Are Ofsted inspections of Sunday schools really the answer to tackling extremism?

We are living in turbulent times. A fact that the all-too-recent devastation in Manchester and London reminds us of only too well.

At times of national tragedy the cry, inevitably, is that something must be done. ‘How could this happen?’ we ask, ‘What can be done to prevent it happening in the future?’ And we look for someone to blame.

Of course the Government must do all it can to tackle acts of terror – but it must also resist the temptation to introduce catch-all legislation in order to be seen to be ‘doing something’.

There must be a targeted response, led by the intelligence services.

Let us be clear: we strongly support Government efforts to defeat terrorism. Any terror attack should lead us to pray.

It is therefore all the more baffling that one of the go-to options for the Government is to send Ofsted inspectors into churches.

#Fakenews?

It may sound like #fakenews but the truth is that churches running holiday Bible clubs, weekends away, some summer camps and even Sunday schools face having to register with the state in order to operate. They will then be subject to inspection from Ofsted. Sanctions could include closing down groups and barring leaders from working with children. Despite major criticism, the Government is not showing any sign of giving up on the idea.

Let us be clear: we strongly support Government efforts to defeat terrorism. Any terror attack should lead us to pray – for wisdom for our governing authorities, for courage for the police and the security services and peace and healing for the injured and grieving. And, in accordance with the biblical command in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, as we lift those in authority to God, we must ask him that their response will be just and effective.

Sadly, this is where the problem lies.

We also want a just and workable response from the Government. Going into church groups with Ofsted is not that.

The Government has pledged a variety of initiatives to combat ‘extremism’ – even though it does not have a clear legal definition of extremism.

Of all these problematic plans, Ofsted inspections of churches is perhaps the most deeply-troubling.

‘Extremist teaching’

The 2015 Counter-Extremism Strategy proposed the plan, saying that out-of-school institutions teaching children would in future have to register with the state.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron referred particularly to madrassas when he announced the plan to give Ofsted the legal power to investigate any setting in England that provides instruction to children for more than six to eight hours in any week.

But chillingly he said it will apply to an institution “whatever its religion” and added “if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down”. Any “extremist” or “undesirable” teaching deemed incompatible with ‘British values’ would be prohibited.

The Government received 18,000 responses to its consultation though it is yet to respond to them. Unsurprisingly Christians were expressing their serious concerns.

Halt these plans now

We decry terror. We also want a just and workable response from the Government. Going into church groups with Ofsted is not that.

Theresa May should halt these plans now, and focus on targeting people such as those responsible for the havoc and heartbreak caused by the recent atrocities in our land.

 

More resources

The little book of non-violent extremists

The little book of non-violent extremists

This little booklet makes the big point that some non-violent ‘extremists’ turn out to be heroic people of global significance. The Government wants to introduce a law to silence non-violent extremists who show “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”. Our little list of heroes could easily have breached this threshold were it in place in their day.

Extremism against Christians

Extremism against Christians

Christians are currently the primary victims of extremism around the world. This briefing highlights the global harassment, intimidation and violence Christians face at the hands of extremists, both religious and non-religious.

The Christian Institute’s extremism hub