More than 40 schools in England have asked to opt out from a daily act of worship that is “wholly or mainly” of a Christian character, a rule that has been in place since 1944, Schools Week reports.

The data, which dates from 2015, shows the rate at which schools are seeking the opt-out is consistent with recent years.

Schools Week’s previous research showed about 125 schools sought exemptions over the three years up to 2015, which averages about 40 per year.

But Freedom of Information responses from 101 councils show two schools have specifically asked to hold “no-faith” assemblies.

Others schools received permission for “multi-faith” assemblies. Previously schools have usually used the exemption to switch to another faith.

Atheist groups say the rise of “more inclusive assemblies” shows that most schools feel that a mandatory act of worship from a single religion was inappropriate for pupils.

Jay Harman, a spokesperson for the British Humanist Association, said schools with no religious character should not be required to carry out “entirely inappropriate” Christian worship.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, chair of the Accord coalition that campaigns against religious selection in schools, said the obligation to worship in just one faith had caused assemblies to “wither”.

Instead, they should investigate ethical issues from a “variety of religious and philosophical traditions”.

Nigel Genders, chief education officer at the Church of England, said the low number of schools that chose exemption from Christian worship showed daily collective action had “proved a powerful tool in bringing pupils together, giving them a rare opportunity to pause”.

There have been numerous reports of schools making request for opt-outs from the requirement, including seven schools in Brent, north London, six in Leicester and two in Oldham have requested to hold “multi-faith” assemblies.

But Genders said that about a quarter of primary pupils and one in 16 secondary pupils attended Church of England schools, which showed that parents welcomed what was on offer – including daily Christian worship.

Ofsted stopped inspecting collective worship in 2004 after 76 per cent of schools were found to be non-compliant.