Schools are attended by pupils from all faiths and none, and evangelising by any particular group is inappropriate in a school setting. This undermines the rights of parents and children, and is contrary to the guidance of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education (NATRE).
The Matlock Area Schools Trust (MAST) is an inter-denominational trust set up 15 years ago to support people ministering in schools. Representatives from churches in Matlock, Bonsall and Bakewell visit schools in Derbyshire to conduct assemblies and RE lessons in which they teach children about ‘the fundamentals of the Bible’, and the Christian faith.
There is a ten minute presentation on the MAST website which gives an overview of the content of assemblies, and makes clear that the intention of the group is to “promote Gods word to children from all backgrounds”. In the words of the Chair, Martyn Pyne “God has called us to sow the seed, his word, into children’s lives.” It is perfectly clear that the intent is to convert children to Christianity, and promote attendance at churches, the presentation closes with a message for it’s church supporters, “MAST is being run to support your church, we are sowing into young people’s lives, and wherever there is a sowing, there is also a reaping. MAST prays that you as a church may flourish as you reap what has been sown into these young people’s lives.”
Each term the Group visits 75 schools, and reaches around 8000 children. If you wish to know when these assemblies will take place at a particular school, the dates of school visits are published monthly and can be found on the publications section of the website.
National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE)
NATRE have published a document called Voices of Faith and Belief in Schools offering guidance and a code of conduct for visits to schools by religious believers.
The guidance notes that schools are ‘plural communities’ with members of different faith groups including those with non-religious views, and that visitors should “be willing to respect the right of the pupils and adults in the school to hold views that may be different from their own” and “develop ways of speaking to pupils that communicate their open approach, avoiding any hidden agenda to ‘convert’ or proselytise.”
Rights of parents
Parents may not be aware of visits to their child’s school by this group, as schools do not always inform parents.
Guidance from NATRE states that “Parents have the right to know what is happening in school. Parents from different faith backgrounds, different denominations or groups and of no faith may, quite reasonably, be concerned about the religious input their children receive in school, and clarity of information from school to home needs to be maintained all the time”.
Rights of children
MAST visits schools once per term , every six weeks. Where these visits are not balanced by visitors from other faiths, or non-religious visitors such as Humanists, this presents children with a biased view.
Guidance from NATRE also notes the rights of children, stating that “Children have their own integrity too. It is a fundamental principle that religious education work and collective worship experiences should demonstrate respect for the attitude and perspective of each child”.
Legal right to withdraw
Parents have the legal right to withdraw their children from collective worship and Religious Education, however many parents choose not to do this routinely for fear of making their child feel excluded from school activities. However some Derbyshire parents have decided to withdraw their child from the MAST assemblies only, as they are uncomfortable with the nature of these visits.