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					Developing Collective Worship in a Multi-Faith School

The aim of the project was to find a way to mention a deity in our Collective Worship whilst being
sensitive to our multi-faith community. This arose from an OFSTED finding that we were operating
outside the law which says that 51% of assemblies should be “broadly Christian” in nature.

Dimensions of this Case Study

Staff, pupils, parents and governors were all consulted. Their input informed the writing of the policy
and the development of a yearly plan for assemblies.

Summary of Main Findings

      The study shows that all faiths were happy to hear bible stories as long as those leading were
       not evangelistic in their approach;

      Staff believed that it was important for all children to attend our Collective Worship time;

      Parents said that it was important for the children to hear Christian stories in order to
       understand English culture;

      Governors agreed to changing the school day to enhance the quality of our Collective Worship;

      Pupils wanted to hear about all the faiths and were happy that Christmas and Easter were the
       main festivals celebrated;

      The study found that Collective Worship could enhance the curriculum, especially PSCHE; and

      Pupils benefited from a variety of approaches to leading Collective Worship.
Background and Context
Priestmead Middle School is a middle deemed primary school (8 – 12yrs) with approximately 370
children on roll. The majority of pupils are of Asian origin but a total of 20 ethnic groups are
represented in the school. In the OFSTED inspection of 2002, Priestmead Middle School was
criticised for not complying with the statutory requirement to hold a regular act of worship which was
broadly Christian in nature. This is what the inspectors said:

       19. The school does not comply with the statutory duty set out in the School Standards and Framework Act 1988,
       to provide for all pupils to attend a daily act of collective worship, which over a term must be broadly Christian in

       20. Although the school meets together daily in an assembly, when important messages are imaginatively given
       about social and moral issues, there is no act of worship. Worship is generally understood to imply the
       recognition of a supreme being. The words used should recognise the existence of a deity. This is not the case
       with assemblies at Priestmead and what the school provides is not in keeping with the spirit of the law.

       What should the school do to improve further?
       See that a daily act of collective worship is provided for all pupils, in accordance with statutory requirements.
       (OFSTED Inspection report 2002 (page 14))

When OFSTED visited, no parents had chosen to withdraw their child from collective worship. The
staff and governing body at the time considered that one of the assets of the school was the fact that
children of all faiths could worship together. In 2004, this was our faith mix:

                                                Religions in Priestmead
                                                                                           christian unspecified

                                                                                           church of england

                                                                                           greek orthodox






                                                                                           No Religion

                                                                                           not specified




Teaching Processes and Strategies
In order to improve teaching and learning in Collective Worship, a multi-faith task group was set up of
teachers and a teaching assistant. Preparatory work involved observation by the task group to analyse
the content and the reflective moment of our assemblies. The research strategy employed was to
observe each assembly over a six-week period and answer a series of questions about the content of
each one. The group then analysed their findings. Since we were outside the law regarding
mentioning a Deity and only having 24% broadly Christian collective worship times we decided to
consult the governors. It was decided that we would include more bible stories and mentioning a Deity
before embarking on the second phase of the research which was to interview or give questionnaires
to children, parents and staff about the new content of our collective worship. The task group made
suggestions to the staff and governors about taking the research forward.

The project would have four main objectives:
   1. To discover what percentage of assemblies could be considered “broadly Christian”.
   2. To gauge the opinions of the children, staff, parents and governors and discover if there was a
       consensus about the purpose of Collective Worship.
   3. To get advice from faith leaders about wording in our reflective moment that acknowledged a
       deity without compromising personal faith.
   4. To discover if it would benefit learning and spiritual well-being if Collective Worship was at the
       end of the school day.

It was also decided that in order to embed good practice in Collective Worship we would:
    1. develop a four-year plan which would ensure that all festivals and faiths were explored for every
    2. develop a yearly plan setting out major festivals and national focus weeks;
    3. write a school policy and post it on the school website; and
    4. keep a log of assemblies through the year to ensure that 51% were broadly Christian.

The Findings
After the first round of observations it was found that only 24% of acts of worship were broadly or
mainly Christian in content. It was therefore necessary to make changes to the content and wording of
our reflection time. The task group made suggestions about wording and a range of options was
trialled. It was also decided to make an alteration to the timing of assembly and, after gaining approval
from the governors, this was implemented. Everyone in the school community was invited to give their
opinion about the content and wording of the reflection time. The children were canvassed via a
questionnaire distributed through the school council representatives; the parents were invited to a
coffee morning where they were shown a draft policy; and the staff had an INSET on the topic and
filled out a questionnaire.

The children were asked questions about their faith stories, prayer and any improvements they could
suggest. 100% of children questioned said that they prayed in some manner. Out of our twelve
classes not one said that they were unhappy about the content of our Collective Worship sessions.
They could not suggest any faith stories that we did not at some time mention. When asked what
festivals should be mentioned every year all classes responded “Christmas, Easter and Diwali”.

The findings of the parents were not what we expected. We thought there would be considerable
opposition to having 51% of assemblies being “broadly Christian” but the opposite was the case. The
parents who attended the coffee morning accepted that most of the assemblies would have some sort
of Christian bias and said they wanted their children to learn about Christianity and the bible as this
was the culture of the country. They did not see this as a threat to their faith – they thought that
Christian teachings would lead to a better society. A Muslim parent who attended was happy for bible
stories to be told in assembly as long as it was clear that the context was teaching about the beliefs of
Christians. Conversations with parents also showed that they were satisfied that we would not abuse
their trust and that we would ensure that Christianity was taught purely in a pedagogic manner. One
parent explained that her children regularly come out of school and tell her about the content of the
assembly (it is last thing in the day). She informed us that her children could see the links between
their faith (Muslim) and the Christian faith.
The teaching staff wanted clarification on whether they could be forced to lead an assembly. Once
they were confident that no one was going to be forced to lead worship, they were satisfied that there
was no hidden Christian or management agenda. Several members of staff said that they were not
prepared to lead prayer but that they would be able to lead a time of reflection. The staff did not want
us to end the reflective time with the word “Amen”.

The governors (also multi-faith) ratified the policy and asked for it to be posted on the school website.
They thanked the Farmington Institute for meeting some supply cost while the research was taking

Research Methods
A variety of research methods were used during the term that the research was carried out. Children
and parents were interviewed and questionnaires gave us useful responses. All 370 children had their
opinion canvassed through the school council. All parents in the school were invited to attend a
meeting about the wording of the policy and all teachers and teaching assistants (27 in all) were given
a questionnaire. A major consideration of this project was to gauge opinion from a variety of people of
differing faiths. At the end of the school day staff spoke to parents in the playground to reiterate how
welcome their opinion was. When talking with the parents we kept minutes of what was said as we felt
that many would feel intimidated if we asked them to write down their thoughts (many have English as
a second language). We fed back to governors what had been said at the parents’ meeting and the
governor who attended the meeting acknowledged this was a fair account of what had taken place.
Extensive time was also spent becoming familiar with the law and separating this from non-statutory

The process of consultation took six months but during that time we were able to implement changes
that arose from our findings. We have a written Collective Worship policy which can be read on the
schools website and no family has chosen to be excluded from our collective worship times. The
children are well disciplined and receptive in assembly, listening attentively and responding
appropriately. There is a range of styles in assembly and this ensures that the children see that there
can be many different approaches to faith. We use a range of wording in our reflective time and may
use the word “Lord” or “God” to acknowledge a deity. We have developed a proforma of festivals
that we recognise and keep a record of topics and whether or not it is Christian. This has enabled us
to be sure that 51% of our collective worship is “broadly Christian” so within the law.

Suggestions for Further Reading
School Worship: Perspectives, Principles and Practice. Bill Gent (1989)
Delivering Collective Worship. Chris Wright (1995)
Religious Education and Collective Worship 1/94 Department for Education
Worship Time. Produced by the SACRES of Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin
The A to Z of School Collective Worship. Harrow SACRE (2004)

Author and Contact Details

Alison Stowe: Priestmead Middle School, Hartford Avenue, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex HA3 8SZ

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