Anyone who had the misfortune of attending a Church of England school will remember the arduous ordeal that was the morning school assembly. An old, middle-class authoritarian would stand at the front of the hall (which doubled as a gym during PE lessons), reciting the Lord’s Prayer, whilst you sat on the hard, parquet floor getting dust all over your trousers. Exactly how long those assemblies lasted would be difficult to say. This was before your infant self truly grasped the importance of spending your time creatively and productively; quite like your time as a fresher, the days and weeks of childhood blur into an indiscernible mass, so what harm could these assemblies be doing?
I’m not going to cry ‘indoctrination’ too loudly, as I can see how such a point might appear obnoxious. The UK is one of the least religious countries on the planet. It is for this reason that framing religion as an oppressive force, instead of something to tolerate, comes across as closed-minded; when we talk about oppression, it is easy to turn our heads to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Isis, and reflect on how, here in Britain, we don’t know the meaning of the word. Nevertheless, this isn’t exactly setting the bar very high. In any case, I think my argument is far simpler: religious assemblies are boring children to death.
According to a 2015 YouGov poll, only 32% of adults in the UK believe in any sort of god. It would be an act of denial to assume that the statistics amongst children would be drastically different, yet it remains a requirement for all British schools to provide daily acts of collective worship as part of the school day; this is in spite of the fact that around 76% of secondary schools are failing to do so. Consequently, a recent report has recommended that the requirement should be scrapped, and it’s easy to see why. Schools are not churches or multi-faith centres, and should not be treated as such. They are places of learning and fulfilment. Why are we catering to a small minority, in a way that invalidates the views of the rest: those who follow a different faith, or the growing number of children who don’t identify as being part of any organised religion at all? Surely we don’t want these hymns, which amount to little more than singing ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ on repeat, to be associated with the robust, sophisticated educational institutions we want to build? These assemblies are no more than an obtuse form of discipline and conformity, teaching children to find value in outdated allegories.
Your time is a child is dictated by the adults around you, and rightly so. Parents are left to hope that the schools to whom they entrust their children will treat them well. They hope, I am sure, that their child will be happy, that they will learn how to read, write and do maths, how to be creative and artistic, as well as to learn to understand the facets of human relationships and characters. They also hope their children will learn how to reason and be reasonable, that they will gain some knowledge of geography, history and science. Are we really achieving any of these this in a religious assembly? Couldn’t children be educated about morals in a more reasonable manner, without the insistence on a divine overseer?