Thursday, 28 July 2011

Rights and Withdrawal (Part One) --

The school term’s coming to end at my Church of England school, the sun is shining down on the scarce trees that adorn the playground, most teachers have plonked on a video for the kids (although they’re not supposed to anymore!), and many children have massed joyfully in the hall to celebrate another triumphant year of learning in the joyously joyful joyfest end of year Communion of joy. What!

The teachers may have loosened their ties but “attendance to the Communion will be compulsory.” Some children wept, others began needlessly writing out lines in sheer fear and confusion.

Luckily for me I’m a sixth-former, my mind immediately turned back to the information I picked up off a website a few weeks ago.

Here’s the link, and I thank Keith Porteous Wood very graciously for its availability, he even claimed to be “personally responsible for its enactment” when I emailed him for guidance on the issue. You see, withdrawal wasn’t as easy as I thought.

“Perhaps you would feel more comfortable in another school.” said Mr Bingley (not real name) the deputy head, stroking his chin and looking towards the floor. Although indirect he was saying that I could be thrown out the school of at least refused further entry next year, for not attending Communion. He argued that it was “expected” of the sixth-formers to concede to the Christian ethos of the school.

Ok, so I was a bit scared, I mean, I really didn’t want to go this Communion, especially since I had a right not to go, but then I didn’t want to get chucked out the school! Or did I. (just kidding I didn’t.) I bet he wouldn’t have said the same to someone explicitly of a different faith, e.g. a Muslim which are present in the school.

I began to wonder if my rights really meant anything.

It seems often with “rights” there’s a bit of a grey area of what can and can’t be done. The legislation was right there in my hand (‘cause I printed it off -here’s the link) but an authority figure, who through years of institutionalisation I’d learnt to respect and obey, was telling me I had to go.

However, once again Super Keith was to the rescue, here’s what he had to say:

“Short of some pretty extreme behaviour (by which I definitely do not mean refusing to go to mass) they cannot do this. We are quite used to religious schools seeking to put undue pressure on pupils or parents that are baseless, or depriving them of the lawful.”

“The sixth form is available to all existing students who meet the requirements for the courses. Any remaining places in the sixth form will be offered to casual applicants who meet the same course requirements.”

“They are wrong if they suggest that [the law] does not apply to them because they are a religious schools. There are thousands of such schools all over the country where they are the only school in the neighbourhood and it is essential that non-believing or different faith parents can require "excuse"/withdrawal - and likewise since this provision, older pupils too.” -hopefully this will be helpful for anyone who finds there self in a similar position.

In the end I didn’t attend the Communion, I wasn’t apprehended in any way, nor was I placed in the stocks and ridiculed for my beliefs - I wouldn’t be surprised if this was allowed at my school. But I did gain a valuable insight into the power of information and authority...

If you are a young non-theist who wants their voice to be heard, consider submitting an article of your own to Generation Atheist. Visit our submissions page for details.

I'm going away for the weekend tomorrow, so I won't be able to put up any more posts until Monday. However, I intend on posting a short article tomorrow morning before I leave. I shall miss you all! 


  1. I did a bit of research too on our rights with regards to collective worship in the UK. I intend on doing a post about it soon, but there seems to be no way out of worship in schools for a child under sixteen who doesn't have the support of his or her parents. It's scary stuff.

  2. Excuse my ignorance of the British education system, but is a "Church of England" school a private school or a public (state-funded) school?

  3. @C.G - Church of England schools are state schools. I think (though I'm not sure) that they are partly funded by the local church. Where I live there are almost no primary schools that are not Church of England, but it's less common in secondary schools.