Resistance rises to government's Sunday School control plan
By: BOB UNRUH
The British government apparently is dropping a long-held plan to inspect Sunday Schools and other educational organizations in favor of a "voluntary code of practice" to protect children from "extremism."
However, those values include a pro-homosexual and pro-Muslim agenda. Schools that don't teach a favorable view of lesbianism, for example, or Christian schools that don't invite Muslim imams as guest speakers, are failing to teach "British values."
Amid significant opposition, the government said it has decided "not to pursue the model proposed in our call for evidence but instead intend to develop further the evidence base for a national approach, including future legislation where gaps in existing powers are identified."
The U.K.'s Department for Education now says only a "small minority of settings" likely need government oversight.
It will, however, work with local authorities "to demonstrate the benefits of multi-agency working, and share best practice on different ways of working together."
And it plans "a voluntary code of practice ... to set out clear standards for providers, explaining what they need to do in order to run a safe setting."
The non-profit Christian Institute, which had opposed the proposal, said "churches will not be inspected as part of government attempts to counter extremism."
The monitoring effort was largely a response to the influence of the growing Muslim immigrant population on public education.
The plan, the institute said, had been to inspect any entity where instruction was provided to children for six hours a week or more. The government, facing opposition, called for comments from the public.
"Some 18,000 people responded to the call for evidence in total, expressing doubts about OFSTED's ability to inspect settings such as churches and questioning the vague 'British values' definition," the institute said.
"According to the official consultation report, 75 percent of those who responded using the government's questionnaire said OFSTED should not be able to investigate out-of-school settings," the report said.
"Respondents who disagreed with this question expressed concerns about OFSTED's capacity, expertise and neutrality in dealing with such settings," it said.
A major concern was that the government would end up regulating religious teaching, without need, since "existing laws are already in place to tackle issues raised in the call for evidence."
In 2016, the Christian Institute, CARE, Christian Concern, the Evangelical Alliance and Lawyers' Christian Fellowship called for the government to scrap its controversial out-of-school settings proposals.
Institute Director Colin Hart said then: "Christians are justifiably alarmed at the prospect of OFSTED conducting 'British values' inspections of church youth work. The freedom to proclaim the Gospel, and indeed our wider civil liberties, must be protected, not undermined in the name of 'counter-extremism'."
The government repeatedly had expressed concern over the "unregulated" teaching going on at "out-of-school" settings.
In the public comments, three of four residents didn't even agree with the government that a child attending events from six to eight hours per week qualifies as "intensive education."
The same percentage opposed demands that "out-of-school" educational entities register with the government.
Members of the public also criticized the government for vague definitions of "fundamental British values," expressing concern they could be twisted to prohibit mainstream religious teachings.
The report noted there already are many rules and regulations in place to protect children, and improvements always are possible.
The program had been in the headlines in 2015, when a Christian school whose students were grilled by "hostile" government inspectors about lesbianism was given the lowest possible rating, even though its students regularly achieve among the highest test scores in the region.
The principal of Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland said the treatment was motivated by anti-Christian bias.
"We are proud of our school and its staff. We have a Christian ethos which our parents love. We have happy, high achieving pupils, and we are oversubscribed - we always have a lot more applications than we have places," Principal Chris Gray said in a statement released to supporters after the government condemnation of the school.
Nevertheless, Gray said, OFSTED's treatment of the school "was negative at every stage, as if the data collected had to fit a predetermined outcome."
John Bingham reported in the London Telegraph at the time that the inspectors who visited Grindon Hall engaged in questionable behavior.
"They are said to have pressed primary aged girls at Grindon Hall Christian Schoool, in Sunderland, on whether they knew what lesbians 'did' and if any of their friends felt trapped in the 'wrong body.' They also allegedly questioned children as young as six about their knowledge of Hindu festivals and the Jewish Torah as part of a special inspection."
The new government rules had been prompted by the nation's "Trojan Horse" scandal, in which hard-line Muslim groups infiltrated and essentially took over schools in Birmingham, imposing Islam on the public school classes. The rules introduced by Nicky Morgan, the nation's education secretary, were intended to promote "British Values," including tolerance and democracy.
The students there, the institute said, were "severely shaken" by inspectors' demands for answers to questions about sex.
It was an inspection of the Yesodev Hatorah school in London that triggered the reaction.
Rev. Giles Fraser, writing for the Unherd website, said the school regulator, OFSTED, has "failed to understand the most basic feature of their own values: respect and toleration." Phillips, in the Jewish Chronicle, said the government was being "profoundly intolerant" in its effort to "eradicate" religious differences.
Fraser noted the Jewish school's values are distinct from the establishment secular view, "not least when it comes to sex education."
OFSTED inspectors, however, he said, "obviously came with a fixed agenda, they wanted to talk to the girls about sex."
The Christian Institute noted the students said the process felt "like an attack," and one parent said their daughters "came home severely shaken" after the OFSTED visit.
Phillips accused the government of trying to eliminate religious differences.
"A policy ostensibly against intolerance is therefore itself profoundly intolerant," she said.
And Jews are "paying the price" of efforts to target the threat from Islamic terrorists.
"To the secular mind, all cultures that reject liberal assumptions are an equal threat," Phillips wrote.
The school doesn't provide sex education because "this is contrary to the Charedi value of extreme modesty."