This week, the government published its Integrated Communities Strategy. The concept of social cohesion is nothing new – Professor Ted Cantle produced a similarly detailed report in 2001. In 2016, Dame Louise Casey, the then government integration tsar, produced a further Review into the state of social integration. You may be forgiven for thinking that nothing has changed in nearly 20 years.

However, while it may be true that social cohesion has not improved, the ideologies underpinning these reports are very different. Where Cantle talked about people living on parallel train tracks, often defined by faith, Casey talked about ‘less progressive religious communities’ who are ‘taking religion backwards and away from 21st century British values and laws’. Where Cantle suggested a 25 per cent cap on faith school places, Casey opined that ‘it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage.’

So where does this latest attempt pitch the government with regard to religious belief? Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government defines integration as ‘communities where many religions, cultures and opinions are celebrated, underpinned by a shared set of British values that champion tolerance, freedom and equality of opportunity … values which include a proud history of defending people’s right to practise their religion within the law …’ So is it defending religious freedom?

The Strategy devotes a complete chapter to education, sweeping up all the current discussions surrounding illegal and unregistered schools, home education and schools where extremist materials have been seen by Ofsted inspectors. Why target schools? Because schools are the only place where you have most of the nations’ children in one place at one time – convenient to deliver propaganda. The problem, of course (as Amanda Spielman recently lamented) is that children only spend 20 per cent of their time in school – it’s the other 80 per cent that makes all the difference; although the government now has a plan for that, too.

Fundamental British Values figure large in the Strategy. Ofsted intends to beef this up in its inspection process, ensuring that integration is a factor in categorising schools. The same is true of all new free school applications. In the document, these values are defined as ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect’. So far, so good. Except that in the minds of the liberal glitterati (with Ofsted as the state-approved enforcer) this also encompasses every liberal ideology they espouse, including LGBT rights prioritised over those of all others and the active promotion of transgender ideology from the earliest years in school.

While nobody would argue with the compulsory registration of illegal schools (which are not, as Ofsted likes to suggest, mostly religious settings), the closer regulation of private schools is a direct threat to parental freedom. Many small independent schools are religious in character, chosen by parents who want to raise their children within their faith. The government is ‘committed to taking a firmer approach to enforce standards when there is evidence of noncompliance’. Noncompliance with standard safeguarding practices? Or noncompliance with the relentless march of liberalism, even when it conflicts with the tenets of faith?

The situation with home education remains confused. While there appears to be some attempt to differentiate between illegal or unregistered schools and home education, there is still no apparent awareness of the difference between elective and enforced home education, the latter growing because the state system has failed children to the point where parents have no other option open to them.

The battle waged unabated in the media, with The Times claiming that registration would go ahead anyway (that later turned out to be either fake news, wishful thinking or poor journalism) while the DfE responded by saying that compulsory registration was ‘categorically not in the green paper’. Meanwhile, with Louise Casey ignoring the facts and calling for home ed parents to be forced to opt out of education (registration by the back door) Lord Soley’s bill continues on its path.

There are two other deeply worrying decisions raised in this green paper. The first relates to the compelling of parents to accept the decision of their child’s school regardless of personal belief. It states that ‘Pupils have the right to manifest a religion or belief, but not necessarily at all times, in all places or in a particular manner’.It is probably a knee-jerk reaction to the recent situation at St Stephen’s school, where the head’s ruling on the wearing of a hijab was reversed after ugly pressure.

However, it could equally, in the hands of those wishing to impose a singular ideology, be used to prevent every child in the community expressing faith in any form, on the grounds that to do so would harm the social cohesion of the school. So, at what times will it be inappropriate? In what places? In what manner? To prevent abuse of sloppy law, this must be much more closely defined. Or is the real agenda to stamp out all expressions of religious belief in the public square, apart from the occasional reference to a benign deity who just wants us all to do what makes us happy?

The second concern is the resurrection of the regulation of out of school settings, even before the findings of the consultation are published. Not content with controlling what children hear in school, the government is now bent on controlling what they hear for the other 80 per cent of their lives. Interestingly, when questioned about this by Michelle Donelan MP during an Education Select Committee hearing, Amanda Spielman had absolutely no answer to the question, ‘Are you comfortable with that scenario, where we are constantly subjected to some kind of inspection in our private lives?’

A consultation is offered to sit alongside the Integrated Communities Strategy. If you take part, be aware of the extent of mission creep contained in these proposals – however reasonable and fair they may seem, many of them are just another step along the road to the removal of parental freedom and diminishing of individual rights.


The Education Select Committee this week summoned Amanda Spielman as part of its accountability hearings. It was a wide-ranging debate, during which Ms Spielman showed the extent of Ofsted’s confused double-think about its social engineering programme. It led Robert Halfon, the chair of the Committee, to comment more than once on the importance of ensuring that the innocent aren’t swept away with the guilty.

Some of the thinking is genuinely confused – an extensive discussion about inspecting out of school settings (which Ofsted is very keen to resurrect) demonstrated that nobody actually knows what needs inspecting and what doesn’t. Spielman talked rather vaguely about ‘8 hours’ of attendance, which would encompass just about every young swimmer in the country who puts in a couple of hours of intensive training before and after school every day. She talked about the need to regulate tutorial centres, even though they are already subject to safeguarding law. She disingenuously observed that it was unlikely that Sunday Schools would be affected, although madrasas would be. But it would, of course, affect all holiday clubs, residential trips, sleepovers and camps organised by churches.

When pressed on how she would ensure that only the guilty would be tracked, she resorted to Ofsted’s usual argument when it runs out of options – creating law is down to government, not Ofsted. It is not her job, she opined, to create policy on the hoof. So perhaps she should limit her comments to her actual remit and stick to the day job, rather than posturing for a power grab.

When questioned about the definition of ‘muscular liberalism’, members of the committee were assured that this was definitely not secularism in disguise; it’s about living Fundamental British Values, which means not allowing spaces to exist where intolerance is bred. Over the issue of faith schools causing segregation, the answer was revealing. Some faith schools, Ms Spielman stated, do excellent work that doesn’t lead to segregation. Indeed, they thoroughly prepare children for life in modern Britain – those she mentioned (Church of England and Catholic schools) are the ones who have welcomed Stonewall with open arms to create environments which normalise queer ideology. But there was a warning – not all faith schools have the same kind of positive outcomes for pupils. One such Christian school was recently told by an HMI to invite Stonewall in to advise staff on how to achieve these positive outcomes. That rather suggests that the involvement of Stonewall has become a key litmus test for Ofsted when it comes to categorisation of faith schools.

The key fact to emerge from the discussion is that these schools are not allowed to teach according to the tenets of their faith, regardless of the content of any guidance documents. Spielman made it clear, in the context of Orthodox Jewish schools, that Ofsted cannot disapply the law – she meant, specifically, the Equality Act 2010. She outlined the dilemma that Orthodox Jewish schools face, as they cannot, in accordance with their belief, teach about same sex relationships or transgender issues. Whilst as evangelical Christians we can talk about these issues with children and young people, we talk about them in relation to the biblical principles of being born male and female, and marriage being between one man and one woman. That is not inconsistent with also teaching our children to respect other people’s choices.

Current DfE guidance states quite clearly that ‘It is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own’. It goes on to say that it is not ‘acceptable for schools to promote discrimination against people or groups on the basis of their belief, opinion or background’. Ofsted seems to adopt  the view that failing to ‘actively promote’ LGBT ideology, or teaching from a faith position is, in itself, discriminatory. There are copious examples of this interpretation – Vishnitz Girls’ School is the worst.

But Spielman was clear – the law will not be disapplied and the wishes of parents cannot take precedence over the law, however firmly held the beliefs are. The case of Al Hijrah was quoted – a key legal battle which she was very keen to win. It was important because it created the precedent to impose a liberal agenda on any faith school which can’t comply, because the law of the land (or at least the law as it is interpreted by Ofsted) conflicts with their understanding of the law of God.

It’s fine to say that we shouldn’t tolerate intolerance – everyone would agree with that. But the danger here, which was implicit in all that Spielman said, is the definition of ‘intolerance’. It should be defined by schools and settings which teach about terrorism, murder, beheadings and violence against women. But it was clear that for Ofsted it is defined by any faith which cannot comply with active promotion of LGBT ideology, or any person who refuses to remove their faith to the private sphere. That is, in itself, intolerant, and really does risk sweeping away the innocent with the guilty.


Home education has dominated the education press for the last couple of weeks. That in itself is unusual, as home educators are not normally the focus of much attention. But the maelstrom swirling around parents who just want to be left alone to educate their children as they wish is of epic proportions. It’s indicative of the raging war in government departments.

The arguments started with Lord Soley’s Private Member’s Bill, which has gone from ‘doesn’t stand a chance of making it onto the statute books’ to the noble Lord expressing every confidence that it will become law. That’s when the gloves came off.

Then came the safeguarding bandwagon, but that didn’t do the trick either, because Lord Agnew, Under-Secretary of State for Education, responded to the pressure by saying that there would be no new primary legislation, and anyway, local councils had all the powers they need, they should just use them properly. That’s when the war broke out.

Local councils started to get aggressive – Westminster council has issued a school attendance order for Lilian Hardy, the child star of the West End musical show Matilda. Apparently, learning lines, acting and having the confidence to perform don’t count for much in Westminster, which has its own rules (with questionable legality) and a mission to ensure that every resident child complies with its definition of ‘suitable education’ – again, with dubious legality under Human Rights legislation. Lilian’s parents will not comply with the order, and are prepared to go to prison to defend their right to educate their daughter as they, not the state, see fit.

And although school attendance orders have, in the past, been rare, some local authorities have suddenly started issuing them en masse – 21 in East Anglia alone.  Why the sudden surge in activity from local councils? Probably to prove that they are using their powers in order to nullify Lord Agnew’s repeated assertions that they won’t be getting any new ones.

The Times embarked on a scare campaign, talking about ‘legions of missing children’ which are only ‘the tip of the iceberg’. Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary is ‘getting tough’, according to an inside source in his department, in an article in which his own department briefed against him. Hinds might do well to take note of Abraham Lincoln’s observation (itself taken from the Gospel of Mark) that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

The BBC aired an interview with Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, whose desire to control every child in the country has been well documented. She was calling for – yes – more powers for Ofsted to deal with unregistered schools, which are allegedly being used to hide home educated children. The public was treated to pictures of filthy, squalid and dangerous rooms, together with footage of a child apparently being hit around the head.

All of these situations are deplorable, if true. But the fact remains, as the Department for Education repeatedly states, all necessary powers are in place. The Department also took the unprecedented step of issuing a press release in which it reflected that it was a pity the BBC didn’t take the evidence to them, instead of airing it on TV. To prove that the system works, police started an investigation the following day.

But still the articles keep coming – more concerns about unregistered schools; an interview with Louise Casey, government tsar, taking her customary pot shot at religion, and ‘Time to take home schooling out of the shadows’  – a scurrilous mix of misinformation, false assumption, and patronising arrogance from Ms Spielman, who sneeringly refers to home educating parents as ‘doing their slightly homespun thing’. Perhaps she should stop indulging in blame shifting and sort out the problems in the state sector which are prompting growing numbers of parents to home educate – bullying; inadequate SEND provision; lack of school places, and the questionable practice of off-rolling. Her organisation should set its own house in order.

So, why this relentless barrage of articles? Lord Agnew is suspiciously quiet in all of this furore and his much-vaunted consultation on home education is not forthcoming. The Department for Education simply keeps repeating its position – that no new powers are needed. It’s therefore a reasonable assumption that the DfE and Lord Agnew are at war with Ofsted and Lord Soley and the latter group is attempting to lobby Lord Agnew into allowing them the power after which they lust.

And home education parents? Well, they face Badman Two, the sequel. But this time it’s being acted out on a much more dangerous stage, because the Soley-Ofsted unholy alliance is playing the extremism card for all it’s worth. It‘s whipping up public opinion against anything other than state control of every child’s education on the grounds that home education is simply a smokescreen for extremist and radical child abuse.

Take note, Lord Soley, of the law. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states: ‘Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their child’. Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says: ‘State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to … the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential’. You meddle with these rights at your peril.