THE Bishop of Oxford has defended the importance of churches to school communities, after a small rural academy found itself at the centre of a national debate.

Burford Primary School has settled on an agreement with Lee and Lizanne Harris, parents of two of their pupils, after they accused the school of 'indoctrination' of the Christian religion.

The trust that runs the West Oxfordshire primary, Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST), had been faced with a High Court battle with the couple later this month.

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Mr and Mrs Harris said the 'reluctance to take this to court' showed the 'growing fragility of the outdated law' of collective worship.

However, the trust has said the move was to avoid more court costs and that it was 'saddened' by the case.

The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, said: "From reading with children to organising assemblies and talks, input from the local community and volunteers enhances the life of every school, including community schools. 

"Members of local churches play a valuable role in communities across the country.

"The Church of England has always worked to enable the best education for all children, motivated by our deep Christian values and recognising the changing, diverse society we serve. We will continue to do so."

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Collective worship that is ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’ is a statutory requirement in all state-funded schools in England and Wales, including schools that do not have a designated religious character, like Burford.

Anne Dellar, chief executive of Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, said: "A small community school has been placed at the sharp end of a national campaign.

"At a time when school funds are stretched ODST took the pragmatic decision to avoid wholly unnecessary court costs.

"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."

Oxford Mail:

Steven Croft

Humanists UK, the organisation supporting Mr and Mrs Harris, said the trust had agreed to several measures including 'providing a meaningful alternative assembly of equal educational worth for all pupils withdrawn from compulsory prayers'.

However, Ms Dellar clarified: "A short term child-specific arrangement has been agreed between ODST and the parents of two children attending Burford Primary School.

"The arrangement will lapse when the youngest of the two children leave the school.

"Burford Primary School is not offering an alternative assembly, rather, a small number of children who are withdrawn from collective worship will be able to access alternative materials, overseen by a teacher."

She described the school as 'happy, successful and inclusive' and a previous statement from the trust stressed that the academy provides 'broad cultural and academic experiences'.