Category Archives: Comment

DOING THE MATHS ON ‘ROGUE’ FAITH SCHOOLS

You might be forgiven for being confused. Everyone is. Well, everyone apart from Ofsted, that renowned shape shifter designed by John Major’s government to regulate inspection standards across the country. The picture began to fog over somewhere during 2014 as Ofsted morphed from an academic standards inspection force to a totalitarian social engineering enforcer, accountable only to itself, mandating amorphous British values with LGBT rights at the pinnacle of the equalities hierarchy.

The emergence of British values onto centre stage as a result of Trojan Horse is well documented. The concept was nothing new – simply the Blair administration’s community cohesion plan, dressed up in nationalistic clothes. Under its guise, Ofsted turned its hand to no notice inspections, issuing dire warnings about thousands of children missing from school and in danger of radicalisation. A disproportionate number of schools subjected to this new form of trial were faith schools, including Christian and Jewish schools that suddenly found themselves branded extremist, even though no radicalised students who choose to become terrorists have ever emerged from their communities.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s vigorous pursuit of no notice inspections soon hit a snag. Heads and senior leaders weren’t always in school. In one case, the whole school was out on a trip. But that wasn’t a problem – in November 2014, with zeal unabated, SMW wrote to Nicky Morgan, the then Secretary of State for Education, saying that, ‘This exercise has confirmed that we have the regional intelligence and the appropriate powers to conduct inspections’. Regional intelligence? It started to sound like the language of a police state. Virtue signalling became the order of the day in order to be acceptable in Ofsted’s new social enforcement plan.

And so it has continued. The line of attack shifts occasionally (not least if there’s any media kickback) but like a clockwork mouse hitting an obstacle, Ofsted simply redefines British values and heads off in another direction. It was necessary, we were told, because hundreds of children were at risk. With ever increasing hyperbole, that quickly became thousands. And then someone hit on the idea of including home education figures in the data of Children Missing from Education (CME), so that tens of thousands of parents simply exercising their right to educate their child as they thought best suddenly became potential radicalisers or child abusers.

And then, three weeks ago, Ofsted declared that is it going to ‘throw the book at rogue faith schools – whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic’. Even though they already have all the powers they need, Amanda Spielman called for new laws and new powers for Ofsted to protect children in ‘fundamentalist centres … who mostly study religious writings such as the Koran, the Talmud and Torah, as well as the Bible’. But do the maths – something doesn’t add up. Ofsted has found 286 unregistered schools and of the 116 so far inspected, only 36 were issued with notices. That means 80 of these schools which stand accused of radicalising children are absolutely fine. And were they day schools, or weekend or evening centres?

Do some more maths. Only 1 in 5 are faith schools. So why is the article all about ‘’rogue’ faith schools when only 20 per cent of the schools under suspicion are faith based and of those, most are clearly complying with the law?

The answer to that is hidden away at the end of the article. They aren’t actually talking about schools at all. They’re softening up public opinion ready to respond to the 2015 consultation on inspecting out of school settings such as Sunday schools. That is going to fall within the remit of the government’s anti-extremism strategy.

So, coming soon, to a church near you, an Ofsted inspector searching out extremist , fundamentalist Christian teaching, that is, parents who read the Bible with their children. It’s young people sharing time with their youth leaders, seeking to understand, with the help of the Holy Spirit, how God wants them to live. Ofsted will be ‘protecting the children who attend these places’ (for which read ‘your church’) from harm by preventing their parents from reading the Bible with them.

And that is exactly where Ofsted will fall. Failure to prepare children for life in modern Britain is now a safeguarding offence. That preparation involves teaching children from the age of 3 about same sex relationships and gender reassignment – as the recent inspection of Vishnitz Girls’ School demonstrated, this is Ofsted’s single-minded agenda. If they intend to enforce it within the very heart of our Christian communities, they will, by their own definition, be putting not Christians, but the Bible on trial.

So, challenge the Bible if you wish, Ofsted, but you will not thwart God, because this is what He says through the prophet Isaiah: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways … as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:8-11).

 

SCHOOL’S OUT: THE CONTINUING STORY OF HOME ED

You might wonder, following the response from the home ed community after last week’s private member’s bill, why this debate is still rumbling on. This week, the discussion centred on unregistered schools (more of that in next week’s blog) and the problems created for schools having to pick up the pieces when home ed children return to school. The implication is, clearly stated and reinforced by a previous Chair of the Education Select Committee who should know better, that home schoolers don’t provide suitable education.

So what is really going on here?

There is no doubt that recorded figures show a steady rise in home ed over the last decade. Accurate numbers are impossible to obtain, as children who have never been to school don’t necessarily show up on any returns. However, the likely total is around 0.5% of the school-age population.

The reasons for this choice are very varied but include, in generally this order of frequency:

  • dissatisfaction with the school environment
  • lifestyle/cultural or philosophical
  • bullying
  • unmet health or learning needs
  • inability to secure a place at a preferred school
  • testing regime in primary phase
  • near exclusion

And while there’s no doubt that the recorded figures are rising, or possibly even doubling, this is by no means empirical proof that the home ed community has actually doubled in recent years. The 2006 Education and Inspections Act required local authorities to identify children not receiving school education and the law was tightened again last year, requiring all schools (both independent and maintained) to notify the destination of any child leaving the school. So, more systematic record keeping will account for much of the apparent increase.

But there are more ominous factors hidden within the data, particularly for parents of children with special needs – a group of families which has shown a sharp increase in uptake of home ed. According to one head, the academy structure allows schools to subtly manipulate pupil selection to ensure that SEND children won’t be welcome. There is also off the record evidence (anecdotal but growing) of schools wanting difficult pupils removed in order to massage their performance and raise their position in league tables.

Other reasons for the increase are likely to be the growth of high quality online curricula and the availability of group support, all readily discussed on social media. Home ed is no longer a lonely affair or an academic struggle, as you swap the school gate for online and local communities. One commentator even observed a boomerang effect following the Badman Report, as parents became aware of the positive advantages of home ed following the media furore that it provoked. In terms of PR, it was a very spectacular own goal.

So, that answers the charge of doubled numbers. The article also labours on the apparent numbers who remove their pupils because they are at risk of exclusion. Yet the most recent figures available from one of the country’s biggest local authorities shows that just 2 parents gave this as their reason – that represents only 0.25% of home ed children. Hardly statistically valid, and only ten of the 189 councils in England actually mentioned it. Figures aren’t even available for parents removing their children to avoid fines.

According to one council, ideological or religious reasons are no longer the primary reason for home ed. In fact, extant data shows that about 15% of home educators are Christian and about 10% are Muslim, although this may not be the reason, or the sole reason, for opting out of the school system. Bear those figures in mind – and check out next week’s blog to see why they are significant in the ongoing argument.

So, what are we left with? A collection of stats which have been inflated out of proportion, masking the complex and nuanced world that is home education. And, inevitably, because no media article is complete without it these days, there’s the reference to illegal, unregistered schools and the implicit suggestion that home schooling parents harbour nefarious motives.

So, look again at the list at the head of this blog. Does it look like a bunch of feckless parents who can’t be bothered to educate their children properly? Or does it more like a list of caring, loving parents, some of whom make a positive choice and some of whom, driven to desperation by a system which has failed their child, no longer have any choice? To suggest that schools shouldn’t be troubled with picking up the pieces of damage which the system created in the first place insults their care as parents.

For Christian parents, there is an imperative in choosing how to educate their children. Deuteronomy 6: 6-9 says: ‘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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates’ (NIV). In other words, we should raise our children with the word of God as central to our understanding of the world. Psalm 127 also reminds us that ‘children are a heritage from the LORD’ (v3) and it is this understanding of being given the precious gift of a child that motivates parents who choose to home educate. Whether or not they acknowledge God as the source of life, they simply love their children and want the very best for them.

And ‘best’ is for parents, not the state, to decide.

 

 

 

 

PERSISTENT ALARM BELLS FOR HOME EDUCATORS

In October last year, in a blog titled We are the state: we are the parents I wrote about Graham Badman’s 2009 Review of Elective Home Education in England, the recommendations of which were soundly defeated in Parliament. It was almost immediately followed by the Ofsted report Children Missing from Education – a titled premised on the assumptions that education can only happen in school and parents who opt for an alternative are up to no good.

Next came the Local Government Association, asking for new powers to check on home schooled children because ‘any Elective Home Education 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 … It is unacceptable for any child of compulsory school age not to be receiving a suitable education’. So parents are definitely up to no good and they aren’t suitably educating their children who are lonely and isolated. Anyone who knows anything about the home ed community knows how far from the truth this really is.

But the desire to make everyone conform to central statute didn’t abate. In January, I blogged about the Casey Report which attempted to review educational opportunity and integration. It rang some significant alarm bells for home educators, using the same arguments that have already been defeated. Alan Wood is currently conducting an enquiry into the role of Local Authorities and home education is one of the areas which he is considering. It’s not difficult to work out what his conclusions and recommendations will be.

This week, a seemingly innocuous private member’s bill appeared in the House of Lords, brought by Lord Soley and introduced by Estelle Morris. Innocuous for two reasons – private members’ bills rarely make it onto the statute books and Lord Soley has a previous track record on the subject, not least via Lords of the Blog so this is merely an extension of previously expressed views. But in reality, it is far from innocuous.

In 2014, Diana Johnson introduced a private member’s bill on sex education. As expected, it didn’t go anywhere, but three years later, we saw far-reaching legislation on Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) sneeked into law using the Children and Social Work Bill as a Trojan Horse. The private member’s bill was just part of the normalisation process – raising the issue, provoking debate and testing the water.

And that is exactly what is happening here. The bill won’t go anywhere – Lord Soley knows that. But it is part of the softening process, a piece in the jigsaw which is designed to remove a parent’s right to educate their child as they think best. And the consequences are likely to be far reaching, with parents required to deliver on comprehensive RSE and PSHE regardless of their faith position. As my previous blog demonstrates, Ofsted judges that teaching our children about gender reassignment and sexual orientation takes priority over faith.

So what can you do? If you’re a parent, whether or not you home educate your child, write to your MP expressing concern about this bill. Say that it will remove from parents their legal right to educate their children according to their own philosophy. You might also draw the parallel between this bill and the Badman legislation, which was soundly defeated. Ask your MP to raise your concern with Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Education, so that the DfE can monitor the reaction. You can also keep track of what is going on via Facebook

In another context earlier this week, I was directed to Psalm 11. It asks: ‘When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ The answer is clear: ‘The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne’ (Psalm 11:3-4).