instance, consist of a reading and a prayer to complement the hymns.


(Singing hymns is clearly a form of worship. Singing ABBA is not)