Opinion: Defending collective worship in our schools

Should we abandon collective worship in schools?
Should we abandon collective worship in schools?

As a lifelong atheist, am I really about to defend the Act of Collective Worship in schools? As a matter of fact, I am.

The reason? A new report by the Arts and Humanities Research Council recommends that we abandon morning prayers in schools.

This is not because they think it is irrational, but because it may be offensive to minority groups.

I have a confession to make. What do you remember from school?

My main memories are of playing football and cricket for the school team, appearing in school productions and the words of certain hymns.

Coming from Hull, every time a trawler went down we sang, “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea”, or on other occasions, “Hills of the North, rejoice”, or “And did those feet in ancient times”.

Those words are not in my head by accident. Nor did they come from RE lessons. They are the result of many years of groaning them out in assembly.

Would I be without them? Certainly not. Do I want them for my grandchildren? Yes, I do.

I want them for the same reason that I put money in a collection box whenever I visit one of our great cathedrals. In those buildings, I see great works and achievements of man – nothing more. It is the same with the poetry of hymns.

My guess is that very few assemblies now conform to my 60-year-old memories. Even then, I suspect, there were teachers who were very uncomfortable with the ritual, but is it wise to be abandoning something that offers great poetry, when our children get so little otherwise?

It must be very difficult for teachers in secondary schools to convince teenagers that there will be benefits from assembly in the long run, but primary?

I, for one, take absurd satisfaction from not having to consult a hymn sheet at the Last Night of the Proms.