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July 6, 2017

MORNING Assembly was not a religious experience at Friars School, Bangor, for me – far more about conforming to a specified regime of discipline and confirming the power base of that specified regime of paid professional disciplinarians who we all ceremonially stood up for when they entered the hall (the only time in adulthood this would happen for me would be at magistrates and crown courts when judges entered although there was a prayer element in council meetings I covered, too, for some mysterious reason).
It was also a useful way of getting people to appear at school on time in one place and gave the head (in his black gown only worn for that occasion, although we always speculated that he wore it when caning boys, which always took me back to crusty old public schools, sadistic teachers and Mr Chips) an opportunity to address us all as our spiritual and disciplinarian head, warn us against insolence and abuse of any kind, encourage us to excel and at all times respect our elders and betters OR ELSE!
Friars was a very different school to the one it is today. Current head Neil Foden, I am reliably informed, gets “world leading” results by expelling troublesome pupils.
I don’t know if Mr Foden still insists on a morning assembly and still appears in a flowing black gown and a hymn is sung and a prayer is said. I suspect, for some reason, that it is not or is purely optional exactly as it was in every practical sense when I was a boy (I’ve never been a morning type and sometimes missed school altogether and far too frequently missed out on Calon Lan and the Lord’s Prayer).
I do know, however, (I somehow survived the painful ordeal of comprehensive school supply teaching in south Wales inner cities in adulthood though I still carry the scars) that school staff nowadays bend over backwards to meet the needs of parents and pupils so forcing the little darlings to go and to worship strikes me as extremely unlikely.
Which is why I found it surprising to learn that two Cardiff schoolgirls, however, have asserted their rights as atheists (such remarkable certainty from such young people for whom almost everything is uncertain) and are lobbying the Welsh Assembly government to make it illegal for schools to insist that pupils attend.
One of the girls has her own Twitter account and is hawking her story around radio studios accompanied by her father, who just happens to be a reporter with a firm foothold at (yes, you guessed it) the Welsh Assembly government and who regularly reports from a biased perspective on their activities in what remains of the established “Welsh media”.
Responding to Rhiannon and Lily’s petition last month, the Welsh Government said: “Collective worship should be sensitive to the range of beliefs and non-beliefs held by pupils in the school and should give pupils the opportunity to worship, without encouraging them to do something that is against the teachings of their own religion or beliefs.
“Parents can request for their child to be withdrawn from collective worship and schools must agree to such requests in all circumstances.” So, absolutely no story and a meaningless petition. They don’t have to go if their parent or parents request it.
Plaid politician Neil McEvoy said: “It is really great to see young people engage in politics and taking an interest today in the public gallery. I think it is right to progress this (the teenagers’) petition.”
Really? Wouldn’t they be better off getting to school early to get more studying done knowing that legally they don’t have to go to assembly or worship in any way as atheists. That way they could really concentrate and get some God-given good grades.

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