FAITH CLEANSING IN OUR SCHOOLS

The 2007 Children’s Plan could not have made it clearer: parents bring up children, not governments. That didn’t stop the government of the day commissioning Graham Badman to investigate home education, with a particular emphasis on safeguarding; the introduction of compulsory registration; home monitoring inspections, and the definition of ‘suitable’ education. Unprecedented protests that the proposals would ‘for the first time in our history, tear away from parents and give to the State the responsibility for a child’s education’ kicked the issue into the long grass.

Despite that, Louise Casey regurgitated the same arguments against home education in her report into opportunity and integration just a year ago. And here we are, yet again, with exactly the same proposals in a private members’ bill introduced by Lord Soley, which recently received its second reading. At first sight, Lord Soley’s thoughts seem entirely reasonable, particularly after Colin Diamond, Birmingham’s corporate director for children and young people, warned that a recent court ruling could drive Muslim children into radicalising settings. Surely compulsory registration would be a good step?

Except that here’s the thing. Lord Soley is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society so their lobbying is probably behind the latest attempt to place home education under state control. The October ADCS Elective Home Education survey still talks about safeguarding, but the NSS is taking a new tack this time – it’s all about children’s rights. The survey finds that most long term home educators do so for philosophical or religious reasons, so the NSS is leaping into action to demonstrate that children’s rights are being abused by parents’ religious worldviews, although they have no problem with philosophical ones.

‘If children are raised and educated only within the context of a religious community’, they declaim, ‘they are left unprepared for life in modern Britain’. Well, if you want to raise your child to know and love God and live according to biblical standards then yes, that’s probably correct. But then, those parents don’t want to raise their children to engage in casual sexual encounters; to engage with sexting and revenge porn; to lie drunk in the gutter after a night out with friends or to live in ways that are all about ‘What’s in it for me?’ rather than God’s design for us as uniquely created in His image.

Modern Britain is not what every parent wants for their child. What right does the NSS have to tell them that they’re wrong? However, with an apparent benevolence which belies the underpinning arrogance, the NSS claims that they have an interest in opening opportunities for children, not closing them. So a lobbying organisation with a membership similar to that of the British Sausage Appreciation Society knows better than parents?

It might seem that paying so much attention to less than 0.5% of the school-age population is excessive. But combined with other opinions raised in the media, it suddenly takes on a much more ominous tone. Because this week, Humanists UK has complained to the DfE about Catholic schools ‘unlawfully promoting political action’ by encouraging parents to campaign against the admissions cap that prevents the Catholic Education Service from opening free schools. The irony seems to elude Humanists UK that its own campaigning against faith in the public square is a partisan political action. Or is this a case of double standards? Humanists UK can campaign about what they believe in, but parents can’t.

They also seem to have missed the point of a liberal, democratic society, which is one where all worldviews can be freely expressed. Every child’s upbringing is rooted in parental and community worldviews and part of growing up is to decide what to embrace and what to reject. What both secularists and humanists refuse to accept is that theirs are also worldviews. So why, in a liberal democracy, should the worldview of just 1% of the population prevail over all others? The answer, of course, is because they assume themselves to be right not only for themselves, but for everyone else.

Andrew Copson is quoted as saying that, ‘For too long, religious organisations have hijacked our state education system to further their own vested religious interests’. When I pointed out to him that without church schools, there would have been no free or universal education until well into the nineteenth century, he responded with, ‘And if it weren’t for churches in the 19th century then state education would have come more quickly – they blocked it for a long time fearing a loss of control’. Spot the irony yet again – Humanists UK wants to enforce its ‘neutral’ worldview in every school and on every home educator in the country. If that isn’t control and vested interest, what is?

However much these groups lobby the DfE and bend the ear of Ofsted, they cannot escape from two powerful facts. The most persuasive is that considerably more than a third of parents choose faith settings and these schools are always massively oversubscribed. Try telling all those parents that they’re wrong. The other fact is that our education system couldn’t function without church money – the state simply couldn’t afford to maintain all the lands and buildings that are owned by the church. The answer to that one is for the NSS and the BHA to stop sniping and to open free schools of their own.

Nothing has changed since the last attempt to impose state control on home educators: this is just another round of faith cleansing. If humanists and secularists want a seat at the education table, they should spend their time talking about what they are for, rather than what they are against. It’s getting hard to discern what they believe in through the white noise of anti-faith rhetoric.

When it comes to education, the Bible doesn’t talk about rights, it talks about responsibility. Parents alone are responsible for educating their children, so it is for parents to choose how they do so and with whom they partner in the process – ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’ (Deuteronomy 6:6—7).

It is not the business of the state to remove that responsibility.

 

 

 

 

 

OFSTED AS AGENTS OF FORCED CONFORMITY

Earlier this month, Sean Hartford, Ofsted’s national education director, spoke to the Lords’ committee on citizenship and civic engagement about the teaching of British values. According to him, a small minority of schools are doing badly in promoting said values. Earlier this week, Ofsted released its report into non-association independent schools. According to the media, a growing number of these schools are failing to promote British values and have therefore been judged as ‘Requiring Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’.

There is a common link between these two reports – faith schools are being blamed. Sean Hartford claims that this is because faith schools serve insular communities that don’t connect with the wider community. Sir Michael Wilshaw says it’s because the Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which was closed down by Ofsted in 2015, was failing to identify ‘warning signs of extremism and radicalisation in school settings’. And that, of course, comes down to a definition of ‘extremism’. As Tim Farron pointed out in his searing analysis of the place of Christianity in contemporary society, ‘If you actively hold a faith that is more than an expression of cultural identity … you are deemed to be far worse than eccentric. You are dangerous’.

He continued by observing that ‘if you say you favour diversity and pluralism, then you must oppose all attempts at assimilation and forced conformity … you must not aim to build a society where you engineer that via legal or social pressure’. And yet, that is exactly where we are in the world of education, with Ofsted enforcing conformity to a singular aspect of the Equality Act 2010, regardless of the fact that religious belief is also a protected characteristic and a long-established freedom. It is also engineering the Brave New World of Secular Liberalism by its imposition of a feminist ideology on non-compliant schools, apparently confident that social pressure will eventually finish the work that its interpretation of the law cannot.

But there’s a much more deeply personal issue here – one of which Ofsted appears to have no understanding. Talking on Four Thought this week, teacher Michael Merrick challenged current thinking on social mobility, using his own story to illustrate his argument. Exactly the same points apply to children being raised by parents of faith. To conform to the liberal agenda is, for such children, to move away from the families and communities that nurture them and want to see them flourish. It creates a division that forces children and young people to choose – their faith and their community, or social acceptance. It’s not a choice that anyone should have to make.

Michael goes on to make the point that ‘in a contest … some choose home, not because of ignorance, but because of a refusal to shed heritage as participation fee’. If we want a genuinely diverse and pluralist society, then we must stop creating a contest between faith and a place in society. Hartford can talk all he likes about insular schools, but until the parents who choose independent faith schools perceive that society not just tolerates their faith, but actively welcomes their contribution, they will continue to choose schools that correlate most directly with their expression of belief, their culture and their heritage.

As Tim Farron points out, that means we can’t share a common set of fundamental British values, however much the liberal glitterati seem to think we must. So instead of walking the talk of equality and diversity, they use the law to impose their singular set of values, appealing to nationalist sentiment in order to annexe society’s approval.

Sean Hartford misses the point about community. In true community, peoples’ hearts are touched through connection with each other in relationships. In a Christian community, people are connected not only with each other, but also in relationship with the God who created our amazing world. Community cannot be imposed by law or shamed into existence by social pressure and until you understand that, Ofsted, you will simply continue to widen the divide.

The tyranny of modern liberalism will not change hearts and minds. Christians will not conform to a contemporary culture which is materialistic and self-seeking. Society’s economy is one of transaction and wealth acquisition based on the question ‘What’s in it for me?’God’s economy is about relationship; about love and grace which are both boundless and free, and about asking ‘Who does God want me to be?’

 

OFSTED: OPENING THE DOORS TO RELIGIOUS HATRED

Ofsted entered the social engineering arena again this week over the issue of young Muslim girls wearing a niqab, or headscarf. Concerned that it could be interpreted as sexualisation, Amanda Spielman has told inspectors to question young Muslim girls to establish why their heads are covered.

This is not a new debate – in 2016, inspectors were told to judge schools inadequate if students or staff wore the niqab, or full-face veil, on the grounds that it restricted interaction and learning. This recent development follows on the heels of a Sunday Times survey in September which showed that of the 800 primary schools surveyed, one fifth list the hijab as part of school uniform. At the time, the head of Ofsted told LBC that, ‘Teachers are at risk of being “over-sensitive” towards young Muslim girls by allowing them to wear hijabs at school’, so this ruling is no surprise.

But it is concerning at a number of levels. There is no point in expecting a five year old child to know why she is wearing a particular piece of clothing – it’s what the girls and women in her family do, so she does it too. It’s part of her religious identity. Ofsted cannot expect very young children to question, much less understand, the cultural norms of their community. If Ofsted want to deal with what young children wear to school, then they should do so by instructing schools about uniform policy, not by questioning children too young to have thought-through answers. That will only serve to provoke.

There is doubt, too, about Spieman’s interpretation of the hijab – vlogger Nilly Dahlia observed that it has nothing to do with sexualisation and she wears it by choice a sign of submission to her faith. If this is the case, why is Spielman not pursuing Jewish boys for wearing kippahs? Or Plymouth Brethren girls for wearing headscarves or hair bows to signify submission to the authority of men?

But there’s a deeper issue here, and it goes, once again, to Spielman’s imposition of a feminist ideology on education. As Harun Kahn, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain observed, ‘many British Muslims who choose to wear the headscarf have done extremely well in education and are breaking glass ceilings’. Nadiya Hussain, of Bake Off fame, and Bushra Shaikh, a candidate on the current series of The Apprentice whose independence and determination to succeed in the fashion industry is a role model for any Muslim girl, are both evidence of that.

Back in 2016, when the issue of the niqab was raised, Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society also made it a feminist issue, writing: ‘The education secretary should recognise that the face veil is more than a piece of clothing. Its symbolic role and the way in which it makes an issue of female gender and sexuality means it should have no place in British schools’. And the NSS is agitating over the niqab, too, writing to Justine Greening to say, ‘In our view, the forcing of a child to wear the hijab, or any other item of religious clothing, is entirely at odds with this fundamental British value and with wider human rights norms on children’s rights. This conflict needs to be addressed.’ Since when was policy at Ofsted dictated by the views of an activist group, the membership of which amounts to just 0.01% of the population? Nevertheless, based on their success and clearly confident of their position within Ofsted, the NSS this week turned its attention to Jewish religious clothing.

Most worryingly, particularly given the fact that Ofsted is now allowing the NSS voice to dominate its thinking, anyone of faith should be very concerned about Spielman’s other statement: ‘We would urge any parent or member of the public who has a concern about fundamentalist groups influencing school policy, or breaching equality law to make a complaint to the school. If schools do not act on these complaints they can be made to Ofsted directly.’

This is nothing short of a declaration of war on any expression of faith or religious belief in schools. Spielman has invited the British public to vent its considerable spleen on anything, in any school, which doesn’t match the liberal agenda. She is opening the door to an unprecedented outpouring of religious hatred, presumably in the hope that this will solve the problems of extremism and radicalisation.

Harun Kahn is disappointed that the issue of the hijab ‘is becoming policy without even engaging with a diverse set of mainstream Muslim voices on the topic’. Well, Ofsted is engaging, but only with people who want to blow the whistle on breaches of liberal totalitarianism. They clearly have no intention of listening to, or even considering the views of, people of faith.