Brent in north-west London has become the first council to formally permit its schools to abandon Christian assemblies. Currently, non-faith schools are legally obliged to conduct a Christian assembly each day unless their local authority's committee applies for an exemption.

Brent Council’s SACRE committee (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education) has decided that they will no longer abide by this law and instead of Christian assemblies they will allow schools to promote multi-belief assemblies which should draw on material and practice that hold special meaning from different religions and non-religious views.

Watched across the country

This decision by Labour-run Brent council is likely to be watched closely by other councils. Although still legally active the requirement for schools to conduct an assembly which is ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ has been widely ignored in recent years. As far back as 2004 Ofsted noted that 76% of schools were regularly violating the law and stopped considering it in their inspections, while last year the United Nations reported that the assemblies contravened children's human rights.

Assemblies unite the community

Despite these findings many believe that Christian assemblies still have an important role to play in the state education system. Andrea Williams, speaking on behalf of Christian Legal Centre, said: "We hope other areas don't follow this lead.” She noted that, "It's a mark of the cultural chaos that we're in that we no longer know how to conduct assemblies."

Brent is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in England.

The 2011 census recorded that the population of Brent is now 41% Christian, 18.6% Muslim and 17.8% Hindu. With such diversity in the community the potential for disagreements and conflict regarding the content of a school assembly is clear, as is the potential for an assembly to unite all groups around a common purpose. As Andrea Williams noted, "The whole point about a Christian assembly is that it's rooted in a shared culture and heritage."

Ms Williams went on to say that she thought the decision by Brent council was "probably illegal" and the Christian Legal Centre was considering whether they should mount a judicial review to challenge the ruling.