Welsh Government plans to monitor church groups
Fri, 26 Feb 2016
The Welsh Government has launched a consultation on plans to regulate out-of-school education settings.
These are strikingly similar to controversial proposals at Westminster which have been described as an “unprecedented attack” on religious freedom.
The consultation proposes inspecting any non-school settings which educate children for 6 hours or more in any week. This could include drama groups, music classes and church youth activities.
In England, the Government has already consulted on giving schools’ regulator Ofsted legal power to investigate settings including Sunday schools and holiday Bible clubs. It is not currently clear who would enforce such a regime in Wales.
The Welsh consultation, which closes on the 5th of April, states that “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs is of paramount importance”.
It says that people who “work in positions of trust and influence” must not “promote intolerance” when expressing their own beliefs.
The document also says children should be in a “safe environment”, where they can learn “fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
Any teaching deemed to “undermine” or be “incompatible” with these values, or which “promotes extremist views”, would be classed as “undesirable” and prohibited.
This is strikingly similar language to that of the Westminster Government’s ‘British values’, which have been criticised as vague and subjective.
Conservative MPs have warned that if the plans go ahead in England, Ofsted could be used to punish Christians who teach the biblical definition of marriage.
It would represent an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion in our country
The proposals at Westminster, announced under the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy, would give Ofsted legal power to investigate any setting that provides instruction to children for more than 6 to 8 hours in any week.
The Christian Institute has warned there is a “serious risk” that the plans will capture vast numbers of moderate and mainstream religious activities, such as Sunday schools, confirmation classes, choir practice and nativity plays.
Speaking against the proposals at the end of last year, Institute Director Colin 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.
“It would represent an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion in our country.
“It is vital that the Department considers the real problems that this heavy-handed over-reach will have on the volunteers who run the majority of these sorts of activities.”
Last year, David Cameron referred particularly to madrassas when he announced the new approach, but said it will apply to an institution “whatever its religion” and added “if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down”.