MPs praise Christian groups, but Ofsted concerns loom

Christian voluntary work in society is a “glue that holds together the fabric of our communities”, the House of Commons has heard.

Fiona Bruce MP cited prison visiting, work with the homeless and helping victims of human trafficking, as she led the debate, which saw contributions from Conservative and Labour MPs.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Mrs Bruce reported concerns that “youth work in this country would collapse without the churches’ involvement”.

Grave concern

She noted the swathes of support that faith-based organisations provide, and said while the Christian church “may not be perfect”, society would “certainly notice a difference” without it.

But Mrs Bruce noted that many organisations and volunteers are concerned about the Government’s plans to give Ofsted the power to investigate youth work.

“There is grave concern on the part of many Christians across the country about these proposals and rightly so.”

Dreadful proposals

“Ofsted’s job is to inspect educational standards in schools, not to make ideological judgments about church youth groups”.

She also highlighted a joint statement from groups, including The Christian Institute, that raised concerns.

Stephen Timms, the Labour MP for East Ham, joined Fiona Bruce in her concern, describing the Government’s plans as a “dreadful proposal to in effect turn Ofsted into a state regulator of religion”.

Ofsted’s job is to inspect educational standards in schools, not to make ideological judgments about church youth groups

Fiona Bruce

Important contribution

Conservative MP Steve Double also took part in the debate, noting the work done by churchgoers and others over the centuries.

“Throughout our history, people of faith have brought change and reform to our society, and it is very much because of their faith that they have carried out such work.”

Responding for the Government, a Communities and Local Government Minister James Wharton said both he and the Government recognised the “important contribution that faith makes to our society and the incredible value that it adds to our country”.

Challenge

Commenting on the issue of Ofsted, he said he had “listened carefully” to Mrs Bruce’s concerns and would draw the Education Secretary’s attention to Fiona Bruce’s comments.

Mrs Bruce thanked the Minister, but challenged: “The consultation was held many months ago and tens of thousands of people across the country are awaiting the Government’s response to the contributions that they spent a long time submitting.”

In December, The Christian Institute’s Director Colin Hart said the Ofsted plans represent an “unprecedented attack” on religious freedom.

Attack

In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Mr Hart said: “The idea of having an Ofsted inspector sitting in on your church youth group or Sunday school to see if you are an extremist is, I have to say, highly offensive.”

The letter was sent in response to a Department for Education consultation on proposals to introduce a nationwide registration scheme for any out-of-school setting providing instruction to under 19-year-olds for more than six hours in any week.

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