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John Simkin

Morning Assembly in Schools

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In a joint letter to the new education secretary, Alan Johnson, senior representatives of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches said secondary schools were limiting children's "spiritual and moral" development by failing to organize daily acts of worship.

Most of the schools that I taught in did not have a daily act of worship. The main reason for this was a lack of large rooms. As a result, acts of worship only took place a couple of times a week. However, as a non-believer, I always felt uneasy about the religious aspects of school assembly. My main objection was the dogmatic style of presenting this information. I gave several assemblies myself but always provided moral questions rather than presenting moral answers.

What do other teachers think about daily acts of worship?

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I'm all in favour of compulsory religion in schools. In my opinion, nothing has contributed more to the spread of atheism amongst British pupils!

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In a joint letter to the new education secretary, Alan Johnson, senior representatives of the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches said secondary schools were limiting children's "spiritual and moral" development by failing to organize daily acts of worship.

Most of the schools that I taught in did not have a daily act of worship. The main reason for this was a lack of large rooms. As a result, acts of worship only took place a couple of times a week. However, as a non-believer, I always felt uneasy about the religious aspects of school assembly. My main objection was the dogmatic style of presenting this information. I gave several assemblies myself but always provided moral questions rather than presenting moral answers.

What do other teachers think about daily acts of worship?

In practice assemblies are really more about rituals of power and status. Through the process of the typical school assembly pupils learn the structure of the hierarchy and their own place in the pecking order.

Take the example of my school. The really important people (senior teachers) sit at a desk on the stage and stand up to deliver "assembly". The teachers sit on chairs around the side of the hall casting stern looks at those within the masses who show any signs of life. The senior pupils (6th form) sit at the back of the hall in non uniform clothes looking disinterested and cool like only teenagers can do. The Year 11 students have the right to sit on chairs next from the back of the room and wear a slightly more relaxed uniform. The rest (the younger pupils) are all made to sit on the floor and listen to the platitudinous homilies from on high. What all this has to do with the "moral and spiritual development of pupils" is frankly beyond me. I suspect the primary aim is to teach pupils to be obedient and docile.

Such being life I have been called upon to "take" assembly on many occassions. In order to try and make it a slightly less crushing experience for the pupils I have always tried like John to pose moral questions rather than present moral answers.

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Thinking back to my own time in secondary school several decades ago, I recognize what Andy's describing... However, there are some positive aspects to some sort of assembly. We don't have them at all here and I think that's a pity. At other schools at which I've taught, they have served to give a sense of community to the group as whole and to discuss issues which affected us all. None of these were in any way religious, though...

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The grammar school that I attended in the 1950s-1960s used to have a morning assembly similar to the one that Andy describes. It was unashamedly CoE, so Roman Catholics were only present at the non-religious announcements at the end. I can't recall members of any other religious groups attending my school in those days - the school was situated in middle class Kent. The assembly was a very boring start to the morning.

The assembly in the grammar school at which I taught in the 1960s and 1970s became less and less religious in its orientation. Puplis were encouraged to give 5-10 minute presentations on a variety of issues of their own choice. I recall one group of pupils paying a tribute to the rock singer/guitarist Jimmy Hendrix. I don't think the rather conservative headmaster really approved, but that's what the kids wanted! I quite enjoyed assemblies at that school. They brought us all together at the start of the day and created a sense of community.

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