A fringe event on faith schools at the Conservative Party conference expressed fresh concerns that the Government is ‘attacking’ schools with a religious ethos.
The event, covered by education newspaper Schools Week, included discussion about the role of schools’ regulator Ofsted and criticism of the Government’s ‘British values’ agenda.
Five panelists, including Telegraph columnist Dr Tim Stanley and Professor Philip Booth from the Institute of Economic Affairs, addressed a large audience earlier this week.
Secular and vague
Dr Stanley accused the Government of “trying to invent British values, which are secular and vague”.
Over the last year, Ofsted has come under fire for its implementation of the Government’s British values agenda.
Several faith schools have fiercely disputed criticism from the schools’ regulator and complained of an unfair targeting of their Christian ethos.
One parent at the fringe event told the panel that there seems to be an Ofsted bias against faith schools.
Dr Stanley’s comments were supported by Prof Booth who asserted that: “The belief that all values are relative is every bit as dogmatic as any religious belief”.
The belief that all values are relative is every bit as dogmatic as any religious beliefProfessor Philip Booth
He said that faith schools are facing an “attack on religious freedom”, which he described as a “tragedy”.
The professor went on to address the role of schools, asking: “Do we want the state serving families or do we think families/schools should be subservient to the state?”
Dr Stanley said that schools “take over a child” during the school day and argued that parents should have an input on the ethos of teaching.
This echoes the historical view that parents are ultimately responsible for the quality and content of their children’s education, rather than the state.
The references to attacks on faith schools from the panelists followed harmful accusations against a school in the North East by Ofsted.
The Durham Free School was shut in March this year following an inspection by Ofsted which claimed to have found evidence of homophobia and racism.
However, parents, pupils and staff strongly disputed the claims and an official complaint was made about the conduct of inspectors.