Recently there has been increased media interest around the role of collective worship in schools. This follows the actions of two Cardiff teenagers who launched a petition calling on the Welsh Assembly to end compulsory daily religious worship in schools. They objected to being “forced” to pray and claimed that it went against human rights laws.
This became a focus on BBC Radio Wales (4th July 2017) where Jason Mohammad explored it as one of the topics of his programme. The director of the National Secular Society was interviewed and was adamant in support for the girls’ petition. He said it was wrong that children were forced to join in with acts of worship and that it was an abuse of human rights.
Representing the Church in Wales, Dr Annette Daly – Director of Education for the Diocese of Monmouth –acknowledged that when young people speak out, they need to be heard, listened to and understood, she went on to explain the role of prayer and collective worship in schools. Collective worship is about “being together, belonging to a community with a focus on others … a spirit of community and healing.”
While the statutory guidance stipulates that the worship should be “mainly or wholly of a Christian nature”, this is not about excluding other faiths or faith involvement but about ensuring the relevance of collective worship for everyone in the school community and promoting respect and understanding within our church and community schools.
When questioned about children being “forced to pray”, Dr Daly stressed that “force” was not an appropriate word for the context of collective worship, but rather “invitation” and shared values. In our current world, it is even more important that we “celebrate each other’s faiths and that we pray together for the good of us all”. Doing this is a key part of helping children to “become the citizens we need in the world in which we live.”
Is it an abuse of human rights, to have children participating in shared worship together? On the contrary. Statutory collective worship was introduced after the war, to address the brokenness of the post-war community and the need for healing – “It still has the same relevance today in healing brokenness and building communities.”
Dr Daly acknowledged that, indeed, there may be a need to look at how we can improve collective worship in our schools and how pupils themselves can have a significant role in enabling this to happen. The Church in Wales would be very willing to offer support and advice wherever it is needed, in this respect.
A link to the programme can be found below and will be available on the BBC website until the end of July 2017.
You can also listen to Dr Daly’s interview on the same subject on UCB 1 radio here (interview starts at 2:41:15)