The nature and justifiability of the act of collective worship in schools
This thesis, which moves through three stages, asks whether the compulsory provision of a daily act of collective worship can be justified in the schools of a liberal society. It begins with an analysis of the public debate which has surrounded its presence since legislation in 1944 formalised existing practice, and notes that its arguments are based on differing perceptions of the value of religious practice, the needs of the child, the relationship between religion and morality, and the nature of society. Because this public debate is often distanced from actual practice, research was undertaken in primary and secondary schools in England and Wales and is described in the central section of the study. The methods used to gather data are first discussed and are then followed by reports on the information acquired by means of a national questionnaire, as well as observation and interviews which were carried out with teachers and pupils in the south west of England and a city in the Midlands. The findings show that the legal requirements are met in the majority of primary schools, but that pupils' transfer to the secondary school frequently marks a point of transition from daily worship to a weekly assembly, except in the voluntary sector. Adult respondents discuss their attitudes to collective worship, the obstacles they encounter in meeting the legal requirements and the approaches adopted in their schools. The most important features of collective worship are perceived by teachers and pupils to be the contribution it makes to the development of a sense of community, the celebration of achievement and the ethos of the school. Conversations with pupils reveal the changes in belief which occur as they mature, and shed further light on provision in schools, reflecting young people's declining willingness to participate in religious worship. The evidence of the data reveals that opposition to collective worship is expressed by young people and their teachers in the language of individualism and choice. The philosophical analysis of the concluding section therefore examines the question of the justifiability of collective worship from a liberal perspective, giving particular attention to questions of autonomy, rights, indoctrination and the distinction between the public and private domains. Recognising, howevcr, that communitarianism provides a major challenge to liberalism, a study is also made of relevant arguments from this perspective before concluding that collective worship cannot be justified from either position. Nevertheless, schools claim that they intend to maintain the provision of assembly in a maimer which meets their needs, and the conclusion suggests that the way ahead may be to build on the current strengths of provision and to replace the traditional elements of participatory worship with a programme which develops a deeper emphasis on the spiritual and cultural dimensions of experience.