Tag Archives: British values

THE CASEY REPORT: ALARM BELLS FOR HOME EDUCATORS?

Home education is growing in popularity in England and Wales – current estimates suggest that around 40,000 children are home schooled, although only half of that number are known to local authorities. It’s an option favoured by many Christian parents and historically, their right to make this choice has been respected. As long as provision is suitable (and local council inspectors can make an ‘informal enquiry’ to ensure suitability) parents are trusted to educate their children as they wish. But this might all be about to change, following recommendations in the recently published Casey Report.

Article 2 of Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that: ‘In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’ The right to home educate is further reinforced in the 1996 Education Act which states that: ‘The responsibility for a child’s education rests with their parents/carers’ although provision must be ‘suitable’ and ‘efficient’. The term ‘suitable’ was defined by Mr Justice Woolf in case law in 1985 as being an education that ‘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’.

An attempt was made to bring home educators under the firm control of the state in 2009 – it failed then, but the climate is very different now, and secular campaigners have very cleverly woven anti-faith sentiment into the fabric of concern about safeguarding and social cohesion. A new review of local government provision has been ordered and Alan Wood has chosen to consider the role of local authorities in monitoring home education as one of the strands of his investigation. The mantra now is that the state should know where every child is and what they are being taught to ensure that it complies with British values. So the proposal is that all children not in school must be registered and that local authority inspectors should have right of access to the home to interview children without their parents present.

That might seem like a good safeguarding idea on the face of it, but it’s the product of wilfully confused thinking. Illegal, unregistered schools and home education are not the same thing, however much the state might choose to assume that they are. It gives to local authority inspectors powers of entry to your home which are currently only available where criminal activity is suspected – police officers with search warrants or customs and excise officers.

And for Christian parents, that is alarming, given Louise Casey’s definition of religious belief. She says that for those for whom ‘religion is very important in their daily lives … there appear to be some who are keen to take religion backwards and away from 21st Century British values and laws on issues such as gender equality and sexual orientation’. Any Christian who does not embrace the liberal, progressive views of society is, in her view, creating segregation.

Casey recommends not only that home educators should be registered, but that the government ‘should also consider the standards against which home education is judged to be clear that divisive practices are not acceptable in any setting’. In other words, Christian parents who, in their own homes and churches, teach their children that our universe is created by God; that we are designed as male and female, and that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, are harming their children and sowing the seeds of social division.

In her appearance before the Communities and Local Government Select Committee last week, Casey spelt out what she meant by this saying: ‘it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage … it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities.’

Should alarm bells be ringing for Christian home educators? On this evidence I think they should. Liberal, progressive values are sweeping our society like a tidal wave, taking all dissent in its wake. Home educators, Christian schools and churches should take notice – join the liberal, progressive form of religious practice lobbied for by anti-faith groups and so readily espoused by the state, or lose your right to raise and teach your children in accordance with biblical truth.

 

CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS AND THE SECULAR AGENDA

In June of last year, I wrote a response to the criticism of a group of Christian schools. Several of the schools were due for Ofsted inspections, and I ended the blog with the words ‘Watch this space…’ suggesting that outcomes would ‘probably be determined solely by the current social orthodoxy… even at the expense of denying parents their right to educate their children “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions” ‘. And that is exactly what has happened.

During a two day period in October, 10 schools within the group were simultaneously inspected, in each case by an HMI, even though previous inspection categorisations were mostly good or outstanding. The behaviour, courtesy and respect of pupils was of particular note, as it was in this recent series of inspections. Nevertheless, the outcomes, as I suggested, reflect the government’s agenda of imposing its one-size-fits-all agenda on all schools, regardless of their size and ethos. Here’s the odd thing – very little has changed in these schools since their last inspections, yet they have fallen to ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Requiring Improvement’ even though they are doing nothing different. It’s an anomaly that the press was quick to spot, drawing the logical conclusion that Ofsted is picking on Christian schools.

The reports show some odd anomalies, too. One school was penalised for the lack of pupil-only toilet facilities, yet many new school builds force teachers and pupils to use the same toilets. Have these schools been similarly penalised, or was Ofsted looking for an excuse?

The provision of high quality careers advice is raised in some of these reports, and this has caused problems for Christian schools in the past. There are two issues here. The first is the capacity of a small school to provide careers advisers. The other issue is more fundamental. The current philosophy of careers advice is focused entirely on providing information about access to wealth creating employment. But for Christians, life is about being the person God created and gifted us to be. That may, or may not, involve higher education and a lucrative career, but any schools falling short of promoting this are being censured at inspection for failing to prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain.

Inspectors also appear to have taken an undue interest in the science curriculum, particularly the teaching of evolution. Why was just one small strand of the curriculum the focus of so much attention? And in all the schools visited? There was clearly a pre-determined agenda and Ofsted seems unaware that it is still legal to teach about a creator God.

After the publication of the reports, things became a little clearer. The Independent ran an article containing its previous content, together with allegations about historic abuse, before proudly claiming that the Ofsted inspections were as a direct result of their investigation. Since when did Ofsted schedule inspections at the behest of the media?

Former pupil Jonny Scaramanga is calling for a specific inquiry into ACE schools, saying that the inspections ‘do not go far enough’. Is he an HMI? Was he at each of the schools inspected in order to deliver this as a professional judgment? Or does he just have an axe to grind, seeing an opportunity to carve out a career in criticism?

And finally, there’s a huge question mark hanging over the role of the British Humanist Association in all of this, with its support of former pupils who claim that ACE schools espouse ‘a fundamentalist, creationist, homophobic, and misogynistic Christian ideology’. The website states that ‘The British Humanist Association has met with the Department for Education on numerous occasions to bring these issues to its attention’, apparently claiming success for having finally provoked action against ACE schools. Since when has a small anti-faith campaign group been able to influence government policy?

Can the government not see what’s going on here? There is a clear agenda, written by the BHA and a couple of former disgruntled students. After some sensational (but largely evidence free) promotion by a single journalist at The Independent, the Department for Education has responded. It is not the first example of the whistle-blowing mentality that is now so popular at the DfE. And those blowing the whistles are believed, with no thought given to the fact that they might be embittered, opposed to Christianity, or just plain wrong.

Ofsted is supposed to be an impartial judge. The Department for Education has been appointed by a democratically elected government with a responsibility to fairly represent all citizens, regardless of belief. The right of parents to teach their children within their community is enshrined in law, even when the values of that community are not consistent with those of wider society.

So why are Christian schools being kicked into touch by the government purely on the say-so of some disgruntled former pupils, a journalist with an axe to grind and an anti-faith campaign group? The Department of Education has some serious questions to answer about its attitude to the role of faith in contemporary society, parental rights in education and the neutrality of Ofsted.

HOSPITALITY: A VERY CHRISTIAN VIRTUE

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.