Schools

Michaela insists it does meet daily worship laws

Case shows it is 'technically impossible to be truly secular', says campaign group

Case shows it is 'technically impossible to be truly secular', says campaign group

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Michaela Community School has insisted it meets academy funding rules by offering a daily act of worship after comments from its headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh led to claims suggesting otherwise.

Birbalsingh has given several interviews after it emerged her school was facing a high court legal challenge by a Muslim pupil for banning prayers.

When asked by Teachers Talk radio if her school assemblies have “prayers in them of any kind,” she said: “No, we don’t have prayers and our way of celebrating Christmas, for instance, is very secular. 

“There’s a Santa, there’s a Christmas tree, but these are all very secular things. 

“We would never have a nativity play, for instance, we don’t talk about Jesus; we absolutely embrace the idea of secularism and from the moment we opened in 2014 we’ve never had a prayer room.”

Schools actually have a legal requirement to hold a daily act of worship that is “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character,” but schools can choose to opt out.

Schools Week previously reported Ofsted stopped inspecting collective worship in 2004 after 76 per cent of schools were found to be non-compliant.

In a blog this week, the National Secular Society (NSS) said Michaela is “apparently one of those.”

Michaela’s funding agreement – which academies must follow or face potential government intervention – states they “shall make provision … for a daily act of collective worship.”

Daily assemblies and ‘God Save the King’

When asked for clarification by Schools Week, a spokesperson for Birbalsingh said: “As per DfE guidance, we have daily assemblies which are principally directed towards furthering the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education of the pupils.”

In an interview with UnHerd, Birbalsingh said pupils “sing God Save the King” at her assemblies. They also “sing Jerusalem,” a poem by William Blake that has become a popular hymn.

But the spokesperson did not respond to further requests to clarify if this was part of the daily worship.

The High Court case has led to impassioned views across a host of national media, from those supporting the school and its secularism or condemning it for a lack of religious tolerance. 

But Megan Manson, head of campaigns at the NSS, said a point missed by commentators is “our laws make it technically impossible for a state school to be truly secular.”

The “only option” for schools not wanting to hold collective worship is “to ignore the law.” The case “shows the need to end” the legal requirement, she added.

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11 Comments

  1. Salma Firdouse Bairam

    If some one wants to.pray in their lunch time, I dint think.there should be any restrictions. It a obligation for a Muslim to pray 5 times a day and by stopping them perform their prayers you are interfering in their right to freedom. These are not British values. We do respect and and individual ha right to pray.

    • Rebecca

      What if a religion requires you to pray 10 times a day and stipulates that you must not wear shoes or mix with people of a different religion or that you must flagellate yourself 3 times a day and wear a hair shirt? Does belonging to a religion entitle someone to do whatever they want in the public sphere? You can believe what you want and express your beliefs but you have to live within the rule of law like everyone else. Plus it is not an absolute requirement in Islam to pray 5 times a day.

      • Jacqueline

        Rebecca. Praying 5 times a day is a fundamental part of Islam. It is an absolute requirement of Islam first of all. Secondly the “what ifs” are irrelevant. We are not talking about something that could or couldn’t be we are talking about something that is. If someone wishes to pray in their own time eg: lunch breaks etc. Than there really shouldn’t be an issue. Muslim or not if you wish to practice your religious rights in your own time then I see no problem and if you do then that says more about you.

  2. Abayomi Olajide

    One of the fundamental laws in this country is the equality Act which guarantees freedom of worship. Also, religion is one of the protected characteristics an individual must not be discriminated for. Hence, if a child of 13 years can be assessed for Gillick competence with respect to reproductive and sexual health, it smirks of hypocrisy to say children of similar ages have no right to express their religious beliefs in a way that does not interfere with the right of their peers. I believe what we should emphasize is religious tolerance right from this young age that will become the hallmark of our societies.

    • Charles Campion

      Thats fine I believe you can belong to whatever religious or minority group you want but that does mot entitle you to force your views on others.
      Personally I am not religious but have observed that religious people tend to expect others to be tollerant of their views whilst simultaneouslly being intolerant of others…

    • Max Harrison

      It’s worth remembering that faith schools were exempted from the last round of major equalities legislation. Why?

      In my opinion, all schools should be secular, and therefore all children, regardless of parental religion (or the lack of it), should be educated together.

  3. Ayo Adebisi

    I’m sorry but school environments are packed enough already. Even during lunchtime, communal areas are shared by a lot of children. There is no space for prayer rituals. By all means pray in your heart any time of the day, but there is no space in schools to accommodate prayer rituals for any religion.