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?’