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England and Wales eduction regulator and religious division in schools

Editorial Staff

The Chief Inspector of of OfStEd (the Office for Standards in Education), the education regulator in England and Wales, has said that head teachers must be allowed to make rules for the benefit of the entire pupil body and must not bow to pressure from minorities and that religion must not be used for purposes of division, and that the young must be protected from indoctrination in religious schools of all faiths.

Amanda Spielman says that she is concerned that there is a danger of spreading religious fundamentalism and intolerance when religious dress creates differentiation amongst, especially, young children.

In a speech delivered yesterday, Mrs Speilman said "tolerance and respect does not mean that we should privilege all belief above criticism. Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education. Under the pretext of religious belief, they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology. Freedom of belief in the private sphere is paramount, but in our schools it is our responsibility to tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values or equalities law.

"Rather than adopting a passive liberalism that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence, schools leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism. That sort of liberalism holds no truck for ideologies that want to close minds or narrow opportunity. Occasionally, that will mean taking uncomfortable decisions or having tough conversations. It means not assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone – imagine if people thought the Christian Institute was the sole voice of Anglicanism. And it means schools must not be afraid to call out practices, whatever their justification, that limit young people’s experiences and learning in school.

Church schools must not, in their entirely correct goal of promoting tolerance, shy away from challenging fundamentalist practice when it appears in their schools or communities. The experience in Sir John Cass School a couple of years ago should serve as a warning for what happens when they do not. Similarly, schools must not allow pressure from certain elements of school communities to dictate school policy, nor should we allow vocal parental minorities to pressure other parents and children to act or dress against their wishes. Giving way to the loudest voices is the opposite of tolerance.

"On that note I want to put on the record my full support for Neena Lall, the Headteacher of St Stephen’s school in Newham, and her leadership team. Schools must have the right to set school uniform policies as they see fit, in order to promote cohesion. It is a matter of deep regret that this outstanding school has been subject to a campaign of abuse by those who want to undermine the school’s position. Yesterday my inspectors visited this school and spoke to the head, staff and pupils as well as parents. We will of course publish our findings from that visit in due course. But in the meantime, I do want to be clear, Ofsted will always back heads who take tough decisions in the interests of their pupils. On that, I hope we are not alone, and that others in local and national government, and the Church of England or other religious authorities where relevant, take steps to ensure schools have the support they need in these difficult situations.

"It should go without saying that the concerns I am raising here are not about mainstream Anglican practice in our schools, nor for that matter most mainstream Jewish or Muslim practice. But it is undoubtedly true – and books we’ve found displayed in schools encouraging husbands to beat their wives are a sorry testament to this – that there are segments of particular faiths who are determined to use our schools to promote beliefs and practices that are an anathema to British values."

The full speech, as delivered, is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/...