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To pray or not to pray?

posted 27 Oct 2015, 10:06 by Mr Evans
A few parents have commented on the fact that we have introduced a prayer at the end of the Funky Friday assembly, and are aware from discussions with their children at home, that we often say prayers in other assemblies too. Some parents have strong views about this and would prefer it if assemblies did not have a religious element...or if they are going to be religious in nature, that religions other than Christianity should be given equal prominence. It's an interesting debate and I thought I would write this blog to throw a little light on the subject. 

All maintained schools (broadly, this means state-funded schools such as Ringmer Primary School) must include Religious Education as part of the curriculum. The Education Act 1996 states that the school syllabus must reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, while taking account of the teachings and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain. To this end, in our school the children are taught about Christianity in all year groups but will also learn about other major religions including Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. In all cases the teaching is aimed at making the children aware of the beliefs and traditions associated with different religions: the children find out about different religions but are never taught that one is 'right' and another is 'wrong'. 

In other countries, the approach taken to RE varies widely. In France (which is a secular state of course), RE is generally not taught at all. In Poland, parents can opt for the children to attend RE classes, or Ethics classes...or neither of these. In Greece, children generally learn about the Greek Orthodox Church but parents can opt out if their children don't belong to that Church. There seem to be as many different models as there are countries!

In addition to the general legal requirement that we have to teach RE, schools must provide a daily act of worship which (Education Act 1993) should be 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character'. Like most non-Faith schools, we interpret this broadly: our assemblies usually have a strong moral element, linked to one or more of the school's key values of honesty, respect, commitment, kindness and achievement. Where appropriate we sometimes illustrate our 'point' with a Bible story such as the Good Samaritan, or sometimes we will find a suitable story from another religion or culture. We always try to end our assemblies with a short prayer or period of reflection, so that the children can think how the story might relate to their own lives. 

There is a parental right to withdraw children from RE or 'acts of worship', but I would urge anyone thinking of exercising this to make an appointment to discuss the issues with me before reaching a decision. As you can see, we do have to operate in accordance with statutory requirements, but we understand very well the need for sensitivity and in the end, I see RE and assemblies in school not as a means of 'pushing' religion, but rather as a means of encouraging the children to think about important moral, spiritual and philosophical questions, and to have an understanding of different beliefs and cultures. I think this is as important in this day and age as it has ever been, as sadly there is still so much intolerance and hatred in the world. 

Back to that Funky Friday prayer. You might recall that we have always ended Funky Friday with a reflection on the idea of trying to be the best that we can be. Our simple prayer builds on this theme. Here it is, for the benefit of those who haven't been to  Funky Friday assembly recently:

Dear God,

Thank you for our school and for all the opportunities we have to shine.

Thank you for our teachers and for all the grown-ups who encourage us in our learning.

Thank you for our families who give us love and care for us.

Thank you for these awards, and for giving us the chance to be the best that we can be!

Amen

I hope this blog will have clarified some of the issues but please do come and meet me if you would like to know more. 



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