Ofsted is fuelling division and alienating religious groups with its secular agenda, a respected think tank has said.
Policy Exchange analysed the education watchdog’s new inspection framework, and highlighted a number of concerns surrounding faith and the curriculum.
It found that Ofsted was too frequently failing to distinguish between law-abiding religious people, and those with genuine extremist views.
In its investigation, Policy Exchange heard numerous allegations of secular bias against Ofsted, particularly following Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman’s pledge to promote “muscular liberalism” in schools.
Its report, The Watchmen Revisited, said that “a proper understanding of freedom of religion in a British context is not one that can be confined to the private sphere, but must include the right to fully and actively express those beliefs in public observance, including in education”.
It also said Ofsted was guilty of ignoring the Human Rights Act, which protects the freedom of parents to ensure their children are educated according to their own beliefs.
Addressing extremism, the influential think tank said: “Many of the faith leaders we engaged with considered that Ofsted can conflate extremism and socially conservative or traditional religious practice”.
It said instead, “a clearer focus should be put on detecting and preventing activities such as advocating criminal behaviour; advocating the violent overthrow of democracy; encouraging violence towards individuals, including British soldiers or police; or promoting groups who advocate or glorify such matters”.
It advised Ofsted to work alongside “rather than in opposition to, communities of faith”.
‘Not their job’
The Christian Institute’s Education Officer John Denning said: “Ofsted has used its position to push liberal attitudes to relationships and secular attitudes to human identity.
“That is not their job and Ofsted needs to heed these recommendations.”
In 2018, Amanda Spielman criticised The Christian Institute in a speech, saying it was a ‘conservative voice’ that sought to “close minds or narrow opportuntiy”. She also called on school leaders to promote “muscular liberalism”.
But Institute Director Colin Hart challenged Spielman, saying muscular liberalism “must not mean aggressive secularism”, and that having socially conservative views “doesn’t mean you’ve got a foot on the first step of an escalator leading to violent extremism”.
In a separate report, Policy Exchange highlighted the need for universities to guard against being the voice of critics “who actively despise those who have traditional values of patriotism, family, faith or local traditions”.
It said universities have a responsibility to be the voice for the whole of the nation, and being willing to represent and not sneer at those with unpopular views.