Professor of Religious Education, School of Education, University of Birmingham


Future Progress in Religious Education: The Templeton London Lectures at the R S A, London, RSA, 1995 pp. 27-40



[Rabbi Hugo Gryn, West London Synagogue of British Jews, in the Chair]



In view of the close relationship between spirituality and religion, it is not surprising that the quest for spirituality in British education has usually found expression through worship. In the twentieth century our understanding of the nature of the spiritual in human life has become wider, and the spiritual resources available to the schools have become richer.[1] It is surprising to note that provisions for the conduct of school worship have not reflected these changes but, on the contrary, have become more narrow. It is this divergence that has led to a crisis in the relationship between spirituality and worship in schools at the present time.

From 1870 to 1944 national legislation did not require schools to provide worship. However, religious observances, as they were usually called, took place in virtually all schools run by the school boards (later the local education authorities) and were regulated at the local level. Particular care was taken that nothing should

happen in schools which might divide the community , so religious observances were normally confined to core elements such as readings from the Bible.[2]

The 1944 Education Act required schools to provide worship while education was to foster the spiritual.[3] Section 25 of the Act required schools to provide for a daily act of worship ‘on the part of [not merely on behalf of] all pupils in attendance at the school’.[4] At the same time there was continued care that what took place in school should unite the community and should not be controversial. This care was expressed in two ways. First, school worship ‘shall not ... be distinctive of any particular denomination’ .[5] Second, the expression ‘collective worship’ was adopted[6] in order to distinguish between what was to take place in schools from the corporate worship of churches.[7] School worship was not to be thought of as the worship of a body of believers, as if the school had become a church, but as a collectivity, an assembly of pupils whose unanimity could not be assumed but who could be collected for the purpose of common worship, provided that nothing sectarian or denominational was offered.[8]

In the following decades two interpretations of school worship developed. One emphasised its subjective character, the other its objective aspect. This distinction is reminiscent of the understanding of religion offered by Paul Tillich. He distinguished between God as that which evokes our ultimate concern, that which we take seriously without any reservation (the subjective side of religion) and that reality which is the ground of being, the power of being, or being itself (the objective meaning of religion).[9] So school worship could be understood as the expression of serious concern and the affirmation of that which should be taken with deep seriousness, or as worship offered to God as a supreme being or almighty creator. The latter, the objective, understanding of worship, is in principle a narrower approach.

Each understanding of collective worship presupposes a theological rationale. This can remain implicit in the wider, more subjective understanding, but in the objective or more narrow sense it necessarily becomes more explicit because definition of the content and object of worship is required.

These two interpretations sprang from the bipolar nature of the concept of collective worship. If one emphasised the collectivity, the other tended to offer a subjective interpretation; if one emphasised worship without the collective qualification, the other tended to favour the objective definition and to become more explicitly theological in approach. The term ‘collective worship’ was an attempt to hold these emphases together. The tension became too great, the centre could not hold, and in 1988 something snapped.

The Education Reform Act 1988 minimised the subjective interpretation of worship and thus undervalued the collective emphasis. With the objective side of worship emphasised, an attempt was made to grasp the implications for the language of theology. Worship itself was not defined, but its content was. Section 7 of the

Act, which was completely new, stipulated that worship should be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’.[10] Here we notice a process which, once it begins, becomes interminable: the process of theological definition. It is interminable because the character of theological definition is to generate distinctions which themselves require further theological definition.

What is it to be ‘broadly Christian’? Collective worship is deemed to meet this requirement if it ‘reflects the broad traditions of Christian belief’.[11] These traditions are not to be denominational, a qualification which was highly significant in the nineteenth century but no longer deals with the realities confronting schools. The reference to one specific religion draws attention away from denominations within that religion to the question of relations with other religions. This is already implied by the distinction between being wholly Christian and mainly Christian.

But what are ‘the broad traditions of Christian belief’? The Act itself did not venture any further explanations, but the demand for theological definition is inexorable. In the years following 1988 several complaints regarding the content of collective worship came before the Secretary of State. The framework within which complaints are dealt with is essentially legal, so now the legal imperative was added to the theological one. Law courts cannot function efficiently without definitions, nor can inspection report efficiently. Thus three pressures emerged: one from the legal necessity, one from the inspectorial demand, and the third from the theological imperative.

We see the outcome in the Department for Education Circular 1/94: 'Worship is not defined in the legislation and in the absence of any such definition it should be taken to have its natural and ordinary meaning ... It should be concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power' (paragraph 57). The difficulty of this expression can be seen if we compare the wording I have just quoted with that of the draft of Circular 1/94 published on 11 October 1993. There we find that the 'reverence or veneration' is to be paid to a 'being or power regarded as supernatural or divine'.[12] Previously the power was to be both supernatural and divine, but now it is sufficient for it to be only divine; the supernatural has been dropped. Is there a pantheistic tendency here? Are the government theologians failing to distinguish adequately between God and creation? Further definition is clearly necessary .

The Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE) sought clarification: 'It would greatly help to know the identity of the being or power that was being revered or venerated in the act of worship at the school. It is clear that the Secretary of State, in establishing that worship was taking place, must have decided that some such being or power was the object of the worship.[13]

In the educational content of collective worship in schools this question is not appropriate, but it is surely legitimate and inevitable in the context of theological definition created by the legislation and the departmental commentary. To which divine being is collective worship to be offered? Because collective worship is to

'reflect the broad traditions of Christian belief on the majority of school days, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that on those days the divine being to whom reverence or veneration is to be paid would be none other than the Christian God. The main traditions of Christian belief are unanimous in declaring that the name of the Christian God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, on a minority of days the collective

worship need not reflect the broad traditions of Christian belief.[14] We may thus presume that the God to be worshipped on those other days might be other than the triune God of Christian faith. The worshippers would then be in the curious position of having to switch their reverence or veneration from one God to another. The Secretary of State wisely declined to answer PACE's question. He said that he did not have to discern the identity of the object of worship; it was sufficient to be reasonably satisfied that there was one.[15]

Although the Secretary of State had a good appreciation of that mystical moment when theology must move from words into silence, the same cannot be said for those who drafted Circular 1/94. They conceded that an act of collective worship could 'contain elements drawn from a number of different faiths' (paragraph 62) and

that the inclusion of such elements, or elements which are common to the Christian faith and to one or more other religions, would not necessarily deprive the act of worship of its broadly Christian character. Nevertheless, 'it must contain some elements which relate specifically to the traditions of Christian belief which accord a special status to Jesus Christ' (paragraph 63).

We must ask, however, what these specific elements are. Are we intended to contrast them with the common elements? If specific elements are not common to Christianity and other religions, they must be regarded as distinctive and possibly unique. The theological distinction which then becomes irresistible is what the DFE has in mind when it refers to specific and common elements. It was not long before a demand to clarify this point emerged. The chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, having obtained a legal opinion on the interpretation of paragraph 63 in the draft Circular, wrote to the Secretary of State, John Patten, on16 June 1994 to seek clarification. The reply declares that 'the term "broadly Christian", as defined in section 7(2) of the 1988 Act, does not, however, denote elements of worship which are merely consonant with Christianity, but which are distinctive of Christianity, without being distinctive of a particular Christian denomination’[16] (italics added).

So now we have the answer. The specific elements are the distinctive elements. But what are the distinctive elements of Christianity? Paragraph 63 of the Circular gives the answer: collective worship must 'accord a special status to Jesus Christ'. The letter from Mr Patten's private secretary says: 'the element of Christianity which distinguishes it from other faiths is the status accorded to Jesus Christ, which is why this is mentioned in that part of the Circular’.

This is helpful because it clarifies another point. The relevant part of paragraph 63 reads: 'It must … contain some elements which relate specifically to the traditions of Christian belief and which accord a special status to Jesus Christ' (italics added). It was not clear whether the reference to the special status of Jesus Christ was an additional requirement or whether it was to be regarded as an illustration of a specific element of Christianity. I have asked elsewhere[17] whether it would satisfy the DFE if the special status of a teacher or prophet were to be accorded to Jesus. If that was an acceptable Christology, no difficulties would be presented to children who were members of either the Jewish or the Muslim faith. I pointed out that if the special status to be accorded to Jesus Christ was that of the second person of the Trinity, the word of God incarnate, the situation would be very different; Jews and Muslims would be obliged to be withdrawn from school worship.

Mr Patten's letter gives us the answer, The special status to be accorded to Jesus Christ has been mentioned precisely because it is one of the elements of the Christian faith which is not only specific to it, nor merely consonant with it, but distinctive of it, Jesus is accorded a special status in the teaching of many of the world religions. In Islam he is a prophet born of a virgin. In Hinduism he is an avatar, a special envoy or revelation of God appearing on earth. The status of Jesus Christ that is distinctive of Christianity is as the second person of the Trinity. Indeed, this special status is an integral element in the two most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith: the Incarnation and the Trinity, It is only a matter of time before this implication is spelt out. There will then be further questions about how the Trinity and the Incarnation are to be understood. As I said, in these legalistic circumstances theological definition is interminable.

The subjective and objective aspects of collective worship were held in a somewhat uneasy balance in the period up to 1988. As we have seen, Section 7 of the Education Reform Act gave much greater prominence to the objective aspect, thus involving the legislators and administrators in an interminable theological process. The result is that it is no longer possible to hold the subjective and objective aspects of the situation together.

This is clearly seen in paragraph 57 of Circular 1/94, where we are informed that 'worship' should be taken to have its 'natural and ordinary' meaning, which is declared to lie in 'reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power'. The following sentence offers an astonishing admission: 'However, worship in schools will necessarily be of a different character. ' If it will necessarily be of a different character, then the natural and ordinary meaning of 'worship' cannot be relevant. This is made abundantly clear in the words that follow: 'Worship in schools will necessarily be of a different character from worship amongst a group with beliefs in common.' The belief which the members of the worshipping group have in common, by means of which their activity is constituted as worship in the natural and ordinary sense of the word, is belief in paying reverence to a divine being or power. Worship in the school context is necessarily different because one cannot assume that the participants share in this belief.

The text continues: 'The legislation reflects this difference in referring to collective worship rather than corporate worship.' As we have seen, the collective side of the expression gives weight to the variety of beliefs held by the participants. If that is the case, reverence or veneration paid to a supreme being or power ceases to be a relevant factor in assessing the character of collective worship in schools.[18] If that is true of the theistic belief, it is even truer of the specific elements of Christian belief and particularly true when affirming in worship the distinctive status of Jesus Christ.

The objective side, which is the whole purpose of the activity of theological definition, has collapsed. In the expression 'collective worship' an impossible situation has been apprehended through a self-contradictory concept. It is not surprising that churches and teachers' professional bodies report a sense of 'unease' and that it is being suggested that 'collective assembly' should replace the no longer usable 'collective worship'.[19]

What has become in all this of the original vision of unity and community, of sharing in a spiritual quest? When the question of collective worship was debated in the House of Lords in the early summer of 1988, the then Bishop of London, Dr Graham Leonard, spoke of the requirements which any proper legislation should possess. One of these was that collective worship 'does not break the school up into communities based on the various faiths of the parents, especially in that it makes some groups feel that they are not really part of the community being educated in the school'.[20]

In her summing-up speech at the end of the debate Baroness Hooper said: 'First, we wish as far as possible to ensure that the act of collective worship provided for in statute is indeed collective. It is because such an act of worship can perform an important function in binding together members of a school and helping to develop their sense of community that we in this country make collective worship in schools a statutory requirement ...This educational value of worship must be clearly distinguished from confessional acts of worship which are properly pursued by practising Christians and members of other faiths.’[21]

A similar point is made in Circular 1/94: 'the legislation ... is designed in collective worship to enable pupils, wherever possible, to share a single act of collective worship, while ensuring that worship is appropriate for the pupils' (paragraph 7). This vision of sharing, of mutuality, of inclusion, and of all that makes for community is part of the spirituality which the collective worship should be promoting. The inconsistency now built in to the legislation is hinted at in the words 'if possible' and by emphasis on the notion of worship being 'appropriate'. Why should it not be possible? Why should the worship offered not be appropriate? The answer lies in the specificity of the theological definitions which are insisted on. The more specific these theological definitions become, the less possible will it be for all pupils to participate, the less appropriate will be the resulting worship for at least some of the pupils.

This brings us to the vexed question of determinations. Paragraph 12 of the 1988 Act says that where a school finds that it would be inappropriate for collective worship to be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, an appeal for a determination may be made to the local SACRE. The whole notion of these determinations is incompatible with the concept of collectivity. It represents a sort of extension of the parental right to withdraw the child, except that the withdrawal is only from the norm and not from collective worship as a whole. It is less acceptable because pupils are withdrawn on the basis of their group religious identity and not solely on the basis of parental conscience, and thus collective worship is divided along specifically religious lines. Parental withdrawal is individual, and so does not have this character. Defenders of the current legislation sometimes speak as if it was one of the achievements of the legislation that each religious community now has the opportunity to hold its own acts of worship. It should not be too readily assumed that the various religious communities regard this as a great favour. In my view, most religious communities would like their children to stay with children from other communities unless the religious basis of the activity becomes so explicit as to become alien.

As Baroness Hooper said, the act of collective worship in school cannot and should not be understood as an act of confessional worship in which practising Christians and members of other faiths might participate.[22] They have their churches and mosques, their synagogues and temples; let them worship there. The educational context of the act of collective worship in schools is quite different. This important distinction is blurred by the determination procedure, which assumes that worship should take place in faith-specific groups and so be the same as the worship conducted by practising believers.

One of the reasons why the leaders of the various religious communities are not wildly excited about the opportunities offered by the determination procedure is that it means complying with the assumption that Christianity provides the norm and the standard. Determination procedures last for only five years, after which they must be renewed.[23] Collective worship which is wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character is, however, perennial and normative.

This tends to give some substance to the distinction between the heritage religion and the represented religions, which is one of the inferences drawn by Circular 1/94 from the wording of Section 8(3) of the Education Reform Act. Any new agreed syllabus must 'reflect the fact that the principal religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teachings and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain'. This leads to the thought that Christianity is the religion of the heritage of this country whereas the other religions, being only represented here, should not take such a full part in the religious education programme.[24] This in turn led to unfortunate squabbles, so much in vogue in 1993/4, about percentages and proportions.[25] Distinction between the religion of the heritage and the represented religions inevitably leads to distinction between the children of the heritage and the represented children. No matter how long Judaism has been an accepted part of British life, Jewish children are not part of the heritage of this country according to Circular 1/94, which confines its interest to 'Christian heritage'. They are merely members of a principal religion which is represented in Great Britain. It is this represented status for which the determination procedure caters, and raising the Christian theological profile as the norm enforces on the Jewish community and its children the view that they have no place in the heritage of the country .

The problems which have arisen as a result of Section 7 can be further illustrated by the fact that a school may request a determination applying to the entire school body or to any part of it.[26] Since determination is requested in cases where it is thought inappropriate that collective worship should be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian nature, the supposition is that the determination would be sought for pupils from a religious tradition other than Christianity. It was this supposition which led to the possibility of a part – determination being sought for Muslim pupils, another for Hindus, another for Sikhs, and so on. This also seems to be consistent with the requirement that in considering a determination the school should consider the family back grounds of the pupils, even though leading people in the House of Lords had specifically warned against the possibility of dividing pupils up in accordance with the religion of their families.[27] Nevertheless, this did seem to be the natural interpretation of the legislation, and Circular 1/94 seems clearly to lean in this direction.

Thus when the Circular speaks of collective worship being appropriate, the implication is that Muslim pupils would worship in a Muslim way, Jews in a Jewish way, and so on. The Circular says that in considering any determination the local SACRE is to 'have regard to any circumstances relating to the faith backgrounds of the pupils ...' (paragraph 68, italics added). The 1988 Act makes no mention of faith background; the reference is always to family background.[28] This is a further example of the sectarian or religionist emphasis provided by the Circular in contrast to the original legislation.[29] It would be easy but superficial to reply that it is natural and appropriate that children worship in accordance with their faith backgrounds, but this would be to neglect the character of collective worship and frustrate the vision to which Baroness Hooper referred when she contrasted the character of collective worship with that of the confessional worship in which Christians and members of other faiths would participate. It was not long after the passage of the 1988 Act that the possibility of different interpretations arose. Section 7(6b) says that the collective worship which follows as a result of a determination (that collective worship which has fallen back from Section 7 to Section 6) 'shall not be distinctive of any particular Christian or other religious denomination (but this shall not be taken as preventing that worship from being distinctive of any particular faith)'" The Circular interprets this as follows: 'It may not be distinctive of any particular denomination of any faith or religion but may be distinctive of a particular faith or religion' (paragraph 78, italics added). It is clear that this requirement is permissive, not mandatory .The acts of determined collective worship may be distinctive of a particular faith but need not be. All that is required is that they shall not be characteristic of a denomination of that faith.

What character, then, would the determined collective worship have if it was not distinctive of a particular faith? That is unspecified. Section 6 of the Act makes no comment and offers no definition. What is required is simply an act of collective worship which need not be wholly or even mainly of a broadly Christian character. It would therefore be possible for a school to seek a determination in order to enable it to create acts of collective worship which draw on all the spiritual traditions represented in the school.

The possibility and the implications one could draw from it were, however, the subject of some misunderstanding and disagreement. Alan Brown remarks that when a SACRE offers a determination 'it can only agree to the request if the "broad traditions" of another faith other than Christianity are substituted ... another religion may be substituted for Christianity'.[30] There appears to be no basis for this claim in the Act or the Circular.

Since pupils from different faith backgrounds would be gathered together in acts of collective worship which did not have to be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character, these occasions could be described as multi-faith worship. This led to a controversy as to whether the legislation permitted multi-faith worship. The emotional energy which this debate attracted arose from the high theological profile which had already been given to Christian collective worship. It was assumed that there would be a similar high theological profile for all the other religious groups, and that when these groups were put together in a common act of worship there would be a contradiction of commitments. That would indeed be the case if the high theological profile was followed, but in fact it happens only if the objective side of worship is emphasised and the necessity for theological definition arises while the subjective side, the collective side, and the educational context are undervalued.

One of the first LEAs to realise the significance of this in avoiding theological controversy and increased sensitivity in the relationship between the different religions was the London Borough of Ealing. In 1989 its SACRE gave permission to four schools, both primary and secondary, to have collective worship which would 'consist of a general religious, moral and ethical content which is not distinctive of anyone faith or religion'.[31]

This creates the possibility of a new understanding of what might be inappropriate in collective worship. The confessional and religionist assumption implied by the legislation and made explicit in the Circular is that collective worship would be inappropriate if pupils of one religious background were required to worship in accordance with the ,character of another religion. That is true, but there is another interpretation. One could decide that Section 7 is an inappropriate piece of legislation and wrong in principle in that it creates a high and divisive theological profile instead of emphasising educational collectivity.

In that case one could use the determination procedure to lift the whole of the requirements of Section 7. The Circular says that 'in considering whether to grant a headteacher's request, the SACRE must ensure that the proposed determination is justified by any relevant circumstances relating to the family backgrounds of the pupils concerned' (paragraph 72). This could mean not that the pupils were from a specific or a single-faith background, but that precisely because they were from a variety of religious family backgrounds the need for collectivity rather than specificity was paramount. This may not be in the spirit of the Act, but we must ask whether in that case the Act rather than the school is at fault.

Section 12(10) of the Act says that 'any application made to the Council [SACRE] ...shall be made in such manner and form as the Council may require', which the Circular translates as 'it is for each SACRE to decide how applications should be made and to make available any necessary guidance to schools' (paragraph 74). It would be perfectly possible, well within the wording of the law, and consistent with a properly thought-out educational policy, for a SACRE to indicate to its schools that it would accept applications from them all to have Section 7 lifted in order to enable them to hold daily acts of collective worship which would draw on the spiritual resources of the entire community .In that way the determination procedures, which highlight and sensitise the character of specific religious commitment, would simply be repealed at the local level. It would be as if the legislation offered the possibility of its own abnegation. Surprising though this may seem, it would be consistent with the structure of these sections of the Act, which are not only convoluted but hesitant in that they seem to give and take away at the same time. If SACREs and schools are justified, as I believe they are, in interpreting their rights under the law in this way, then the question must arise as to whether Section 7 itself is an appropriate piece of legislation.

In its intention to strengthen collective worship so as to make a more effective contribution to the spiritual development of pupils and of the school, the Education Reform Act has overreached itself and become counterproductive. A gulf has opened between the search for spirituality in education and the function of collective worship in satisfying that need. The result of the attempt to provide Christian theological definitions of collective worship has revealed the tension within the concept and has led to detailed theological distinctions which are inappropriate for political and civil life in modern Britain. A context has been created which is impossible for head teachers, governing bodies, and school inspectors to manage. Moreover, a climate of opinion has been created which cannot but lead to a deterioration of religious and community relationships in Britain. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.

The set of complex problems facing us will yield to a simple solution: repeal of Section 7 of the Education Reform Act 1988. Once that Section, dealing with collective worship of a broadly Christian character, is removed, Section 12, which is about determinations, will become unnecessary. The expression 'collective worship' should be removed and replaced by 'collective spirituality'.[32] The amended law would require pupils to take part in acts of collective spirituality whose main purpose would be to make a contribution to the spiritual development of the pupils and the school. Problems, controversies, and misunderstandings associated with collective worship would disappear, and schools would be provided with a powerful vehicle for promoting spirituality.

There seems little doubt that this simple solution would commend itself to most if not all of the religious communities and would be acceptable to the teachers' unions. Any problems are likely to come from a small group of Christians and from some politicians. I think we can assume that a sensible and sensitive person like Mrs Gillian Shephard, the present Secretary of State for Education, is embarrassed to discover the situation bequeathed to her by her immediate predecessors, and that civil servants in the DFE are equally embarrassed at the theological task imposed on them.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to see a Conservative government in the near future being willing to adopt my proposals. Whether a newly elected Labour government would take a different view is difficult to say. It might feel nervous about the reaction of certain sections of the press and other media which might well interpret the repeal of Section 7 as an indication that the government was unwilling to support the Christian faith. The idea that such a contribution to spiritual education should be supported by the Christian faith might not emerge clearly in the context of party-political controversy.

In these political circumstances it is possible that the legislation and the Circular which exaggerates its tendencies will be left to gather dust on the shelves. Alarmed by the administrative complexities, horrified by the theological subtleties, and anxious about the effect on community relations which the legislation and its interpretations entail, head teachers and governing bodies will allow it to die. After an initial burst of enthusiasm OFSTED, or whatever follows it, will similarly lose interest. If this happens, a splendid opportunity to make a contribution to the spiritual lives of children and young people will have been lost, and one of the most richly valued aspects of school life will have fallen into decay.

There is another possibility: political and religious leaders may find a way to redirect the potential of school assembly along the lines of spiritual growth for all our children.




Summary of theological distinctions implied in the legislation and its




1. Within assembly that which is not worship should be distinguished from that which is worship.

2. Within worship, that which is subjective should be distinguished from that which is objective.



3. Within objective worship, reverence or veneration paid to that which is not a divine being or power should be distinguished from reverence or veneration paid to that which is a divine being or power .

4. Within worship offered to a divine being or power that which is not offered to a supernatural being should be distinguished from that which is offered to a supernatural being.

5. Within supernatural divine beings, worship which is offered to a non-specified being should be distinguished from worship offered to a specified being.

6. Within specified beings, worship offered to several specified divine beings, either simultaneously or serially, should be distinguished from worship offered to a single divine being.

7. Within the worship offered to a single specified divine being, worship should distinguish between that which recognises a non-trinitarian god from that which recognises Father, Son and Holy Spirit.



8.. Worship which is not of a broadly Christian character should be distinguished from worship which is of a broadly Christian character.

9. Worship which is of a broadly Christian character should distinguish between that which is wholly Christian and that which is mainly Christian.

10. Worship which is mainly Christian in that it includes elements drawn from one or more other religions should be distinguished from worship which is mainly Christian in that it includes elements common to Christianity and one or more other religions.


11. Worship which is mainly Christian in that it includes elements consonant with the Christian faith should be distinguished from worship which is mainly Christian because it includes elements distinctive of the Christian faith.

12. Worship which is wholly or mainly Christian although it does not accord a special status to Jesus Christ should be distinguished from that which does accord a special status to Jesus Christ.

13. Worship which accords a special status to Jesus Christ which is common to Christianity and one or more other religions should be distinguished from that in which the status of Jesus Christ is distinctive of Christian faith.





Key texts


Education Reform Act 1988 Section 7(1),7(2)

7 (1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, in the case of a county school the collective worship required in the school by section 6 of this Act shall be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character .

7(2) For the purposes of subsection (1) above, collective worship is ofa broadly Christian character if it reflects the broad traditions of Christian belief without being distinctive of any particular Christian denomination.


Department for Education Circular 1/94 Paragraph 57

'Worship' is not defined in the legislation and in the absence of any such definition it should be taken to have its natural and ordinary meaning. That is, it must in some sense reflect something special or separate from ordinary school activities and it should be concerned with reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power. However, worship in schools will necessarily be of a different character from worship amongst a group with beliefs in common. The legislation reflects this difference in referring to 'collective worship' rather than 'corporate worship'.


Department for Education Circular 1/94 Paragraph 63

Provided that, taken as a whole, an act of worship which is broadly Christian reflects the traditions of Christian belief, it need not contain only Christian material. Section 7(1) is regarded as permitting some non-Christian elements in the collective worship without thus depriving it of its broadly Christian character. Nor would the inclusion of elements common to Christianity and one or more other religions deprive it of that character. It must, however, contain some elements which relate specifically to the traditions of Christian belief and which accord a special status to Jesus Christ.


Letter from the Secretary of State for Education to the Board of Deputies of British Jews dated 14th July 1994, paragraph 6

Paragraph 63 of the Circular, quoted in the Opinion, explains the flexibility at a school's disposal when deciding on the content of an act of worship which is mainly of a broadly Christian character. It explains that the inclusion of elements from faiths other than Christianity, or of elements not exclusively Christian, would not mean that the act of worship, taken as a whole, was not broadly Christian. The term "broadly Christian", as defined in section 7 (2) of the 1988 Act, does not, however, denote elements of worship which are merely consonant with Christianity , but which are distinctive of Christianity , without being distinctive of a particular Christian denomination. The element of Christianity which distinguishes it from other faiths is the status accorded to Jesus Christ, which is why this is mentioned in that part of the Circular.




Director, Amana, and a member of the executive of NASACRE



In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful.

Professor Hull has pointed out the historical context very clearly, has unravelled muddled thinking, and has expounded the difficulties Muslims have with requirements for collective worship to relate specifically to Christian belief. As he said, Jesus Christ (peace upon him) has special status in Islam. Allah tells us in the

Qur'an (2:136): 'Say you: "We believe in Allah and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to all Prophets from their Lord: we make no difference between one and another of them and we submit to Allah."' This quotation affirms the central Islamic belief in tawhid - the oneness of Allah.

Although Muslims are required to obey the laws of the countries in which they reside, they cannot submit to laws, or interpretations of laws, which would force them to commit shirk -the sin of ascribing partners to Allah. Yet, as Professor Hull has told us, it is precisely the interpretation of the 'special status accorded to Jesus Christ' as a second person of the Trinity and partner of God which the Department for Education wishes to be understood and acted upon by schools. By so clearly spelling out this interpretation, the Department has effectively excluded from acts of collective worship all Muslim teachers and over 300,000 Muslim pupils in schools in England.

Everything we have heard and read encourages Muslims to believe that schools wish their collective worship

to be an inclusive occasion to which all pupils can contribute. County and non-denominational schools want collective worship to provide learning experiences to enable the values of the school community to be underlined' and celebrated; to heighten pupils' awareness of religious, moral, social, and ethical issues; and to emphasise the spiritual dimension of human life. They do not want to have to provide the kind of worship offered in a church among people who hold beliefs in common -as OFSTED inspection reports clearly demonstrate.

It is impossible for Muslims to accept the participation of Muslim pupils in any act of collective worship which conflicts with Islamic belief. We call for all pupils to be able to participate in school activities without compromise to the integrity of their faith or non-faith. Non-Christian pupils must not be excluded from that important part of the school life, nor do most non-denominational county schools wish this to happen.

In such circumstances it is exceedingly puzzling that so few applications for determinations from mainly Christian collective worship have been granted. Because each SACRE decides how applications for determination should be made and publicised to schools, there is great variation throughout the country. In some LEAs it is a relatively simple matter and easily achieved. In others it is a minefield of confusion and obfuscation, with almost no determinations granted despite the fact that the conditions appear to be fulfilled.

Collective worship was identified as a prime concern by the Islamic Accord, which was established to bring to attention of government, media, and general public the consensus of Muslim opinion on issues affecting our ability to live as Muslims with in the broader community. In October 1994 the Secretary of State for Education was informed of our unease about the divisive emphasis on specifically Christian worship and of our campaign for its repeal. We have not yet had a response. I pray that by this time next year whoever has the power to take the decision will have understood and responded in a rational, sensible, and acceptable way to the almost universal disquiet provoked by this invidious attempt to equate belief in Christianity with full status of British citizenship.

I would like to leave you, and our legislators, with a small passage from the Qur’an (5.82): ‘And nearest among them in love to the believers will you find those who say, “We are Christian”; because amongst these are men devoted to learning. And men who have renounced the world and they are not arrogant.’




Executive Director, Education Department, Board of Deputies of British Jews


In 1966, as a 15-year-old, I sat on a bench outside the school hall in Twickenham, withdrawn from the daily assembly not by my parents but by my own volition. Why? Because I could not identify with what was going on; I did not understand the language of the act of worship. As a Jew I valued quiet contemplation and reflection in prayer. The Hebrew word for prayer, tefillah, comes from the root, phellal – to evaluate, to judge oneself. In Judaism, spiritual development happens around the table with family, not in an assembly hall or even a synagogue.

Recently a vicar accompanied me to synagogue when a crowded, noisy, Friday night service was in progress. Sometimes we sang with gusto, sometimes we were immersed in our own prayers, or discussing the week’s events with a neighbour, or even cuddling our children. This was too much for the vicar. How did we manage a corporate act of worship while the main thrust seems to be in individual contemplation? I said that the service was an act of spirituality rather than an act of worship; that as Jews we attain our spirituality through family, food, home, and friends.

That is the paradox of the current legal stranglehold on worship and spiritual development in our schools. The law and flawed guidance on the law have contributed to a lessening of spirituality. Teachers, parents, pupils, and others are confused. How can there be any justification for an act of worship, conducted in a school, that is sanctified by a statement from the Department for Education that there should be more than passive attendance, even though some pupils cannot identify with it?

I hesitate to use the word 'commune', but surely that is the way to consider an act that will gel individuals into progressing as a community , sharing values, confronting differences, and developing those skills which will enable them to reflect -as OFSTED suggests -on the non-material dimensions of life.

Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, talks of developing bilingualism: the language of society alongside the language of faith nurtured in our own communities. If daily collective acts of spirituality were to concentrate on the language of society while gaining an insight into the language of faith, our children would be better able to grow spiritually. The law has to recognise that Christianity is no longer the sole purveyor of the language of faith, that groups other than Christians have made an impact on the British heritage, and that there is more to spiritual development than is inherent in an act of worship whose language is incomprehensible to many children. Spirituality and spiritual growth mean giving all children a glimpse into a dimension that goes beyond the gross materialism of the 1990s.

I would urge the DFE to undertake an urgent reappraisal of Circular 1/94 and to consider the judicial review of the Education Reform Act in order to provide for assemblies that provide nourishment for spiritual growth – in other words, to promote acts of collective spirituality. I am not suggesting that there is no room for acts of worship of a mainly Christian nature. They are for Christians to enjoy, just as Jews and adherents to other religions need such an experience, if only to ensure that the language of individual faith is strengthened, especially where the local faith infrastructure may be weak.

As Jews we value the concept of being faithful to tradition, we value a society that nurtures our own spiritual growth and traditions, and we want a society that promotes faith, spirituality, and community ideals steeped in family values. If children are disaffected in school from a communal activity that is the very basis of building that community, you have a recipe for disintegration and eventually distrust. We, as educationists, have to assure our grandchildren's future in a society that no longer builds pedestals for the individual, rewards greed, or promotes a single culture or religion before all others.

The Jews have just completed the festival of Chanukah, which celebrates the triumph of spirituality over secularism, the triumph of an ethical tradition over the glorification of the self. We need that message writ large in our schools, our communities, and our families. It is a message eloquently expressed by Professor Hull.

[1] Halstead, J Mark, and Taylor, Monica J (ed), Values in Education and Education in Values, London, Falmer Press, forthcoming.

[2] Hull, John M, School Worship: an Obituary, London, SCM Press, 1975, page 18f.

[3] ‘... it shall be the duty of the Local Education Authority for every area, so far as their powers extend, to contribute towards the spiritual, moral, mental and physical development of the community ...’ Education Act 1944, Section 7.

[4] Ibid, Section 25(1).

[5] Ibid, Section 26.

[6] Ibid, Section 25(1).

[7] I am grateful to Joe Bysh for the details on the origin of the expression 'collective worship' supplied in his letter to me dated 16 December 1994.

[8] The distinction between ‘collective’ and ‘corporate’ is emphasised in Circular 1/94, paragraph 57.

[9] Tillich, Paul, Systematic Theology, Vol I, Herts,]ames Nisbet and Company Ltd, 1953, page I4ff.

[10] Education Reform Act 1988, Section 7(1).

[11] Ibid, Section 7(2).

[12] Draft Circular X/94, paragraph 51.

[13] Letter from the Parental Alliance for Choice in Education (PACE) to the Secretary of State for

Education, dated 30 June 1992, concerning Crowcroft Park Primary School.

[14] Education Reform Act 1988, Section 7(1).

[15] Letter from the Secretary of State to PACE, dated 7 July 1992.

[16] Letter from the Secretary of State's private secretary to the chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, dated 14 July 1994. In the letter an unsuccessful attempt is made to soften the implications of what has been said. We are told that it would be acceptable if collective worship were to draw on the 'parables and other teachings of Jesus', However, this would be to present Jesus as a great teacher, which is a feature of Christian belief which is consonant with other faiths and not distinctive.

[17] Hull, John M, 'Can one speak of God or to God in education?' in Young, Frances (ed), Dare we speak of God in Public? London, Mowbray, February 1995.

[18] In spite of the fact that the Circular declares that worship in schools will necessarily be of a different character from that which is characterised by reverence or veneration paid to a divine being or power, OFSTED Update Nine, issued in September 1994, says (page 6) that when the collective worship of a school is being assessed to see whether it complies with the law, 'it should be clear that the words used and/ or the activities observed in worship recognise the existence of a deity'.

[19] Churches Joint Education Policy Committee Working Party Report, Collective Worship in County

Schools, November 1994.

[20] Hansard, House of Lords, 7 July 1988, columns 433-4.

[21] Ibid, column 441.

[22] Hull, John M, 'Religious worship and school worship', editorial in The British Journal of Religious

Education, Vol 12, No 2, Spring 1990.

[23] Education Reform Act 1988, Section 12(5).

[24] Circular 1/194, paragraph 7.

[25] Brown, Alan, Christianity in the Agreed Syllabus, London, The National Society, 1994; Model Syllabuses for Religious Education Consultation Document: Introduction, London, School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, 25 January 1994, page 6.

[26] Education Reform Act 1988. Section 7(6).

[27] Hansard, House of Lords, 7 July 1988, columns 433-4.

[28] Education Reform Act 1988, Sections 7(5a) and 12(2).

[29] Hull, John M, The Fundamental Distinction: a Review of DFE Draft Circular X/94 Religious Education and Collective Worship, November 1993. Unpublished; available from John M Hull, School of Education, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT; £1.50.

[30] Brown, Alan. 'Worship in the primary school', in Bastide, Derek (ed), Good Practice in Primary Religious Education 4-11, London, Palmer Press, 1992, page 173.

[31] Ealing News Release 897/89, June 1989.

[32] I am grateful to Laurie Rosenberg for this suggestion.