Saturday, January 19, 2008

Labour to ‘review’ collective worship in schools

Libby Purves of The Times has picked up on the fact that this wretched and godless Labour government is intent on hacking away at another layer of the nation’s Christian heritage, and will be 'reviewing’ (i.e., eroding and thereby abolishing) the statutory obligation upon schools to hold a daily act of collective worship. Yet this story merits far more than the mere reporting of the fact. While the practice may seem anachronistic, it is a profoundly important dimension of a child’s education. One may learn about religion in class, but one can only experience it in practice. Of course this raises questions of induction, indoctrination, and liberty, but all of these issues are addressed in existing legislation which ultimately gives parents the right to withdraw their children. But very few do. And this is because of the reality that if children don’t experience something of the divine in a school assembly, they are increasingly unlikely to experience it anywhere.

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?


Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace
I beg you... You must cease with this assumption that morality cannot exist where Christianity does not! Your last paragraph simply isn't true. It isn't that simple. What makes a good school good - even the term 'good' is difficult to pin down - is so complicated.

My current school does not have a daily act of Christian collective worship. My last school did. It was Catholic. My current school is by far the better school. In fact, my current school does not even have a daily assembly for everyone. But that is an issue to do with the size of the school and inadequate space to hold the children. And this is a shame.

Our assemblies always have a moral tale in them. One can be moral without being religious. And frankly I cannot tell you the number of times I have spoken with a parent of a terror of a child who tells me that she takes her child to church on a Sunday and it makes no difference at all.

It is true that Christianity has some fantastic moral teachings. Jesus was an outstanding role model. It also is true our youth today lack a sense of morality. But your link between lack of morality and lack of religion is built on an assumption. Your argument needs to be more robust than that.

With respect, Your Grace...but you know that.

19 January 2008 at 12:44  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Ms Snuffy,

Alas, you do have a tendency to caricature. His Grace does not believe that morality cannot exist where Christianity does not, and has never said so. The entire experience of the Early Church consisted of the discovery of the moral goodness that was to be found in Greek culture and religion, and St Paul refers to this in his speech to the Athenians.

You omitted to read a crucial sentence of His Grace's posting:

"And one can make the ‘broadly Christian’ directive relevant for all pupils, irrespective of their faith."

The law requies that the daily act of collective worship be 'broadly Christian', and this quite obviously coheres with all of the moral standards to which you refer.

You had a very bad experience in one Roman Catholic school, yet there are very many excellent ones. You have found higher standards in one very good comprehensive school, yet there are many dire ones.

His Grace exhorts you to explore your known unknowns and to discover your unknown unknowns.

19 January 2008 at 13:05  
Blogger Unsworth said...

Your Grace

Definition of 'Morality' then? Indeed what are 'morals' unless they are based upon some religion or other?

True, there may be commonality across religions, but it's my view that morals are intrinsically linked to religions.

19 January 2008 at 14:01  
Anonymous Nothos said...

Your Grace,

I must say that I agree entirely. I still remember sitting through mass in primary school, and although at the time I must admit I found it quite dull, I cannot deny that those masses coupled with the general teaching of Christian morals, have helped define the person I am.

I also agree with your point that schools who embrace this system do give better results. When I left my primary school was, and I believe still is, one of the best in the area.

19 January 2008 at 14:19  
Anonymous The recusant said...

Miss Snuffy, I see that bad old Catholic School is coming in for a bashing once again, Oh dear. It may surprise you to hear I quite agree with your point that morality is not necessarily a product of Christianity, even the early Church Fathers and Greco/Roman philosophers disputed this issue. But this opens up the whole question as how we define morality, is it just behaving within the law, conforming to the norms of society so to speak, or does it have a wider more altruistic (dare I say spiritual) dimension? And if so by what yard stick do we measure it, how objective can such a process be and (the $64,000 question) who decides.

However I feel you are deliberately missing the thrust of His Graced post and that, to my reading it is not dissimilar from the terrorism problem, just as not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims, not all faith schools are high achievers but the majority of high achievers are faith schools. Do I detect the multicultural heckles rising, well if so be aware that even that pariah of everything Christian ‘The Guardian’ agrees with me:

Faith schools dominate top primary results -

Faith schools make up 197 of the 209 primaries achieving "perfect" results in the latest league tables, with all pupils reaching the expected standard for 11-year-olds in English, maths and science.

The success of Church of England, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools in the government's key stage 2 results, released today, is likely to fuel debate over Labour's support for faith-based education.


Faith schools make up just one-third of all schools in England. In 2005 they accounted for 44% of the top primaries, but this year the proportion has risen to more than 60%.

What will truly be enlightening is that if we see any opposition from our the bien pensant educational establishment, in opposition to Ed Balls continued intimidation and persecution of the best performing faith schools, nowhere more exemplified than in the pejorative application of the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme. Case in point: St Georges Roman Catholic High School in Salford is earmarked for closure despite being oversubscribed and receiving an excellent Ofsted report. This school is to be sacrificed to save Harrop Fold, a badly performing comp. next door that has already received £25 million from the council in a PFI. Just to underline the intense hatred by our ‘moral’ government apparatchiks, the head teacher of St Georges, Mr Harte was told directly that if the council did not close his school it would select another Catholic school for closure (perhaps you could suggest your old one).

This is not an isolated incident, in Stoke-on- Trent, St Joseph, the best ¬performing school in the area, was saved from closure only after a campaign by parents. BSF offers the perfect opportunity for ideologi¬cally hidebound councils to close Catholic schools in order to provide resources for their own failing secular schools and perhaps to settle the odd score.

The Government- particularly a control-freak one like this finds Catholic schools less ready than other schools to submit themselves to experiments in social engineering. Moreover, some Catholic schools enjoy disproportionately good academic results, despite confronting just as great a range of social problems as the rest of the state sector. As Archbishop Vincent Nichols once put it:

"The intake is no different. It's the results that are different."

And that is the crux of the matter, it embarrasses the hell out of the ideologues like Ed Balls, like the NUT and like the NASUWT who just can’t bear the fact that Faith Schools are in the majority of cases better schools than their equivalent comprehensive in terms of exam results, pupils behavior and morals (however you like to define it) as well as prospects, achievements and well balanced individuals, it denies their one size fits all atheistic mentality.

The reality is that relativizing terms like morality, humanitarianism and good behavior and separating them from their roots leads to the type of confusion that secularists revel in; we see the same effect today with the misappropriation of words in common use like Love, now a euphemism for sex and Gay, not so carefree anymore. Other examples include Joy Rider, Shop Lifting and a particularly odious one, Happy Slapping need I go on, once exemplars of their class now condemned to lurid conjunctive headlines in the red tops. So if you choose to object to his Grace linking Morality to a particularly Christian concept, (which I don’t think he is in this piece) be sure your objection is based on more than a perceived injustice of ‘is you saying I is not moral like’ or an antipathy to the particular Faith and Morals of Christianity because the set particularly high standards and are no so concerned with measuring them as achieving them.

19 January 2008 at 15:19  
Anonymous irenelancaster said...

Harrop Fold is truly a dreadful school. I was approached to offer home tutoring to the pupils at that school, who had been treated simply dreadfully by the powers-that-be. I have many tales to tell of Salford schools, but that one takes some beating. It was in 'special measures' as far as I know and down for closure.

It is difficult to comprehend why a good school in the same area is being sacrificed to save Harrap Fold.

As for the 'acts of worship', what does the government intend to replace them with?

19 January 2008 at 17:20  
Blogger haddock said...

I taught at about a dozen different secondary schools from 1986 to 1994 and never once saw, or even heard tale of, a collective act of worship in any of those schools.
As you say Your grace, Ofsted ignore it.

19 January 2008 at 17:33  
Blogger Dr.D said...

Do members of the Church of England read Morning and Evening Prayer at home as provided in the Book of Common Prayer? If so, then why do you need worship at school? If not, then why not?

19 January 2008 at 20:02  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
a wonderful article , as i look back over my childhood to adult , i see it peppered with many modern trappings , which have taken some time to modify into a more church like behavoir, there was only one child in our school which fell foul of morning worhsip and she sat supervised but alone in a room adjacent to the dinning hall , this did make her seperation seem a bit more odd to us lot erupting with spots and the like , she may have been name called , but no one would kick her for it .

most of my fellow pupils went onto to live a modern life of holidays, booze, soft furnishings and the like , god had become a matter of adult choice . not one when i meet then thought that anything was wrong with daily worship !!

how ever the the dr tanyas will analyse morning assembly and say its juts a silent gathering , "chemically its rather like chocolate", well that may be but spiritually it is not .

i can only ask the nut to come to its senses and see that there is more to roman catholic or COE based acts of worship , that there ideaologies will never grasp, and even if scientists have worked that theres only a 30% that god exists , do they think it wise to try and omitt it , in the manner that it was used ???.

19 January 2008 at 21:12  
Blogger Didactophobe said...

I completely agree with His Grace. Too many children today are raised within a moral vacuum, ignorant of Christian truths.

As other contributors have highlighted, morality cannot be separated from religion. An atheist has no reason other than his instinct for self-preservation to have any love for his fellow man. In the absence of religion, people revert to being selfish, amoral savages.

'Wretched and godless' is a description of the present government which I certainly endorse.

21 January 2008 at 06:37  
Anonymous MoralAtheist said...

Didactophobe @ 0637 - what absolute twaddle.

I am fed up with Christians trying to claim that in order to understand and demonstrate morality, one has to believe in an a supernatural supreme being.

I am an atheist. I am also a historian and philosopher. I am fascinated by theology, and find that I have a better knowledge of the bible than many of my Christian friends. In short, I am well educated and well read, and I utterly disagree with your bold assertion (which you do not back up with any rationale or evidence).

Are you really saying that the only thing that makes you, as a Christian, act in a moral way (ie - not kill and rob your neighbour when he buys a nice car that you would rather like for yourself) is because of the giant CCTV camera in the sky and the belief that you'll be punished in Hell for it? What a sad and bleak suggestion.

As an atheist, I do not rob and kill my neighbour because I have an innate human sense of morality that has nothing to do with fear of punishment in the afterlife. I personally believe that such a morality probably has its roots in some sort of social evolution - societies in which individuals act selfishly generally do not survive.

The philosophey Singer has suggested that ethics can evolve from a form of selfish interest - ie it is in my interest for other people to behave ethically, hence I should behave ehtically.

You do not need to look far in nature to see that many species behave to one another in a way that could be described as ethical or moral - they protect one another, protect their weak members, and sacrifice themselves if necessary to save their famliy group. This is simply a good survival strategy overall for the species.

So please, spare me the ridiculous suggestion that morality can only exist from a combination of God's carrot (a blissful eternal afterlife) and stick (burn in Hell forever).

21 January 2008 at 10:29  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace and The Recusant
I am not having a go at 'that bad Catholic school'. In fact, I wouldn't even say that my old school was 'bad'! I am merely pointing out that 'good schools' are not so easily categorised. What do we mean by 'good'?

I have worked in more Church schools than I have Comprehensives. But I have seen some terrible schools on both sides of the fence. And when I say that the Catholic school where I worked was 'worse' than my current comprehensive, I do not mean it was bad in the ways that you presume me to mean if you have read my posts on it.

I simply mean that there were more fights there. Children were more likely to terrorise teachers there. The results were lower. The teaching was not as good. I am making a very simple point: that to assume that a school with religion is necessarily the better one would be silly.

I am glad to hear that His Grace does not believe this to be the case. Perhaps it is the term 'Christian daily act of collective worship' that had me understand otherwise. And presumably I can put forward my own experiences as argument against a position without believing that there is nothing outside my experience?

There are many reasons Catholic and other religious schools are considered better, not least because their ability to discriminate is used to do just that. When reading the Primary school report, if the child is found to bang his head against walls regularly, an argument is made to say that acting thus is not in line with Catholic, or Jewish or Christian values. Being able to keep a handful of children like this out of a school makes the world of difference.

Couple that with having the majority of one's parents as the types of people who are so keen to get their child into a good school that they will attend a religious insitution in order to get their child in there, and you will clearly have the better school!

And so forgive me Your Grace when I read in your post that schools which take the Christian daily act of collective worship seriously are invariably those with the highest educational standards, for being mildly irritated. It is a sweeping statement that does not consider any of the multitude of reasons for why that might be the case, if indeed it is.

Oh, and The Recusant, All terrorists are Muslims? Really?

21 January 2008 at 19:48  
Anonymous Lawrence said...

Your Grace seems to have confused correlation with causation. Lack of religion in schools seems correlated with lack of a moral compass. This doesn't prove that the former caused the latter.


21 January 2008 at 21:00  
Anonymous Lee Griffin said...

The reality is that educational attainment isn't caused by faith, faith schools pick and choose their students from the most affluent and socially stable backgrounds to ensure a higher chance of educational attainment. The evidence speaks for itself, along with the fact that more 18-24 year olds than ever don't have a religion just goes to show that far from encouraging religion, collective worship could be argued to actually turn people off from it.

23 January 2008 at 11:40  

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