Tag Archives: Faith schools


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.


Damian Hinds was appointed as the Secretary of State for Education last week. The smouldering debate over faith schools also flared into flames again last week. The connection? Damian Hinds is a Catholic.

It took Humanists UK, outraged at the appointment of a person of faith to public office, less than 24 hours to get an article in the media claiming that the Catholic church, by supporting an intern, was guilty of ‘pernicious and deeply inappropriate political lobbying’ and that Damian Hinds was guilty of a conflict of interest.

It was a ludicrous claim, easily dismissed and widely ridiculed on social media. A range of organisations pay for interns to gain invaluable experience of political work: it is quite proper for the Catholic church to support a Catholic graduate to work alongside a Catholic MP. Damian Hinds followed protocol and declared the payment in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. So what is Humanists UK’s problem? Simply that Hinds is a Catholic. They can’t say so, of course, because that would breach the Equality Act.

The urgent concern of Humanists UK is that Damian Hinds might remove the 50% cap on faith school admissions, which currently prevents the Catholic church from opening any free schools. The cap removal was promised in the Conservative manifesto at the last election, but the pledge was broken soon after the Conservative government was re-elected and that was pretty much how opponents of faith education liked it. A consideration of the facts might help them to understand why lifting the cap could be a good thing.

The Catholic church would open between 30 and 40 new free schools if the cap was removed, creating between 15,000 and 20,000 new places. The growth of Catholic populations in some areas of the country, as a result of immigration, is considerable. A free school can only be opened where there is proven need and the pressure on places clearly demonstrates an urgent need. For the government this is much less about Catholic education than about not having to foot the bill for building new schools or finding 20,000 additional places in already overcrowded schools.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone, except those implacably opposed to faith education who are never going to send their children to these schools anyway. But because they don’t want them, they insist that nobody else should want them either. The arguments, of course, have to be political, because the Equality Act prevents them from opposition purely on the grounds of faith. So this is how their arguments run.

Faith schools create silos of segregation. The case of Northern Ireland is sometimes quoted in this argument. Except, of course, English society is not divided along sectarian lines and all schools are reflections of the communities they serve. Anyone accusing a village school serving farming communities, or a school teaching children from military families, of social segregation would be laughed at. Yet somehow it’s fine to level the accusation when it comes to faith.

Church schools proselytise and indoctrinate the next generation of society. Well, if that were true, churches would be full to overflowing every Sunday. Empty pews and falling attendance numbers in many churches show that young people are making up their own minds about faith and voting with their feet.

Faith schools unfairly take tax payers’ money. Parents of faith pay tax, too. In addition, their churches provide financial input to their schools which the government could simply not sustain from public funds.

Church schools bias their admissions in favour of middle class parents with sharp elbows. Read the Catholic Education Service’s recent census, which shows beyond dispute that Catholic schools serve some of the most disadvantaged children in society. Examine the figures for Church of England schools that faithfully serve the communities in which they are located regardless of social status. Of course there are parents who subvert admissions procedures in order to get their children into the school of their choice. But how is that any different from parents who move house in order to do exactly the same?

All these weary arguments will, no doubt, be given another media airing over the next few weeks. As a Christian, I find it encouraging that we have a religiously literate Secretary of State, in an age when rampant religious illiteracy roams the corridors of power at will. Instead of an Education Secretary who tells the church that it needs to get in line with modern attitudes on LGBT ideology, we hopefully have one who understands that churches’ teaching on marriage and identity is derived from the Bible, not public opinion.

The problem for opponents of Damian Hinds’ appointment is, of course, that they object to the presence of faith in the public square in any shape or form. An Education Secretary with faith raises the very real possibility that secular, liberal apologists will have to make space for the voice of faith to speak, too. Having worked so hard for so long to silence it, that must be a daunting prospect.

But here’s the most important point that the faith opposition lobby has to understand – they live in a democracy. The Department of Education loves faith schools. They said so this week in a statement: ‘We want to go further to ensure all young people have access to a good school place and we are keen for faith groups to play a key role in this. Many faith schools are high-performing and are more likely to be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted than non-faith schools.’ A third of all children in this country are educated in church schools, and many more who apply are unable to get a place.

So the government loves church schools and needs church money. Hundreds of thousands of parents (even those of no faith) love church schools because of the quality of holistic education that they offer.

It looks like opponents are tilting at windmills.


The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written a letter to parishes, challenging the thinking of Christians about the upcoming election.

Education features throughout their letter, acknowledging its significance in nurturing a strong, stable society and raising some relevant questions about our education service. They state: ‘If our shared British values are to carry the weight of where we now stand and the challenges ahead of us, they must have at their core, cohesion, courage and stability. Cohesion is what holds us together’. Education can be a powerful force for nurturing cohesion, but it shouldn’t be used as a tool of force. Instead of seeking to impose further centralised control over curriculum content, the government should be acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of our education service, the role that the Church has played in its formation over centuries, and the right of parents to choose the education which most closely matches their parenting values. Cohesion is not uniformity – cohesion is living at peace with difference and showing respect for fellow humanity. These should be the British values which we share in a pluralist society.

The letter calls for ‘education for all’. For this to be effective, it requires us to acknowledge that we are all uniquely created in the image of God, with different gifts, skills and aspirations. To achieve meaningful education for all which nurtures individuals and promotes human flourishing, we must stop the current ‘one size fits all’ approach to education. We should create an environment in which schools of all types, including Christian schools, can thrive without fear.

We are called to act with courage, which ‘also demands a radical approach to education, so that the historic failures of technical training and the over-emphasis on purely academic subjects are rebalanced’. It is time to reverse an education culture of constant high stakes measurement, which values nothing but results and predictions of future economic prosperity. We need to develop an education service which focuses on the holistic development of people. Careers education, for example, should be about reflecting on individual identity, values, interests, aspirations and ambitions, rather than measuring the effectiveness of careers education purely on consideration of maximising income.

The Archbishops further write: ‘To our concern for housing, health and education as foundations for a good society, we add marriage, the family and the household as foundational communities, which should be nurtured and supported as such, not just for the benefit of their members, but as a blessing for the whole of society’. Yet the new Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) requirements, made statutory in the Children and Social Work Bill that received royal assent this week, require schools to teach all relationships as being equal.

There is a growing body of evidence that children raised in stable families with two parents who are committed to each other in marriage are much more likely to achieve their potential academically, socially and personally. Yet despite highlighting the importance of marriage and family in the past, the government does not privilege them in any of the new policy proposals. Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, recently called for faith schools to reach ‘common ground’ with the LGBT community on sex education. Why? Faith schools should be allowed to genuinely teach according to the tenets of their faith. Further, the right of parental opt out should be extended across the whole of the RSE and Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) policies. To do otherwise is to open the door to state indoctrination on matters of morality and ethics.

Regarding the issue of assumptions of secularism, which now inform all education policy formation, the Archbishops state: ‘Contemporary politics needs to re-evaluate the importance of religious belief. The assumptions of secularism are not a reliable guide to the way the world works, nor will they enable us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives’. This is nowhere more evident than in the teaching of science. Government advice states that ‘Any explanation or theory which holds that natural biological processes cannot account for the history, diversity and complexity of life on earth and therefore rejects the scientific theory of evolution cannot be permitted in science classes’. This limits open consideration of a range of theories about our origins, including creation.

Finally, the letter raises the issue of religious freedom, positing that, ‘The new Parliament, if it is to take religious freedom seriously, must treat as an essential task the improvement of religious literacy’. The RE Commission, a non-statutory body, is currently gathering evidence with a remit to make recommendations designed to improve the quality and rigour of religious education and its capacity to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain. Any changes to the framework or policy must acknowledge the religious diversity of Britain, the distinctiveness of each faith, the right of parents to make decisions about their child’s involvement in religious education and the right of schools to determine curriculum in a local context. We must avoid the imposition of a centralised curriculum, which is the route to totalitarian control. It is also time to put an end to the practice of safe spaces and no-platforming in further education institutions which limit the rights of Christians to express their views openly in the public square.