Whatever your view on abortion, you couldn’t fail to be moved by Sally Phillips’ recent documentary about her son Olly, and the implications of a new non-invasive test for Down’s Syndrome. With searing honesty, she sought to find an answer to the question ‘Who gets to live?’

It’s a question close to home, because there are people in my family who could have been aborted for their ‘disabilities’ and I can’t imagine the world without them. I also have a cousin who was advised to ‘terminate’ her first pregnancy as the ‘foetus’ had spina bifida and faced a life of severe handicap. They refused to abort their longed-for baby: she’s perfectly healthy and currently works as a consultant psychiatrist.

It touches me personally, too. I’m a lifelong asthmatic who has now developed a potentially crippling auto-immune disease which almost certainly means that I will become a burden. I’m the outcome of a defective genetic inheritance. By extension, that must make me a defective person – in the eyes of some anyway. But, hey, I made it into the world before the days of genetic screening made existence capricious, so I got to live.

The argument for abortion has many faces. There’s the economic argument – I refused any testing when I was expecting my first child and was soundly lectured by my GP about the irresponsible attitude (ie, mine) of bringing disabled children into the world to be a drain on society in general and the NHS in particular. Then there’s the eugenics argument – we want to fill the world with perfect people.

And if those don’t work, there’s the emotionally seductive argument about not wanting your child to suffer. I’m a Mum. I don’t want my children to suffer. But the point is, they do. Even if they’re healthy, they still suffer in a myriad of unforeseen ways – from physical or emotional illness, from bullying, from failure or through broken relationships, to name just a few. Pain, suffering and distress are part of life. The key is to teach our children to deal with what life throws at us, not to remove them from it. The only way we can spare our children suffering is to not have them.

The issue came into sharp focus this week when I read about Alex Hovden, a physics student at Southampton University. He has just been elected SU President. He’s a world class competitive sailor. He also has cerebral palsy and he has been a lifelong wheelchair user. We celebrated the success of our Paralympians in the Manchester parade this week, too. Is their value less because they’re disabled? Do people who live such rich lives and who give so much to society have less right to live than able-bodied couch potatoes?

The Abortion Bill appears to say they are and that they don’t get equal rights unless they get to live. This week, the Lords will debate the Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill a private members’ bill brought by disabled peer Lord Shinkwin. It seeks to give disabled children the same rights as able bodied children in the case of abortion. In case you thought that abortion was illegal beyond 24 weeks, that only applies if you’re able bodied. Disabled children can be aborted up to the point of birth and it happens in around 2,700 pregnancies each year. The reason can be as minor as a cleft lip.

As a society, we claim a right to exert power over life and death, all in the cause of economic prosperity and physical perfection. Then we have to create and police equality laws giving disabled people access to the artificial hierarchies that we have built – as if they don’t have equal rights simply by being human and being alive. But God has no place for hierarchies. Quite simply, He knows each of us before we are born and endows us with worth and dignity simply because we are created in the image of a holy God:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb … My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body’ (Psalm 139:13—16 NIV).

We are known by God from the point of conception and our developing bodies aren’t rejected by Him if they are less than perfect, or if we’re the wrong gender, or happen to be conceived at an inconvenient time. God loves each of us. Just because.

The prophet Samuel was told by God to visit Jesse, in order to anoint one of his sons to succeed Saul as King of Israel. Samuel automatically assumed that the eldest son, who was a tall, strong soldier, would be God’s choice. But it wasn’t. God chose David, who was so small and insignificant that Jesse had left him in the fields looking after the sheep while the older, more impressive sons were offered for inspection. God’s yardstick? ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV).

How different would our society be if we did the same?





‘Parents bring up children, not governments’. The 2007 national Children’s Plan made that clear. Parents are their children’s prime educators, with parental attitude, support and expectation proving to be key factors in a child’s success. How and where each child is educated is a matter of parental choice.

There is a history of nonconformist Christian education dating back to the 1662 Act of Uniformity – that is a parental right which has continued undisturbed for centuries, and one which is still clearly enshrined in Article 2, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It says that ‘the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’.

But in 2009, Graham Badman was commissioned to investigate home education, with particular concern for safeguarding. His concluding report, Review of Elective Home Education in England makes a passing acknowledgement of parental rights before turning the spotlight onto the rights of the child, arguing that the ECHR clarified that ‘respect is only due to convictions on the part of parents which do not conflict with the fundamental rights of the child to education … this right by its very nature calls for regulation by the State’. Badman reinforced this shift in focus using Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: ‘Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’.

Badman further added Article 28 to the mix, which defines it as the responsibility of parents to provide a ‘suitable’ education. According to the 1996 Education Act a ‘suitable education’ is one which ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so’. There can only be State intervention if there is evidence that provision is unsuitable under these terms – ie, non- conformity to the prevalent social orthodoxy is not a reason to intervene.

Nevertheless, Badman made a host of recommendations, including compulsory registration of home educators; Local Authority monitoring, supervision and annual reporting; bringing home education within the remit of Ofsted and the redefinition of ‘suitable’ education. Most controversially, he recommended that Local Authority officers should have the right of access to the home to talk to children alone, claiming that home educated children were twice as likely to be abused as those in school.

His report was quickly followed by one from Ofsted entitled ‘Children Missing from Education’. Note this is not missing from school, but missing from education. The subtext is ominous – school is the only setting in which education can take place, therefore home educated children are ‘missing’ children. It’s a definition that creates a State mandate to intervene.

Fortunately, the Badman Report was stopped in its tracks when an unprecedented 120 petitions were presented by MPs on the grounds 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’.

And that, you might hope, was the end of the matter. Except that it wasn’t, because just a month ago, the Local Government Association (LGA) made a request almost identical in its wording to the Badman proposals. The LGA wants right of access to homes. Justification is offered by Colin Diamond, executive director of education for Birmingham: ‘We feel that any Elective Home Education (EHE) learning situation potentially puts a child in a very vulnerable position … because the child is isolated, they are not visible to their peer group and professionals don’t keep an eye on them’. He also added: ‘It is unacceptable for any child of compulsory school age not to be receiving a suitable education’. Once again, the assertion, based on flawed suppositions, is that home educated children are not safe and that only the State can define ‘suitable’. It chimes with David Cameron’s chilling statement last year, with regard to looked-after children, that ‘we, the State, are their parents’.

In ruling the Scottish Named Person scheme illegal, the Supreme Court judge commented ‘The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world.’ Behind the safeguarding smokescreen, this is exactly what moves against the parental right to educate ‘in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions’ is trying to do.

But in reality, a living child is a learning child, so all parents are home educators from the point of birth. Children are constantly learning and parents are constantly involved in the process of nurturing them. They raise their children in the unique contexts of home, family and community. And if it takes a village to raise a child, school is just one building of many in the village.

Childhood is not the State waiting room for adult life. It is the place where we learn to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to trust and to be trusted. It is the place where we discover who we are, why we are here and how, as we approach adulthood, we want to live. If parents choose to also provide the academic aspects of learning and growing at home, that is their right and their responsibility, and one which cannot be removed.


A couple of years ago, whilst at a Christian Education conference, I attended a fascinating workshop on avoiding conflict in the classroom. It wasn’t quite the standard reflection on conflict resolution that I expected – it was much, much more. It looked at some of the causes of conflict and how, as Christian teachers, we can address them. The presenter suggested a range of reasons why conflict arise, many of them either to do with factors external to our classrooms, or due to unresolved baggage that pupils bring with them when they walk through the door.

One word in particular grabbed my attention and got me thinking, because in contemporary use it implies an industry, which provides a service at a cost. It was the word ‘hospitality’. What does the word mean to you? The dictionary has two definitions: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, and relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates or other official visitors. Christian teachers, the presenter suggested, should exercise hospitality in their classrooms. Well, he clearly didn’t mean ‘entertain’ which is the thrust of the dictionary definitions and which rather skates over the full meaning of the concept. So what does the Bible say?

Answer: a great deal. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Hebrews 13:2), ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9), ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34) and ‘hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined’ (Titus 1:8, all quotations ESV). Clearly, God wants us to be hospitable not in the sense of entertaining, but in a much deeper sense, and it’s not an optional extra. It is fundamental to our work for God.

So, we are to welcome people, even strangers from other lands. We are to love them as we love ourselves, in other words, to consider their needs not at the expense of our own, but as equal with them. We should seek to care for others just as willingly as we care for ourselves. Hospitality is about perceiving the needs of others and doing our best to meet them and it’s also about service (1 Timothy 5:10).

What does this mean in practice, in our schools, every day? The practice of Christian hospitality is about inclusivity. We look for God’s gift in each pupil, we treat each one with dignity and we teach each pupil according to their need. We also provide an environment where individual needs to belong are met and in doing so, we model to our pupils how to practice hospitality towards each other. If we are leaders, we have a role in helping our staff to accept responsibility for practicing such hospitality to everyone in the school, not just those who conform to particular norms.

I have spent much of the last week browsing through OFSTED reports for Christian schools. Despite their widespread geographical locations and the unique context of each of the schools, there were common threads to the reports. Teachers were excellent role models for considerate, caring relationships. Pupils talked about their schools feeling just as comfortable as their homes. Their behaviour was judged to be sometimes good and often outstanding.

Tens of inspectors over a long period of time noted the positive, caring and supportive relationships in schools which experience little or no bullying. And, not surprising for those of us who have experienced this kind of nurturing environment, children make good or outstanding progress regardless of ability, often surpassing national standards. The reports proved a powerful argument for Christian schooling.

A hospitable classroom is one in which the fruit of the Spirit grows in abundance. And it’s not just any hospitality – this is Christian hospitality, because we are ‘Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’ (Ephesians 6:7 ESV). Whatever our context, this is what makes us distinctive as Christian teachers.