Our Head of Education, Steve Beegoo, comments on the new Schools Bill, mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
The government has now published its latest schools bill, referenced in the Queens Speech. It is the first major piece of legislation for the sector for six years, and is an attempt to address a number of issues around ‘raising standards’ and ‘safeguarding’.
Although it is understood that the sons and daughters of our nation should have every opportunity to be well educated, the School’s Bill, amongst some laudable elements, highlights a disturbing continued trajectory to greater state interference and oversight through government bodies with increasingly unaccountable legal powers.
Increasing numbers of cases are arising where schools with a religious ethos are being challenged by Ofsted to promote and celebrate ideologies opposed to their faith. Many are concerned as to the lack of accountability of Ofsted, and its growing power. The Positive Ofsted Reform group has emphasised this in its campaign, highlighting that it currently cannot be trusted. Recent targeting and decisions which defy belief, in the public domain, are evident in cases such as at St John Fisher, Mechinoh School, or Ampleforth College.
We have inspectors failing schools on no other grounds than their lack of LGBT promotion and celebration, using their unopposable ‘judgement’, without any realistic ability for the school to appeal against decisions being made. And yet the government wishes to give them increased police like powers.
What can be considered as a ‘school’ is also being watered down, so that the term ‘independent educational institutions’ is being used. Ofsted already have powers of surveillance on locations, especially where they suspect illegal schools, with protection from prosecution for such covert observation without consent. They are already able to inform the police of any criminal activity they observe, but will now be given more power to act themselves. They already have powers of entry, but it is proposed, should the bill be passed, that:
“…inspectors will gain a new power to ‘search’ for evidence of suspected criminal activity…where evidence could be hidden in locked cabinets or password protected computers, out of inspectors’ legal reach.”
We understand Biblically that every son and daughter of our land is the Lord’s and has been entrusted as a gift to parents to steward and educate. The state does not see children as sons and daughters, but as units of the state – children. Children who must conform to the values of that state. And so questions should be asked when a government, for reasons of ‘safeguarding’, says that children should be registered in this way. A register which facilitates all home educated children, being visited and inspected, regardless of whether any safeguarding concerns have been raised. The stated aim is that:
“Other safeguarding powers in the bill include a new legal requirement for local authorities to maintain registers of children not in school, helping make sure no child gets lost from the education system.”
The ‘education system’ is sadly rife with safeguarding issues and peer-on-peer abuse. Ofsted have instructed all schools that they must assume sexual abuse is currently occurring in their school. Very rare cases of home educated children being badly treated have been accentuated, to justify a local authority register to gain more control, so as to potentially send their sons and daughters into the ‘safer’ local school.
Local Education Police
And so the bill provides the real prospect, already beginning to be experienced, of the more regular appearance of Local Authority staff to the homes of those on a new register. Those who normally robustly deal with unhelpful families with truanting children, or who are safeguarding sensitised, will be assessing the thinking of Christian parents and deciding whether ‘suitable’ education is being given, on pain of being served with a school attendance order.
Already, we know that unaccountable school inspectors, as education police are having training underscoring the ‘intolerance’ of those with traditional religious beliefs, and are not taught how to respect and tolerate all the protected characteristics cited in the Equality Act. In practice the promotion and celebration of characteristics of sexuality and gender trump those of religion. How might these local inspectors of the home be chosen and trained?
As the details of the Bill, published on 12 May, are digested, Christians should pray for wisdom for our government. We are called to pray for those in authority that we may live “peaceful and quiet lives.” However, where their authority over our sons and daughters, our homes, and where greater power is unaccountable, without the normal checks and balances, we should clearly raise our objections and concerns.
Our push back since 2015 on the potential regulation and inspection of Sunday Schools and holiday clubs appears to have abated looking at the recent proposals, because Christians collectively raised their voice. Here at Christian Concern, we will monitor carefully how this Bill progresses through parliament.
Please encourage anyone you know in education to sign up to our Christian Concern weekly emails and alerts at christianconcern.com/sign-up/