Advice for non-believing parents in Derby and Derbyshire
We get lots of emails from parents concerning the role of religion in schools and we hope this page will help.
- We recommend allowing children to take part in RE which must teach about religion and belief (including non-religious beliefs) and must not instruct in any belief system.
We can help schools by providing qualified people, free of charge, to speak to pupils, teachers and parents. Please contact us to arrange this.
- We recommend withdrawing children from the daily act of legally imposed worship but you should insist that they take part in the non-worship part of school assembly. Assembly is not worship and worship is not assembly.
However, we recognise that younger children do not like to stand out from their peers so, in the interests of domestic peace and harmony, we know that many parents who don't agree with legally imposed worship in schools do allow their children to attend.
Please contact us if you wish to discuss any issues relating to religion in schools - or if you find things happening in your local schools that you do not approve of.
A few facts to set the scene:
- Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council are two separate bodies - each responsible for state education in is own area.
- Voluntary aided religious schools (almost all Church of England and Catholic in our case), academies and private schools are not supervised by the City or County in relation to religion in schools.
- The law requires all pupils to take part in a daily act of corporate religious worship (bowing one's head and thinking good thoughts is not sufficient) and weekly religious education. The City and County councils cannot opt out of this nationally imposed legal requirement.
- The legal duty to provide worship and RE is placed on the head teacher of each school. The head teacher cannot opt out of this responsibility.
- Individual teachers have the legal right to opt out of taking part in worship in schools and/or providing religious education.
- Parents have the legal right to withdraw their children from worship and/or RE.
- Each local authority must by law have a Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) which draws up the Agreed Syllabus for RE to be used within the local authority. The SACRE consists of representatives from the Church of England, other denominations, teachers and councillors. Non-believers have no legal right to be represented on SACREs. Both the City and County SACREs have co-opted humanist representatives. SACREs are responsible for all aspects of religious activity in schools: worship and RE - they cannot opt out of this legal responsibility
Following staff cuts there are no longer dedicated RE advisors in the City and County. However, we feel that both authorities have a fairly enlightened attitude towards the role of religion in schools - though they cannot do anything about the disgraceful position in relation to worship in schools. We feel this attitude is also that of most schools and most teachers. There are, of course, exceptions to this general enlightened picture - and we would certainly like to know about them
We recommend that non-believing parents do not withdraw their children from RE unless, in the case of voluntary aided schools, they choose not to follow the Agreed Syllabus for RE.
We want all children to grew into adults who can make informed choices about what to believe - they cannot do this out of ignorance or by being exposed to only one set of ideas - religious or non-religious.
We would qualify our recommendation by saying that withdrawal should be considered where it is obvious that the school, or individual teachers, are pushing one point of view - this would almost certainly be the case in Catholic schools or in those Church of England Voluntary Aided schools that choose not to use the Agreed Syllabus. Please contact us if you consider any school or teacher to be doing this - we will take it up with the SACRE and the local authority
If you do choose to withdraw your child from RE you must accept that this will create problems for the child. Withdrawal will make the child the odd-one-out (and kids don't like that) and could result in that child making future decisions about belief or non-belief out of total ignorance - which is exactly what we accuse religious people of doing. You have a right to ask what goes on in RE (though your child will tell you) and you can always push for non-belief to be represented more - we speak in many schools as a result of parent requests.
The County RE syllabus was revised in 2013 and the City syllabus was revised in 2014. Both syllabuses now contain references to teaching about non-theist views of the world.
The syllabuses cover learning about religion and belief (including non-belief) - they are not about instruction in any religion. Should you ever find that any school/teacher is pushing a religious point of view then you should report it to the SACRE (contact us first if you wish) which will take action - instruction or prosletysing on behalf of any set of beliefs is not permitted.
Schools may invite speakers into schools to talk about their beliefs. Humanists do this regularly to represent those without religious beliefs. It is up to teachers to set the information provided by outside speakers into the context of the RE syllabus.
Worship in schools
The law says that all schools must provide a daily act of worship primarily of a Christian nature. Write to your MP if you feel the law is an ass.
We recommend that non-believing parents should withdraw their children from all acts of worship in schools.
Religious worship is a legal imposition on all pupils and it totally unacceptable. Worship, by definition, is based on "the god assumption" - it implies the existence of the supernatural (gods) and has no place in taxpayer-funded schools. If parents want their pupils to worship they can do so in their own homes or in their places of worship.
Many primary schools in the City and County do have daily acts of worship, most secondary schools break the law and do not have daily acts of corporate worship.
Note: many people confuse "assembly" with "worship". Schools do not have to hold assemblies but they are legally required to provide a daily act of worship. We recommend withdrawal from worship not withdrawal from assemblies which are a key feature in many schools for creating school spirit and delivering information for all pupils. "Assemblies" are not "worship" - you need to be clear about that and sometimes you need to make it clear to schools.
It is a very simple procedure to tell the school (short letter) that you do not want your child to take part in that part of the assembly that constitutes the legal requirement for "worship". You do want them to take part in the rest of the assembly. So, if there is any hymn singing or praying they leave - but they come back for the football results. The letter need be no more than the sample below.
Dear head teacher
I would like to withdraw my child, name of child, from all acts of religious worship in school.
I would like my child to attend the non-religious part of school assemblies.
By law the school cannot question your decision - please contact us immediately if you encounter any problems - we will take it up with the local authority.
Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan's Purse
We strongly recommend that you opt your child out of taking any part on the Operation Christmas Child shoe box collections organised by Samaritan's Purse.
Samaritan's Purse is an ultra right-wing, fundamentalist, prosletysing, evangelical, Christian organisation derived from the very right-wing, misogynistic, and frequently racist, Southern Baptist church in the USA.
Operation Christmas Child plays on the generosity of children (and parents) by collecting gifts for children in countries "less fortunate than ourselves." What they fail to tell schools is that evangelical literature is inserted into the material collected from children and the gifts are used as part of Samaritan's Purse's "evangelical outreach."
There are plenty of non-religious organisations arranging good works at around Christmas time - so schools have ample opportunity not to take part in Operation Christmas Child.
Christian Alpha Course and clubs in schools
Some parts of the country have reported schools running Christian Alpha indoctrination courses in schools over a number of weeks and to large numbers of pupils. Other schools have set up "Christian Clubs" to promote Christianity.
We are not aware of any such activity in the City or County.
Please contact us if you become aware of any such activity - we will take it up with the SACRE and the local authority