School at centre of row over collective worship reaches agreement with parents

Burford Primary School(Photo: Oxford County Council)

The primary school at the centre of a row over collective worship has reached an out-of-court agreement with two parents who had been seeking a judicial review. 

Lee and Lizanne Harris will no longer be pursuing a legal challenge in the courts after Burford Primary School, in Oxfordshire, agreed to provide a suitable alternative to the Christian assembly for their children. 

The Harrises withdrew their children from the collective worship claiming that after the school came under the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST), they witnessed "harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly" and that this was "unlawfully" interfering with their children's right to an education "free from religious interference".

The couple threatened legal action claiming that when they withdrew their children from the assembly, they were put in a room with an iPad under the supervision of a teacher.

The Harrises, who were backed by Humanists UK, said that this did not amount to a meaningful alternative to the collective worship.

The ODST has now reached an agreement with the Harrises to provide "some specific arrangements" for their children when they are withdrawn from collective worship, including the provision of "some appropriate resources for them".

It said that the school would continue to provide collective worship "alongside a broad, balanced and inclusive curriculum", and that the new provisions were restricted to the Harris children. 

Anne Dellar, CEO of the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) said: "A small community school has been placed at the sharp end of a national campaign. At a time when school funds are stretched ODST took the pragmatic decision to avoid wholly unnecessary court costs.

"A short term child-specific arrangement has been agreed between ODST and the parents of two children attending Burford Primary School.

"The arrangement will lapse when the youngest of the two children leave the school. Burford Primary School is not offering an alternative assembly; rather, a small number of children who are withdrawn from collective worship will be able to access alternative materials, overseen by a teacher.

"Burford Primary School is a happy, successful and inclusive school. While recognising every parent's right to withdraw their child from collective worship, we are saddened that this case has diverted valuable funds and staff time."

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said: "From reading with children to organising assemblies and talks, input from the local community and volunteers enhances the life of every school, including community schools. Members of local churches play a valuable role in communities across the country.

"The Church of England has always worked to enable the best education for all children, motivated by our deep Christian values and recognising the changing, diverse society we serve. We will continue to do so."