What a difference a year makes in modern Britain if you are a religious school. In yesterday’s article I suggested there may be a secret plan to neuter or close all religious schools in the UK. One of the affected schools has now released more information about what they have faced. Trinity Christian School is a tiny, independently run school which takes no money from the government. In November 2013 it received the following commendation on its first Ofsted visit:
The provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is excellent. Every care is taken to provide pupils with plentiful opportunities to enhance their spiritual understanding and development through the biblically-based curriculum and daily Christian assemblies that are in keeping with the ethos of the school. As a result, pupils develop good levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. They learn well from biblical stories. They celebrate Christian festival days such as harvest thanksgiving and learn about different cultures and appreciate diversity, for example, through their close links with a school in Zambia and contacts in the local community. They are currently preparing for a concert in a local care home. Pupils are well prepared for life in modern, multicultural, democratic British society through the teaching of the Christian principle to ‘love thy neighbour’ as found for example in the teaching of the biblical story of the Good Samaritan. Pupils gain a practical understanding of public institutions and democracy though educational visits, for example to Windsor and through visits from the local fire brigade and local community nurses. They are making good progress in their personal development and in their behaviour. (Source: Ofsted Report.)
No major concerns were raised throughout the report, and indeed the school achieved a ‘good’ grade which is perhaps impressive for a first inspection of a new school. This year, just days after the passage of the new regulations we discussed yesterday Trinity Christian School received a very different kind of inspection. There as of yet is no report on the Ofsted site for this visit, but I have obtained with permission to share here a copy of an open letter they have sent to the Department for Education (DfE). (Source: Trinity Christian School letter.) The 7th October 2014 should have been a routine inspection, focused on the simple question of whether the school should be allowed to educate older children. Instead, the school reports that the inspection team had a razor-like focus on whether the school achieved the following:
5(a) “actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. 5(b) “ensures that principles are actively promoted which – (vi) encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010”.
Apparently at no point were the kind of broader, curriculum based questions the school were expecting addressed. According to the head teacher, the Inspector expressed doubt about the schools continued existence stating:
- That representatives of other faiths should be invited to lead assemblies and lessons in order for the school to demonstrate compliance with the Standards;
- That evidence needed to be provided, including within the curriculum, that the school “actively promoted other faiths”;
- That the school should actively promote the principles of the Equality Act 2010, that pupils must learn about people with protected characteristics and that the school must not give a viewpoint that certain lifestyles are wrong. Nor should the school promote a particular lifestyle; and
- That the promotion of a principle, namely the Christian principle that all people are equal before God and have inherent dignity as human beings, was not enough to demonstrate Paragraph 5(b)(vi).
After this inspection the school reports, “We have since received an Advice Note from Ofsted stating that the school does not meet the new requirements for the spiritual, moral social and cultural development of pupils.” The school explains in their letter, that the way these regulations were being interpreted and applied during the inspection would prevent them from following their founding charter:
We cannot understand how such a change in thinking can take place within a year. It is an explicit aim of ours to encourage pupils to serve and respect other people, appreciate different cultures and ideas and equip them for life in society. But the comments made by Ofsted, as a result of the new regulations, undermine our aims and would prevent us from teaching in accordance with our Christian foundation.
It would seem that religious schools are welcome to be schools as long as they are not religious. How can a religious school “actively promote” another faith, or be expected to have religious leaders from other faiths leading acts of worship? Of course schools should teach their children about other faiths, but that is different from actively promoting them, and very different from not being allowed to express their own religious beliefs. The very nature of all religious beliefs is that they imply that other religious beliefs are incorrect. It is not “tolerant” to ban the expression of religious beliefs. It is not tolerant to say that the only people who are allowed to be religious in the modern world are those who reject the exclusive faith claims of their religion in order to “actively promote” all faiths as being equally valid. There seems to be no understanding here of the difference between a private opinion that a person may have that their own faith is the correct one, and a desire to love and respect people from those other faiths. I would not expect a Jewish or Muslim school to “actively promote” the viewpoint that Jesus is the Son of God and rose from the dead. I would like them to teach that Christians believe that. But I would be very happy for them to teach their children that they believe that viewpoint to be wrong. If I was a governor or head teacher at a religious school whether independent or state-sponsored I would be very concerned today.
Is this the beginning of the end of freedom of religion in the UK?
An Ofsted spokesperson said:
“The independent school standards are set by the Department for Education. Inspectors must check that independent schools follow these. The standards have been strengthened since this school was previously inspected in November 2013. One of Her Majesty’s Inspectors visited the school at the request of the Department for Education and found it had further work to do to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.
“Ofsted did not threaten the school with closure and has no powers to close schools.”
A DfE spokesman said:
“If the school is concerned about the conduct of an inspector or that an inspection is faulty, it should follow Ofsted’s formal machinery for raising those concerns. The department will consider the Ofsted report when we receive it.”