Primary school backs down after atheist parents claimed daily prayers breached children’s human rights

Camilla Turner
Lee Harris and his wife Lizanne bought a judicial review against Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust 

A primary school has backed down in a fight with atheist parents who claimed that holding daily prayers breached their children’s human rights.

Lee Harris and his wife Lizanne bought a judicial review against Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST) after arguing that Burford Primary School is acting “unlawfully”.

They alleged that since ODST took over the running of the community school in 2015, they noticed “harmful aspects of evangelism spreading into assembly” and other parts of their pupils' education. 

In the first case of its kind, they argued that this interferes with their children's right to receive an education “free from religious interference”.

ODST is a multi-academy trust that runs 33 schools, all of which are Church of England bar four, including  Burford Primary, which are designated as non-religious “community schools”.  

The trust says on its website that it “operates within the family of the Diocese of Oxford” adding: “We are motivated by our Christian values to serve our local communities, but we do not impose those values”.

This week, ODST reached a settlement with Mr and Mrs Harris and made a series of concessions including  that they will provide “age-appropriate inclusive materials/activities” to the children as an alternative to “collective worship”.

Mr and Mrs Harris said they are “delighted that the school has backed down and agreed to provide our children with an alternative, inclusive assembly of equal educational worth”.

They added: “Ultimately, we took this case to ensure our children receive an inclusive education without the indoctrination of one enforced religion.”

The Department for Education has stressed that the settlement does not have any implications for other schools.

Anne Dellar, chief executive of ODST, said that the trust “took the pragmatic decision to avoid wholly unnecessary court costs” adding that a “short term child-specific arrangement has been agreed” which will lapse when they leave the school.  

“Burford Primary School is a happy, successful and inclusive school,” she said. “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.”

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