Some faith schools are among the best schools in the country and should not be dismissed as ‘anti-British values’, a commentator has said.
In an article for The Guardian, Catherine Pepinster said a true British value is allowing parents to choose such schools for their children.
Responding to Ofsted’s annual report, Pepinster warned that the vague ‘British values’ agenda provides an excuse for faith schools to be targeted by opponents.
In its report, Ofsted said most schools are ‘embedding’ British values in their teaching.
But it added, “there are schools spreading beliefs that are widely shared within the community that the school serves but that clash with British values or equalities law”.
However Pepinster, a Roman Catholic commentator on faith and politics, said the reality for faith schools is “far more complex”.
While some need work, “others are among the very best and oversubscribed, especially in London. And they often make a difference to children in very tough neighbourhoods”.
She went on to argue that unless Ofsted is clearer on what British values mean, “plenty of faith schools will be targeted by opponents as failing on this issue”.
Giving the example of teaching children that abortion is wrong, Pepinster asked: “Should such schools be damned for their ethics”, or should they be praised for offering a different perspective?
And Pepinster concluded by saying faith schools should be kept as a priority for Government, noting that parents’ freedom to choose education for their children is “surely a fundamental British value”.
Ofsted’s report, presented to Parliament yesterday, did mention some positive aspects of faith schools – noting that two-thirds of “Christian schools” are “outstanding” or “good”.
In recent years, the education watchdog’s British values drive has resulted in damaging inspections.
In 2014, inspectors asked primary-aged children at a Christian school in North East England if they knew any boys or girls who thought they were in the wrong body.
Following the inspection, the school was rated ‘inadequate’, with Ofsted stating that the Christian ethos of the school restricts “the development of a broad and balanced approach”.
This year, it emerged that an Orthodox Jewish school – for girls aged between three and eight – was punished by the regulator for failing to endorse homosexuality and transsexualism.