‘Unlawful’, ‘unworkable’, ‘badly thought through’, and ‘hopelessly broad’ – just a few terms MPs used today to describe Government plans to regulate non-school settings.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate this morning, MPs from across the political spectrum urged the Department for Education to drop its proposals. The plans could result in Ofsted inspecting Sunday schools, summer camps and Scouts’ meetings.
Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh led the debate, and in his opening statement questioned why tackling radicalisation in a tiny number of madrassas means that “every voluntary group in England that instructs children for six or more hours a week has to register with the state”.
Labour MP Stephen Timms said he is “particularly uncomfortable about the idea that religious instruction should be placed under the authority of some vaguely defined British values administered by Government officials”.
He added that: “Making religious instruction subject to a state-controlled version of values is deeply problematic.”
Unlawful, unworkable, badly thought through, and hopelessly broad
The proposals involve introducing 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.
Last week the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said in a radio phone-in that if whistle-blowers raise concerns about registered settings, such as Sunday schools, inspectors will go in.
Sir Gerald Howarth, who called for Sir Michael Wilshaw to be sacked earlier this week, said the scheme is “hopelessly broad, covering vast swathes of activity with children and young people in respect of which there is not a shred of evidence of anything remotely resembling extremism”.
“Any scheme must be evidence-based, intelligence-led and tailored to the problem that it is designed to solve, which is that of Islamic fundamentalism poisoning the minds of young people in this country. This scheme represents none of those things”, he added.
Helen Grant, a former Conservative minister, described the proposals as “rushed, reactionary and very badly thought through”, while DUP MP Gavin Robinson called them “completely unlawful and completely unworkable”.
Labour’s Catherine McKinnell reflected concerns from her constituents about the “additional burden not only on volunteers, who do incredible work up and down the country, but on Ofsted”.
Fellow Labour MP Robert Flello said that the best thing the Government can do is to “bury the consultation once and for all”.
Conservative MP Fiona Bruce agreed, stating that there is no other way for the proposals to be addressed.
The Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Sir Gerald Howarth late last week to assure him that Sunday schools and summer camps would not be affected by the plans.
Mr Cameron said that the Government has held “productive” discussions with the Church of England and other faith groups to make sure that the system will be “targeted” and “proportionate”.