Committed Christian Nicky Morgan can’t wash her hands like Pontus Pilate over new punitive school regulations
Blink and you might have missed it. On Tuesday, Secretary of State for Education Mrs Morgan tried to distance herself from the new anti-extremism school regulations that she only introduced last month.
With the words, “…this is clearly a matter for Ofsted and they are investigating as to exactly what was said to the school and I think that we would all agree that the fundamental British values of respect, democracy and tolerance are shared by all schools and all people of all faiths”.
She tried to wash her hands of them because of the negative publicity that they are now generating.
Chief among these bad headlines has been the threatened downgrading and possible closure of a small Christian school in Reading. Ofsted inspectors said they were planning on marking down the school, previously rated as “good”, because it didn’t have other faith leaders, including Imams and Rabbis, running their assemblies.
Other examples of these absurd regulations include the case of St Benedict’s Roman Catholic School in Bury St Edmunds. The school is one of the best performing in the region. Lastyear it tied for first place in national league tables in theproportion of pupils going to Oxbridge. But it has been downgraded for not tackling “radicalisation”.
The Ofsted report said: “…the younger students show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation…” and “…it is not made clear how all students are prepared for life and work in modern Britain…”
Or a Church of England primary schoolthat was told that teaching about Eid and Diwali was not enough and that they were failing to “celebrate the rich religious and cultural diversity within the school”.
This school was also warned that “too few opportunities are available for pupils to develop a comprehensive understanding of the risks associated with drinking or smoking”. Children at the school are aged between three and 11.
And it’s not just Christian schools that have been targeted by the Ofsted’s PC brigade, who, after all, have a woeful track record of spotting serious misconduct.
Nine-year-old girls in an orthodox Jewish primary school were humiliated by being asked by Ofsted inspectors whether they were integrated, how babies are made, and whether they know any gay people.
One year 11 girls said persistent questioning about other religions “made us feel threatened about our religion… We felt very bullied”.
No wonder the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools complained that they are seeing a worrying trend of Ofsted inspectors showing a lack of respect for the values and traditions of their community.
And how does forcing a Christian school to have an Imam lead assemblies, or asking nine-year-old girls how babies, are made actually stop extremism? The truth is they don’t and won’t.
What is particularly troubling is that these problems were all predicted. Lawyers and many hundreds of independent schools, academies and free schools wrote to the Department urging caution and advising that the wording of the new regulations, using the ambiguous phrase “national norms”, could be misinterpreted.
Indeed a number of MPs have lobbied the Secretary of State about this issue, so to try to claim that the problems now being reported are all the fault of a few over-zealous Ofsted inspectors is disingenuous at best and a wilful attempt to mislead at worst.
It is not Ofsted that closes schools. Inspectors act as the judge, not the executioner. Thatdubious honour resides with Department for Education. Yes, the very same Department “run” by Nicky Morgan.
So the Pontius Pilate-like approach to these regulations by the Secretary of State simply won’t wash. Ofsted can’t change the regulations, nor will an advisory letter from Mrs Morgan to this government agency solve the problems. The law and regulations supercede these.
The only credible option is therefore to suspend the regulations and then engage with schools, parents, and yes, even the teaching unions, to make sure that new rules arebrought forward that will actually target extremism while protecting religious liberty.
And if Mrs Morgan fails to do, it will be yet another blow against those of faith, especiallyChristians in this country who are increasing faced with intolerance by officialdom and ridicule by the Liberal elite.