The Christian Institute has threatened the Government with legal action over plans that “sideline” parents, and compel independent schools to ‘actively promote’ homosexual and transsexual rights.
The Institute said that the new standards, to be implemented in more than 6,000 independent schools, free schools and academies, are “badly written” and could result in removing gender specific terms such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ from the curriculum.
And Christian schools could be forced to downgrade religious festivals such as Christmas in case they offend atheists or those of other religions, the organisation has warned.
The Institute said the proposals are a “rushed” response to the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in Birmingham, where certain state schools were taken over by governors seeking to impose harsh Islamic practices.
Head teachers have also raised concerns about the plans.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), warned there is a danger of “over-regulation”.
He said there is an “inherent risk” of a “knee-jerk response” to the high profile cases in Birmingham.
The ASCL’s official response to the education department said: “It will no doubt be argued that there is no intention of stifling such discussion, but there should be no power to do so; a secretary of state cannot bind her successors, and once a power is available it is likely to be used, not always for the original purpose”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said the new standards threaten to “undermine the ethos of independent schools”.
“Under the regulations parents are explicitly sidelined in their views” and can be “challenged if they disagree with the new Government rules on equality”, Mr Hart said.
“The problem is the way these things can be used, and it can be completely over the top. Promoting transgender rights is not going to combat Muslim extremism”.
He said these plans will enable people to sue an independent school, a free school or an academy over the content of the curriculum.
“The danger is we’re taking specific things that arose in Birmingham and applying a blanket solution of political correctness, which is going to be very damaging to British education”, he added.
The Department for Education held a short six week consultation on the proposals, which overlapped with the summer holidays.
Lawyers acting for The Christian Institute have written to the Department, saying the Government did not follow its own guidelines on conducting consultations.
They said they would launch a judicial review unless the consultation period was extended.
The Department claims they received 1,400 responses by the time the consultation period closed last week, but it is unclear how many of them are from schools.
Officials from the Department said they had allowed enough time, and pointed out that around 30 schools had responded to the consultation four days before it closed.
But the Institute said this amounts to “less than 0.5 per cent of the total number of schools directly affected” and that it would be “statistically unsound to conclude that it had provided a representative sample”.
The Institute highlighted that schools are already under a legal duty not to discriminate, but these regulations go “much further”.
The standards require all impacted schools to “actively promote” the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010, which include sexual orientation, transsexualism, marriage or civil partnership and religion or belief.
The Christian Institute has warned that under the new standards, a Christian mother who tells her child that other religions are wrong could be challenged by her child’s school.
It also raised concerns that a free school with a Christian ethos could fail its inspection for refusing to actively promote ‘Lesbian and Gay History Month’.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We have received a letter from the Christian Institute’s legal representatives and are considering our response.”
The Government is to change the OFSTED inspection standards for all state schools to reflect the changes made for independent schools.