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Closed petition Give secondary school students a right pray in school

Currently, many secondary schools do not allow students time and space to pray. All secondary school pupils should be able to request this and schools should be legally obliged to provide it. Prayer is part of Islam and it is essential for Muslims to pray at the right time.

More details

The Muslim prayer rules explain that Muslims should pray 5 times a day, with a time for each prayer. Every prayer should be completed before the next one and by the time school has finished one of the prayers are already gone. It is essential that we complete our prayers on time and we think that we have a right to practice our religion without school getting in the way.

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Government responded

This response was given on 20 February 2023

Schools are required to take steps to consider the needs of people who share protected characteristics as per the public sector equalities duty and are encouraged to be flexible when doing so.

There is currently no legal requirement for schools to allow their pupils time within the school day to pray upon request, nor are they required to provide any pupil with a physical space, such as a prayer room, to conduct their prayers.

It is a matter for individual schools and headteachers to make a decision that is in the interest of their pupils. It is important when considering any requests relating to prayer that they do so in the context of the Equalities Act 2010, and their public sector equality duty.

When carrying out their functions, public authorities such as schools, must have due regard the three limbs of the public sector equality duty (PSED), which are to:

• eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010;

• advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;

• foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

In any decision a school makes, it should consider whether the outcome would constitute indirect discrimination against those who share protected characteristics, including that of religion and belief. It is not, however, practical or feasible for all schools to have the same policy when it comes to allowing pupils of any religion time and space to pray, nor are they expected to.

When considering these kind of requests and in the interest of advancing equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it, schools may wish to take steps to meet the particular needs of people who share a protected characteristic. Although there is no obligation on schools, this may extend to, for example, enabling a Muslim pupil to pray at prescribed times (as agreed in conjunction with the school). In coming to an adaptation like this, schools will need to carefully weigh a number of factors, such as disruption to education for either the pupils sharing a protected characteristic or other pupils in the school. It may be the case, for example, that praying at prescribed times leads to disrupted teaching of the curriculum, hampering the progress of children praying and their classmates. The Department published guidance in 2014 to help schools better understand how they can fulfil their duties under the Equality Act 2010. This guidance is non-statutory and does not place any legal requirement on them.

As per section 70 of the School Standards & Framework Act 1998, schools are required to provide all pupils between the age of 5 – 18 with a daily act of collective worship. [DN: Paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 20 to the Act says, “the required collective worship shall be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.

Whilst collective worship can include prayer, the legislation is not specific about this. Paragraph 3(2) of Schedule 20 of the Act states that collective worship must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character. In non-faith schools, however, headteachers can apply for an exemption from the requirement to provide broadly Christian collective worship if they consider that this would better meet the needs of their pupils or community. Maintained schools can apply for this through the Local Authority and Academies can do it via the Regional Schools Commissioner. Academies can determine their own collective worship in line with their funding agreements, which impose the same requirements on them as the legislation does on maintained schools. Maintained schools with a religious designation are free to deliver collective worship in accordance with the tenets and practices of the religion or religious denomination specified in relation to the school. In the case where the religious designation is, for example, Islam, collective worship can be delivered at any time of the school day, to account for things like the call to prayer.

Schools play an important role in promoting integration of pupils from all demographics, and they should support all pupils to understand the society in which they grow up. Since 2014, all schools have been required to actively promote the fundamental British values (FBVs) of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. The Department has published guidance on promoting fundamental British values as part of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development – to which maintained schools have obligations.

Additionally, all state-funded schools are required to promote community cohesion – either as a requirement in law or, in the case of academies, as part of their funding agreement. Under the citizenship curriculum, pupils are taught about diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding. All schools are accountable for their pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural education and Ofsted will look for evidence that this is covered in schools’ curricula and extra-curricular activities.

Department for Education