Government plans to regulate after-school clubs are attack on religious freedom, says The Christian Institute
The Christian Institute
Monday 14 December 2015
For immediate release
Government plans to regulate after-school clubs and summer camps are highly offensive and represent an unprecedented attack on religious freedom, says The Christian Institute.
The warnings come after the Government launched a consultation to extend Ofsted inspections to all “out-of-school” settings where a child or young person is taught for six hours or more in any given week.
This will include many moderate religious activities such as confirmation classes, Sunday schools, choir practice, even bell ringing.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, says: “We do understand the reasoning behind these plans. There are thought to be a small number of settings where violent Islamist ideology is promoted to children. A targeted, intelligence-led approach to protecting children in such circumstances would be uncontroversial.
“But there is a serious risk that the universal approach suggested in the DfE consultation will capture vast numbers of moderate and mainstream religious activities, such as traditional Sunday schools, confirmation classes, choir practice, bell ringing and performing nativity plays. All of these meet the Department’s suggested criteria for what constitutes an ‘out-of-school’ educational setting. The church running these activities will pass the six-hour threshold cumulatively where they involve, as they often do, the same children.”
Mr Hart continues: “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.
“There are other traditional activities like the annual nativity play where children may spend hours practising under the instruction of the church, in addition to attending their regular children’s work. If there is a malicious allegation against a vicar that he is an extremist (as happened to a friend of mine last Christmas) will Ofsted go into the church to inspect rehearsals, the script, or the Christmas carols performed? Will inviting children to sing about traditional Christian concepts such as heaven and Satan (as mentioned in the carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”) be censored?”
The Christian Institute also raises concerns about the consultation being carried out during the Christmas holidays and the effect the increase in regulation will have on many small groups.
“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. Thousands of school teachers give up their free time to assist in such events. I fear many will withdraw out of concern that false allegations against their church could put their careers at risk, since the same regulator will be assessing them in their professional role.
“The broad-brush approach suggested by the DfE may even bring campanology within its ambit since this clearly involves instruction in a non-school setting which, in some weeks of the year, would last for more than six hours in a week. There is nothing more British than the ancient art of bell ringing, yet according to the proposals, bell ringers will be required to register and submit to Ofsted ‘British values’ inspections.”
In a strongly-worded section of the letter, The Christian Institute warns that the changes don’t just affect religious out-of-school settings. Under the proposed extension to the Government’s inspection regime, sports clubs, army cadets, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, even driving instructors teaching intensive one-week courses to 17 and 18-year-olds will be forced to register with Ofsted and will be subjected to inspections.
Mr Hart concludes: “I assume it is not the intention of the Government to attempt to regulate religion in this way and that the Department’s intentions in this case are good, but I seek your urgent assurance on this matter. This is causing great concern. You will be aware of widespread feeling that the Department and Ofsted have been unduly heavy-handed in dealing with a number of Christian and Jewish schools in an attempt to appear even-handed in their treatment of other faith schools.
“Finally, I am bound to say the public are likely to be less safe from terrorism if the authorities are wasting time regulating Bible studies and sports clubs instead of targeting genuine extremists. Identifying possible terrorists is like finding a needle in a haystack. Registering and inspecting tens of thousands of youth groups for ‘potential extremists’ will only make the haystack much, much bigger.”
Notes to Editors:
The Christian Institute is a non-denominational national charity which since 1991 has been working on issues including religious liberty, marriage and the family, and Christian education.