Steve Beegoo, Christian Concern’s Head of Education comments on the potential impact of the Schools Bill.
Could Jesus finally be expelled from schools in the UK? The Schools Bill has many concerning elements as we have raised in recent articles on Ofsted powers and Home Education. The removal of Jesus Christ from any place within schools is now a further danger.
When schools in the UK began, they were all Christian; churches began the schools. The 1944 Act allowed the state to take control and to fund staffing and buildings, but there has continued to be a requirement for Christian worship and Christian teaching in all schools since that time.
As Christianity, and the commitment of churches to children in school has waned, so has the quality and delivery of a Christian witness in our state schools. But the requirement to have a majority of the Religious Education teaching to be Christian, and for there to be daily acts of Christian worship, has remained, for schools to be called up to.
Many still do make much effort to speak of Jesus Christ in state schools, and these laws help them to do so. All schools are still required by law to have a daily act of collective worship which is Christian. The Schools Bill promotes changes to the laws and the local structures which embed Religious Education in the timetables of our schools. Will teaching and worship of Christ cease in our schools? Will Jesus finally be expelled?
The academisation program introduced over the last 15 years disrupted the Local Authority system for overseeing and supporting schools, with the introduction promising greater autonomy, and even a greater share of finances. Many Christians engaged in starting free schools in this developing new system and opportunity, but many schools also maintained their Christian ethos and values, remaining within the Local authority structures and Church of England diocesan structures for Voluntary Aided and Voluntary Controlled schools.
The Schools Bill will require all schools to become academies, and all academies to become part of large Multi Academy Trusts (MAT), which may or may not hold Christian values. State schools with a Christian heritage may be overseen by governors and trustees within such MATs who have no love for Jesus Christ. Free from the laws on Religious Education and collective worship, the schools in these trusts can leave behind for good the Christian foundations and teachings on which they were built. It has already been shown that 50% of Academy schools without a religious character do not meet their legal or contractual requirements for RE.
The Secretary of State and the Department for Education would receive sweeping new powers given the bill. These powers include the ability to intervene in MAT decision making processes, further undermining local governance, and local determination of staff and especially parents.
When the White Paper was first published, the education, ecclesiastical, and charity team at the solicitors Lee Bolton Monier-Williams LLP advised their clients, which include dioceses: “Beneath the surface of this paper lurks the most fundamental change in the structure of school provision in England since the Education Act 1902.”
The powers being given to the Secretary of State exemplify this, and commentators are using the adjective ‘totalitarian’ more and more to describe them. If one person at the top decides Jesus should be expelled, the law may not allow schools the freedom to readmit him.
The humanists are very active in bringing amendments which could confirm the expulsion of Jesus. Thankfully their initial efforts have been rebuffed by the government, but a large number of politicians are being lobbied by, and are lobbying for, an aggressively secular perspective on how children should be taught. Christians must recognise what is at stake, and point to the Christian heritage, traditions and laws which have been the foundation of our British society. A society built on the principles of the Bible. Schools built on ‘values’ that have no Biblical foundation will produce children with no moral foundation. Secular atheism should not replace our Judaeo-Christian heritage. ‘Inclusive’ assemblies, should not replace Christian worship and teaching.
The registration and potential imprisonment of those who do not want their children in such schools is also proposed in this bill. There are dangers to the freedoms to learn at home about Jesus Christ, away from an unsafe and unchristian school, as the home educating community is well aware. The freedom for teachers and school leaders to keep Jesus Christ in their schools is under threat. As these freedoms are challenged through the debate around this bill, may we use our freedom to inform our politicians of the issues at stake, and shape a law which strengthens the presence of Christian teaching in schools. May Jesus not be expelled.