One of the jewels in the Church of England’s educational crown is the Sir John Cass Foundation and Red Coat School in East London. Its Ofsted status as “outstanding”, however, was downgraded to “inadequate” in November 2014. The school was placed in “special measures” for failing in its duty to safeguard the children in its care. During a snap inspection visit, the church secondary school was discovered to be failing in its duty to protect pupils from Islamic extremism.
The school had, previously, been warned by the police about the online activities of its in-house sixth form Islamic society. To no avail, it seems! In effect, the school was found to be party to the promotion of radical Islam. It has since remedied this particular failing and recovered its “outstanding” status.
It is far from clear, though, that the Church of England has learnt much from the debacle. Its commitment to Islam has now grown so strong that it has announced its desire to end the right of parents to withdraw their child from religious education lessons. It is the belief of the Church that the importance of this fundamental human right is outweighed by the need for all pupils to be taught about the Koran and the Prophet. This is giving to Islam a status that has never been enjoyed by other religions, including Christianity. Other religious beliefs do not merit enforcement.
What on earth is going on? The Church of England promotes its educational “vision” as being to “enable every person to flourish in the widest sense”. Taken at face value this seems a benign intention. But, the path to hell, of course, is too often paved with benign intentions and, sadly, here we have another example.
The best one can say for the Church is that it is guilty of massive naivety. Possibly, it really does believe that schools will always be neutral in their presentation of Islam. This flies in the face of both common sense and the evidence. It is not only the so-called Trojan horse schools that have used teaching about Islam to radicalise youngsters.
In November 2015, at the time of the terrorist massacres in Paris, the Times Educational Supplement’s “Teaching Resources” website was promoting this model lesson on Islam:
“Give three good reasons for joining Isis. Seen from the point of view of a victim, of course, it is atrocious. But how do you think it is when seen from the point of view of a soldier of the faith? Isn’t it rather a challenge, rather a good way of getting to be important? Rather fun being awarded some female slaves? And you are one of the good guys too!”
Pupils were asked to ‘”write a short defence of Isis’s behaviour” and were directed to the website of the Isis in-house magazine to find out more about Isis.
It is clear from my own experience and from correspondence I receive as Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, that this encouragement for pupils to empathise with extremism and terrorism is widespread. Indeed, Circular DFE-00679-2014 (“British Values”) requires schools to promote “mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faith and belief”. This is an open invitation for teachers who are so inclined to give the same weight and value to the views of terrorists as they do to the victims of terror. It is all about so-called ‘respect’, as they say! It is at the heart of the Church of England’s justification for wanting to force all children to learn about Islam regardless of their parents’ wishes.
While it is desirable that children have a knowledge of a range of religions, it would be folly to cut off the escape route parents currently have via the right to withdraw their child from RE lessons. Even if we regard biased and radicalising RE lessons to be the exception, it is for these very exceptions that the right of ‘opt out’ must be retained. Subverting the rights of parents will, inevitably, produce an anti-Islam reaction that is the very antithesis of what a well meaning Church of England wishes to achieve.