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Warwickshire County Council
Warwickshire County Council

Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE)

Collective worship

All maintained schools in England must provide a daily act of collective worship and this must reflect the traditions of this country which are, in the main, broadly Christian. To help schools fulfil this responsibility, SACRE has recently produced some new guidance on collective worship.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Collective Worship?

The 1988 Education Act requires that every school should provide a daily act of collective worship for all pupils. The majority of which each term should be 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character'. Collective worship should 'reflect the broad traditions of Christian belief without being distinctive of any particular denomination.'

The law has never clearly defined collective worship. We do know however that collective worship is not the same as faith community worship (corporate worship) because a community school is not a faith community as it may contain pupils and staff from many different faith backgrounds as well as those who have no religious beliefs or no faith background. A school community therefore contains a wide range of people with different views on what 'worship' might mean and what or whom may be worthy of worship.

Collective worship is not the same as an Assembly because staff and pupils do not have the right to withdraw from assembly. Assembly may be taken to mean the time when members of the school are gathered together to pass on information and move forward matters of secular business (notices).

What are the benefits for my school?

Meaningful collective worship enables pupils to reflect on:

  • what it means to be a human being
  • questions of meaning, purpose and value
  • the best that human beings can be - inspirational, exemplars (people of faith or not) who have demonstrated through their actions, lives and qualities. Examples will come from religious and non-religious sources.
  • personal beliefs and values

Good collective worship recognises and values the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of the school population and will be conducted within Equal Opportunities policies.

Collective worship can enrich the experiences of pupils by:

  • enabling pupils to reflect on and question issues such as belonging to the school community, the wider community and to humanity as a whole
  • reinforcing a sense of community and cohesion through appreciating those things we have in common
  • developing a reflective approach to life
  • supporting pupils in the development of spiritual, cultural and moral perspectives.
  • developing a sense of the individual's place in the world beyond the physical, material and the here and now
  • providing time to consider values and beliefs - both their own and those of others
  • raising awareness of difficulties experienced living a life based on values, beliefs and principles which may not be shared by everyone in the wider community
  • providing opportunity to celebrate achievement and to share times of celebration
  • supporting students in responding to crisis at a personal and collective level and provide them with a vocabulary to explore feelings and responses
  • supporting those who have particular needs or who are engaged in times of crisis

Collective worship will reinforce the sense of the school community, by giving pupils the opportunity to share things of worth with each other, within a reflective space.

Those pupils who have a faith will be able to use the reflection time to consider issues in the light of their religious beliefs and to pray or worship internally as they feel appropriate whilst those pupils who don't have a religious belief will have the opportunity to reflect and make a personal internalised response to the same stimulus. They will also be able to enter into dialogue with those of faith, enabling both believers and non-believers to appreciate each other's stances.

How does collective worship differ from Religious Education?

Collective worship is the responsibility of the headteacher*, following consultation with the governing body, and should aim to provide an opportunity for worship, reflection and the exploration of belief. Ideally it should draw on the whole of the curriculum and should celebrate all aspects of life in school. Its scope is not limited to the study of religion in relation to life experiences, which is the province of Religious Education. RE must follow the Locally Agreed Syllabus and should aim to develop pupils' knowledge, understanding and awareness of religion.

*NB. In a voluntary school, the arrangements should be made by the governing body after consultation with the headteacher, taking account of each school's trust deed. In both community and voluntary schools it is the head teacher's duty to ensure that pupils take part and to ensure that right of withdrawal is upheld.

What is meant by 'worship'?

It is envisaged that pupils should be able to respond in some way to the opportunity offered to them in collective worship. This means that the worship should be distinct from ordinary school activities in that it reflects aspects of life that are mysterious, it will be concerned with experiences that stretch into what is not totally understood and beliefs about life that are still being thought through. Therefore, references to ultimate power and divine being should be sensitive to the fact that participants will be at many different stages in their own belief and commitments.

What is meant by "broadly Christian" worship?

The Education Reform Act 1988 stipulates that in County schools, most acts of collective worship in any school term must be "wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character". [this is taken to mean over half of the acts of worship. Circular 1/94 says "the majority".] Schools are advised to keep records of the content of collective worship, indicating which acts of worship were of a broadly Christian character. Advice in Circular 1/94 suggests that to meet the "broadly Christian" requirement, collective worship:

Should:

  • contain some elements that relate specifically to the traditions of Christian belief and which accord a special status to Jesus Christ

Should not:

  • exclude of alienate pupils who do not come from Christian families
  • be denominational or sectarian

May:

  • contain non-Christian elements and include a minority of acts of worship within a term which do not fit this broadly Christian base
  • include elements common to Christianity and one or more other religions.

The language of invitation should be open and inclusive, ensuring that no pupil or adult present feels their beliefs have been compromised and ensuring that they are able to participate and grow spiritually.

What part can prayer and reflection play in the collective act of worship?

A prayer spoken by the leader of an assembly, or one of the participants, can be included as part of the collective act of worship, although it would not be considered enough to constitute the whole act of worship. It may be preferable to offer pupils a moment of reflection on the subject of the act of worship, either in silence or listening to words which focus their attention. In either case it is important that this activity encompasses the diversity of faiths, whilst including those who have no faith. Words such as: "Those who wish to join in this prayer, please do so" or "Please listen to what I am saying and think about…" or "Use this quiet moment to pray, if you have a faith, or to think carefully about what we've said." or other phrases which do not presume a faith on the part of a leader of the assembly or the pupils and adults participating in it, should be used. Where an act of worship is led by a member of a particular faith who wishes to include a prayer, this should be undertaken in the spirit of the pupils experiencing that faith's method of prayer, rather than presuming that pupils share the commitment of the believer.

What is the relationship between collective worship and spiritual development?

In 1992 OFSTED was given the responsibility to inspect how schools promoted the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils, as there is no separate section in inspection reports for reporting on schools' provision of collective worship. Therefore, as this aspect of school life, along with the subjects of the curriculum, was meant to contribute to the SMSC development of pupils, the report on how well schools meet the legal requirement in relation to collective worship tends to be placed in close proximity to the spiritual development paragraph of the report. This has unfortunately led schools to believe that the connection between the two is closer than it needs to be.

The original OFSTED criteria for evaluating the provision for pupils' spiritual development stated:

"Spiritual development is to be judged by how well the school promotes opportunities for pupils to reflect on aspects of their lives and the human condition through, for example, literature, music, art, science, religious education and collective worship, and how well the pupils respond. Inspectors should judge the extent to which arrangements for acts of collective worship promote pupils' spiritual and other development."

Collective worship therefore is only one part of the school's provision although at times this can take a strong lead within this provision. It clearly also has other strong contributions to make to the development of the whole child.

Whilst some religious beliefs will have a strong influence on how they respond to issues raised within the provisions for spiritual development, those who are non - believers may also develop spiritually. Spirituality is not the same as religiosity. Schools can assist all their pupils to take a reflective and spiritual approach to life by the way all areas of the curriculum are planned and delivered. They can also do this by the careful selection of themes and encouragement of the ability to reflect and respond within collective worship.

When should the collective act of worship take place?

The law requires a daily collective act of worship, so it is up to a school to decide on the time of day and groupings. Where possible it may involve the whole school, or alternatively a class, year group, department or combination of year groups. Time of day may be dependent upon the space available for this activity. Time for the collective act of worship is not curriculum time, but the rest of the assembly may be. It is important that this time be accounted for. The collective act of worship may only take up a short time, probably between 5 and 15 minutes each day.

Who may withdraw from collective worship?

A parent's right to withdraw his/her child from part or all of the act of collective worship is confirmed in the Education Reform Act 1988. Collective worship, however, should provide an opportunity for worship which is appropriate to all participating pupils. Schools are, therefore, advised to communicate this intention to parents. Whilst we hope that parents will advocate that their child will take part in collective worship as part of their rich experience of school life, we respect the views of parents to withdraw and as an inclusive body we would be interested to hear the reasons for withdrawal (email feedback@warwickshire.gov.uk). The Education and Inspections Act 2006 allows sixth form students to withdraw themselves from the act of collective worship and teaching staff still have the right under the Education Act 1944 to withdraw from the collective worship element of an assembly. Where a headteacher wishes to exercise this right, he or she nevertheless remains responsible for ensuring that the law is complied with and collective worship provided.

How do we plan for collective worship?

It is helpful to have an overall plan for school worship for a term or longer. Planning which focuses on themes provides cohesion and continuity. Themes may last anything from one week to half a term. Good planning ensures that the concepts being explored in a theme can be developed and revisited over a period of time. When planning school worship which is linked to themes, care should be taken to ensure that events and religious festivals important to the school and its community, as well as work in progress in the curriculum, are entered on a yearly calendar before deciding on themes. These will provide a prompt for suggesting contexts. If those leading school worship can agree on themes and methods of presentation they can then draw on complementary material. Methods of presentation can include the use of videos, music, visitors, artefacts, posters, interview, role-play or display.

Do special schools have to make provision for collective worship?

The Education (Special Schools) Regulations 1994 state:

'Arrangements shall be made to secure that, so far as practicable, every pupil attending the school will attend daily collective worship and receive religious education, or will be withdrawn from attendance at such worship or from receiving such education in accordance with the wishes of his parent.'

It is expected that special schools will be providing daily opportunities for collective worship. Circumstances may well prevent a school meeting on five days and in any case it would be legitimate for such a school to decide that small gatherings of pupils would provide a better educational opportunity for collective worship.

Should post-16 pupils participate in collective worship?

The Education Reform Act 1988 clearly states that all pupils must take part in a daily act of collective worship. This includes those in Years 12 and 13 (the Sixth Form); however, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 allows sixth form students to withdraw themselves from the act of collective worship should they wish to do so.

What kinds of things should be included?

  • Examples of lives of people of faith and other good human beings
  • Marking the celebration of a broad range of religious and cultural festivals that reflect the diversity of faiths contained within the community
  • Stories supporting themes from a range of sources, including sacred texts, faith communities and secular books
  • Response to key local, national and international events
  • Providing an opportunity to think about their own beliefs whether religious or otherwise
  • Consideration of questions you wouldn't think about elsewhere; not necessarily with easy/definitive answers
  • Putting things into practice; e.g., supporting charities
  • Providing a moment for silent reflection/prayer
  • Celebration of successes of members of the school community
  • Performances or presentations from members of the school community
  • Input from visiting speakers/experts

What resources are available to help

  • Books and web resources
  • Human resources

A selection of books on Collective Worship are available to loan from SACRE. Contact feedback@warwickshire.gov.uk for more details.

How do we evaluate Collective Worship in our school?

Involve pupils and governors in the evaluation of worship through the use of Reflection Journals or diaries of reflection.