A Labour-run London council has become the first nationwide to allow its schools to opt out of providing Christian assemblies.
State-funded non-faith schools are required by law to offer a daily act of worship which must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”, unless granted special dispensation by the local authority.
But Brent Council in north-west London has used that loophole to offer all its schools an opt-out, encouraging them to take up the option and replace Christian worship with multi-faith assemblies, the Mirror has reported.
Its approach has been lauded by the Accord Coalition, an alliance of religious groups, humanists, trade unions, and human rights campaigners who lobby against faith schools, which has recognised Brent Council in its Inclusivity Awards 2017.
Chair of the judging panel, Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain MBE, said: ”Society may be Christian-based but is multi-faith with many also of no belief-system, and so uniform worship should no longer be compulsory for our educational system.
“The current worship laws are unpopular and prevent schools from providing an inspiring programme of assemblies that are truly inclusive of all staff and children.
“Some schools find the laws so unworkable that they have stopped providing assemblies altogether.
“As society does not have a shared faith, we cannot worship together. Brent Council’s ground breaking approach rescues an opportunity for pupils to communally explore and forge shared values, in a way that is workable and respectful.
“We hope all other local authorities will take inspiration from Brent Council’s approach, which we highly commend.”
Christian campaigners, however, have expressed dismay, arguing that a shared understanding of Christianity underpins social cohesion within the country.
Tim Dieppe of Christian Concern told LBC radio that the measure marked a step backwards. Explaining that the opt-out was intended for non-Christian faith schools, he said: “I’m not sure this is the right approach.
“The Rabbi mentioned social cohesion – I think social cohesion is very important, and what has provided the social cohesion for this country for many centuries up [un]til now is Christianity – as a basis for our moral foundation and our spiritual foundation, and the basis for many of our laws and culture.”