The Christian Legal Centre’s Roger Kiska comments on our response to the ‘Regulating Independent Educational Institutions’ consultation.
Independent education, particularly Christian schooling, is a staple of educational choice and religious freedom. It is with the importance of these two principles in mind that the Christian Legal Centre this week submitted its response to the Department for Education’s consultation on ‘Regulating Independent Educational Institutions’.
In recent years, in response to the growing influence of the equality agenda, both Parliament and the Department for Education have increasingly made independent education far less independent. Most recently, with the introduction of Relationships and Sex Education, Parliament has made the provision of relationships education mandatory in all primary schools in England, and relationships and sexual education mandatory in all secondary schools. The regulations also extend to independent faith schools, with the government going so far as to suggest that LGBT elements should become an integrated part of a school’s curriculum regardless of the religious character of the school.
It has also been the experience of the Christian Legal Centre over the last several years that independent faith schools are being aggressively inspected by Ofsted, many with little forenotice. In one instance in 2017, 10 schools were targeted on the same day, many of them downgraded from their previous designations as outstanding, and one of them even forced to close because it did not have the resources to fight for its existence. The fact is that there is no uniform inspection standard, and some inspectors enter Christian schools with either an anti-Christian bias or an ignorance as to the importance of moral beliefs to the integrity of Christian education.
The consultation essentially focuses on three proposals:
- The Department seeks to expand the regulatory powers of Ofsted to independent education providers currently not required to be registered regardless of what that institution is teaching pupils;
- It seeks to change the standard of review in courts for appealing de-registration decisions, making it much harder for independent schools to win their cases;
- It seeks the ability to de-register independent schools if they do not get prior permission to register material changes in the operation and management of the school.
Christian Legal Centre’s response
In responding to the consultation, the Christian Legal Centre pointed out the already deficient appeals mechanisms facing schools who have experienced a negative inspection report. Our response pointed to the lack of public confidence in Ofsted, parental concern about the increasing ideological slant of education and the importance of respecting both parental rights and educational freedom in relation to Christian education. We suggested that Ofsted first turn a mirror onto itself and get its proverbial house in order before seeking to further expand their scope of authority.
The law guarantees that public authorities like Ofsted respect the manner in which parents seek to raise their children in accordance with their Christian faith. In fact, the law designates this as a human right. The reason should be obvious. Parents, being the ones who love their children the most, should be primarily responsible for guiding the education of their children. This requires educational choice and respect for religious freedom. The more bureaucratic, controlled and over-regulated that right becomes, the less freedom parents enjoy.
The government itself admitted that the new proposal would likely have a negative impact on families who hold conservative religious beliefs, leading many to home educate as a result of possible school closures. It then somehow came to the counter-intuitive conclusion that the new regulations would nonetheless benefit parents of faith.
The truth is that the government should be supporting Christian education, not undermining it. The proposals put forth by the Department for Education, however well-meaning, will pose a serious existential threat to Christian education. It will also leave more Christian schools at the ideological whim of a muscularly secular and equality agenda driven inspectorate.
Christian education has played an important role in the United Kingdom, both historically and in the present day. It is time for the government to show educators and parents alike their appreciation for the contribution of Christian education, rather than their suspicion. Doing so would go a long way to easing the anxiety Christian families across the country are currently feeling towards the education of their children.