New education standards which may politicise the curriculum pave the way for schools being sued over what they teach, according to a senior QC.
In a legal opinion for The Christian Institute, John Bowers QC said the regulations break the “seal” that prevents schools facing legal action over what is taught.
The standards, which came into force last month, require academies, free schools and independent schools in England to ‘actively promote’ the rights defined in the Equality Act 2010, including sexual orientation and transsexual rights.
Bowers said the regulations provide “mechanisms in the law for disgruntled pupils, parents and campaigners” to sue individual schools.
He warned that teachers may face legal action if their attempts to simplify complex religious or philosophical topics are “deemed to undermine respect for some people’s beliefs”.
The standards could result in religious and political discussion being curtailed, and could even have the effect of restricting criticism of laws passed by Parliament, Bowers said.
School inspections would be radically transformed – instead of “assessing only the rigour and quality of education”, inspectors are drawn into “policing how equality law concepts are being promoted within each independent school”, Bowers explained.
He warned there could be “major consequences if mistakes are made”.
The Government states that under the regulations, schools will be required to challenge parents on their values if they contradict the Government’s view of equality.
But Bowers said that, according to European human rights law, parents should not be deprived of their right to guide their children according to their own “religious or philosophical convictions” just because they attend school.
In opening the curriculum to the possibility of legal action “a Rubicon preserved by successive governments will be crossed”, Bowers explained.
He continued: “The danger of litigation is exacerbated by the vagueness in the proposals arising from the concept of active promotion.”
The Christian Institute has raised concerns that the plans are a disproportionate response to the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in Birmingham, where certain state schools were taken over by governors seeking to impose harsh Islamic practices.