Labour to ‘review’ collective worship in schools
Since 1944, schools have been on the frontline of a rapidly-changing society. While the school act of collective worship had traditionally been uniform and predominantly confessional up until the 1960s - reciting the Apostle’s Creed, saying the Lord’s Prayer, singing hymns and listening to a mini-sermon – immigration and the advent of other religions, coupled with the process of secularisation inherent to the postmodern era, has forced change. As the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks observes in his book The Persistence of Faith, the UK has seen ‘a wider disintegration brought about by the loss of what Peter Berger called “the sacred canopy”, that overarching framework of shared meanings that once shaped individuals and society. In its place has come pluralism: the idea that society is a neutral arena of private choices where every vision of the good carries its own credentials of authenticity’.
Educational theory is replete with the themes of modernity; the metanarrative being empiricism which seeks knowledge via the senses and human experience. Thus scientific theory, mathematical logic, and historical fact are corroborated by the senses, and they outweigh the metaphysics of morality, aesthetics and religion. There are no agreed criteria by which conflicting religious claims can be settled, and they are therefore a matter of personal preference. Morality thereby becomes largely a matter of taste or opinion, and moral error ceases to exist. For many teachers, there is a gulf between ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’, and collective worship is perceived to belong well and truly to the ‘senseless’ realm. Some schools believe that they should be uncommitted religiously, irrespective of those teachers who may hold Christian beliefs. This conflict consists of three themes – autonomy, equality and rights – the values that allow each to be whatever he or she chooses. Yet left unfettered this leads to anarchy, so a values system has to be imposed, defined in community and by community. And one can make the ‘broadly Christian’ directive relevant for all pupils, irrespective of their faith.
Hitherto, the values system around which society has cohered has been the Christian religion; children have been inducted by law since 1944. In recent years, headteachers, teachers and their unions have been objecting to the law, schools have been flouting it, and Ofsted ignoring it. And look to where education standards have fallen and children’s moral behaviour has plummeted.
And is it any coincidence that those schools which take the Christian daily act of collective worship seriously, and do it very well, are invariably those with the highest educational standards, yielding best academic results, turning out some of the most reasonable and most excellent contributors to society?