West Sussex school prayer conundrum

Any moves to drop a legal requirement for a daily act of collective worship in schools look set to be opposed by West Sussex religious education advisors – even though most of the county’s secondary schools do not comply with the law.

The county Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education – SACRE – was warned that removing the stipulation would mean the loss of an ‘important message’.

Members agreed to hold a full debate on the issue at their next meeting, when ways of supporting schools are likely to be considered.

RE advisor Nigel Bloodworth said a private amendment to the Education Bill – not supported by the government – was proposing the requirement should be dropped, and that it should be left to school governors to decide whether or not to have daily worship.

The law at the moment said there should be a collective act of worship for all pupils every day, of a broadly Christian character.

In West Sussex, and elsewhere in the country, most secondary schools would have one or two a week, not every day, but most primary schools met the requirement.

The SACRE was told most secondary schools did not have an area large enough to get all the children in, which was the main problem. But teacher representative Kim Brown said: “To get rid of it altogether would see the whole lot just fizzle away.”

Chairman Derek James said he would not want the law changed. “But we must acknowledge that in many secondary schools it is physically impossible to do this,” he added. However, if the requirement to hold one was removed, many heads would not bother at all.

Cllr Bob Smytherman said no sanctions had ever been imposed on schools which did not comply. But he certainly thought the requirement should remain. Mr Bloodworth said the law had never been tried in court, so there was no case law.

Cllr Peter Griffiths, county cabinet member for education and schools, asked members to come to the debate at the next meeting with their own experiences of different forms of collective worship and policies.