LONDON, February 2, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The British government’s schools inspector has closed two Christian schools and threatened others in its zeal to enforce new guidelines to combat “extremism” and promote “British values” in religious schools that it sees as inherently “homophobic.” Christian and Jewish school leaders are complaining of a string of such incidents in recent months. They say it is a case of the government using the threat of Islamic extremism as a pretext to impose a heavy-handed secularist and homosexualist agenda.
Since October 2014, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED), has launched a series of surprise checks on Christian and Jewish schools. Most recently, Durham Free School and Grindon Hall say they face closure by Easter after having their funding pulled by being placed on the “special measures” list for failure to comply with new guidelines.
The watchdog accused the schools of failing to inculcate “British values” in the areas of students’ “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.” OFSTED issued new guidelines in September to help schools protect students from “possible extremism.” OFSTED updated its standards following the so-called “Trojan Horse” scandals in Birmingham. The news came out last year that local Islamist organizations had been infiltrating the school system to attempt to indoctrinate children into radical Islamist ideologies.
In a public statement January 20, Grindon Hall principal Chris Gray, wrote, “Playing politics with the new regulations on ‘British values’ is not acceptable and does little to help our children prepare for life or achieve good exam results.” Gray added that despite having made a formal complaint over a month before, they have heard nothing from OFSTED.
Gray said that the manner in which government inspectors questioned students and teachers was “hostile, inappropriate and raises serious safeguarding issues.” Parents had complained that their children were subjected to “intrusive and deeply personal questioning . . . in group sessions,” including questions to primary school children about what they knew about lesbianism, Gray added.
Inspectors made it clear with their questioning that the school was expected to “force pupils to celebrate non-Christian religious festivals.”
“This would breach our Christian foundation which stipulates that we are a Christian school. It would certainly offend against the consciences of many of our staff, pupils and parents. No one should be told by a government official to celebrate any religion. Learn about it, yes. Celebrate its festivals, no.”
In October, Trinity Christian School in Reading fell foul of OFSTED’s “British values” standard, a week after the guidelines were issued. John Charles, chairman of the board of governors of Trinity Christian School, a Church of England school, in a letter last October to Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, said OFSTED is using the Trojan Horse incident to bully religious schools.
OFSTED’s new “British values” standard comes in paragraph 5 of the guidelines published September 29, 2014. The sections say schools must “actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”; and “ensure that principles are actively promoted which … encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010.”
Trinity alleges that OFSTED’s inspection was conducted under false pretenses. The inspectors were expected on October 7 and were to determine whether Trinity would be allowed to expand the school’s services to younger grades. Instead, inspectors “focused predominantly” on whether the school was in line with the new standards for “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” that had been put in place only a week before.
“At no point were any questions asked about other aspect[s] of the curriculum or the quality of teaching assessed through lesson observations,” Trinity’s letter said.
Instead, the OFSTED inspector told the school they were likely to be closed because they had failed to invite “representatives of other faiths” to “lead assemblies and lessons,” and there was no evidence that the school had “actively promoted other faiths.”
They were told that the school “should actively promote the principles of the Equality Act 2010,” that focuses on homosexuality. “Pupils must learn about people with protected characteristics” and the school “must not give a viewpoint that certain lifestyles are wrong,” nor “should the school promote a particular lifestyle.”
Trinity was told that the Christian principle “that all people are equal before God and have inherent dignity as human beings” was not enough to demonstrate compliance.
The tiny Durham Free School, which has just over 90 students, seems to be a favorite target of the political left. This week, the school is demanding an apology from Labour MP Patricia Glass, who told Parliament the school is “a haven for every crap teacher in the North East.” When teachers and parents vociferously defended the school, which they say is a haven from the kind of bullying common in state schools, Glass apologized for using “unparliamentary language.”
The Christian Institute, which is defending the Christian schools, says inspectors asked 11 to 13-year-olds at Durham Free School, “Have you had ‘The Talk’?” and “How have you learned how to make a baby?” One boy reportedly did not know how to answer the question, “What is a Muslim?” resulting in him being labeled a “bigot” because he had mentioned terrorism. In addition, OFSTED inspectors reported that “standards are low and progress is inadequate,” and “students’ achievement is weak.”
The Daily Mail quoted Petrina Douglas, a parent governor of Durham Free School, saying, “It feels like the school has been made a scapegoat. Durham [county] is primarily white British so knowledge of other cultures is not as prevalent. But I don’t think the children are bigoted.”
In response to questions by an Education Select Committee of MPs, OFSTED head Sir Michael Wilshaw denied claims that inspectors’ questions had been inappropriate, and defended the questions about “homophobia” at the school.
“If you approach a child and say ‘Is there homophobic bullying?’, they wouldn’t know what you are talking about,” Wilshaw said. “But, if inspectors say ‘Are children calling each other gay here or lesbo here?’ – they would understand what that means.
“And there was very, very bad homophobic bullying going on in these schools.”
In October, OFSTED was forced to issue a public statement denying that it was bullying students at Orthodox Jewish schools. The Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools said their students were left “traumatised and ashamed” after OFSTED inspectors had grilled them about sex and “gay marriage.” The Association issued a statement saying the inspectors were “asking pupils inappropriate and challenging questions, many of which fall outside the religious ethos and principles at orthodox Jewish faith schools.”
The Jewish News reports students feeling “threatened about our religion” after the inspectors quizzed them about homosexuality and whether they had friends of other religions. “They asked this many times until we answered what they wanted us to say. We felt very bullied.”
The Association’s director, Jonathan Rabson, said, “This confrontational approach by inspectors is a worrying trend never been seen before in the UK Jewish community. We fear it suggests a shift in policy towards faith schools.”
In response to the complaints from the Jewish schools, OFSTED’s Chief Operating Officer HMI Matthew Coffey, defended the inspectors’ line of questioning, saying they “use age-appropriate questions to test children’s understanding and tolerance of lifestyles different to their own.”
“OFSTED is not looking for answers to questions which are contrary to their faith, simply that they are able to express views which are neither intolerant nor discriminatory towards others. This is vital if we are to make sure young people are ready for life in modern Britain,” Coffey said.
Rabbi Nessanel Lieberman, a well-known Orthodox Jewish school head and one of OFSTED’s own inspectors, accused the watchdog of attempting to impose a “hodge-podge of Left-wing ideals” on the pretext of fostering “British values.” The Daily Mail quotes Lieberman telling the National Jewish Education Conference for Primary School Teachers in London this week that OFSTED has an “agenda” to attack faith schools because they do not conform to the leading liberal secularist ideologies.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said that though everyone wants to see the threat of Islamic extremism dealt with in schools, the government’s guidelines are worded so broadly that schools are being “unreasonably chastised for reflecting their Christian ethos.”