- The results of the 2015-16 consultation on compulsory government regulation and Ofsted inspection of all out-of-school education settings, including Christian Sunday schools were published on 10 April 2018.
- The published summary of consultation responses inexplicably drew on just the 3,082 online responses to the consultation largely ignoring around 7,500 which were either posted or emailed. This raises serious questions in relation to the misuse of statistics, particularly as the published analysis admits that the latter were overwhelmingly negative to the proposal for compulsory regulation and Ofsted inspection of all out-of-school education settings.
- Even the 3,082 responses that were considered were overwhelmingly negative towards the proposal and also reveal consistent and widespread distrust of Ofsted.
- At the same time as this analysis of consultation responses was released, a separate set of measures was announced seeking to bring in similar regulation and inspection by alternative mechanisms including: how out-of-school settings can be regulated using existing legal powers, running pilot inspection projects in specific geographical areas, a voluntary code of conduct for all out-of-school education settings (covering not only child welfare issues, such as safeguarding, but also issues such as “governance” and “teaching”) and collecting of further evidence towards bringing in future legislation to “regulate” all out-of-school education settings.
- It is also stated that the justification for these polices is no longer concerned only with tackling extremism, but is to protect children from “all types of harm”.
- It is clear that Ofsted is viewed by a great many of those who responded to the consultation in one of the following ways: as not acting neutrally or fairly, suspected by many as seeking to impose partisan social liberalism, or as a significant threat to freedom of religion in the UK.
- For Ofsted, an organisation which was set up to be an impartial government regulator of school standards, the Department for Education’s own analysis of consultation responses makes devastating reading.
October 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans to require compulsory registration and inspection of all out-of-school education settings, in order to address concerns relating to the teaching of extremism in some mosque schools. However, he specifically stated that these proposals would also extend to cover undesirable teaching within any faith including Christian Sunday Schools:
“Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with children learning about their faith, whether it’s at Madrassas, Sunday Schools or Jewish Yeshivas. But in some Madrassas we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people…”
Speaking about extremism, he then promised to require all supplementary schools of all faiths to register, be inspected and be forced to close if the government deemed them to be promoting “intolerance”:
“If an institution is teaching children intensively, then whatever its religion, we will, like any other school, make it register so it can be inspected. And be in no doubt: if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down.”
26 November 2015, the government produced a proposal for consultation on how the policy should be implemented. The first 14 questions of the consultation were essentially a data collection exercise, asking respondents to provide information such as where supplementary education took place, how many children attend and for how long and what is taught. The questions that could more strictly be defined as consultation questions related to issues such as whether respondents agreed that six to eight hours per week represented “intensive education” and whether they agreed that settings meeting this threshold should be required to register with their local council.
The proposals met with very strong criticism from faith groups and MPs. Barnabas Fund produced a detailed response setting out three areas of concern:
a) the threat that the proposals posed to specific aspects of freedom of religion, highlighting that it would turn the clock back on freedom of religion more than two centuries to 1812, when the law requiring government registration of places of worship and religious instruction was repealed;
b) it would be impossible for the government to determine which out-of-school settings operated for six to eight hours per week unless registration of all out-of-school settings were made compulsory, regardless of how long children were present;
c) specific issues in certain mosque schools, related to physical abuse, due to the way some imams interpret a certain hadith (Islamic tradition).
Barnabas Fund delivered a copy of this report to the Education Secretary within 24 hours of the consultation being announced and released the report to the press a week later. The government then appeared to have shelved the proposal and did not publish the consultation after it concluded in January 2016.
1 February 2018, the new Chief inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, revived the proposal, announcing in a speech to the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational leadership in which she implied that “a small minority” of Sunday schools might be teaching “extremism”:
“That is why I am afraid to say it is a matter of regret that the Church has resisted changes in the law to allow Ofsted to inspect these settings. This is not about infringing religious freedom: no one is proposing a troop of inspectors turning up at Sunday schools. Instead, it is about ensuring that the small minority of settings that promote extremism are not able to evade scrutiny. If we are to protect many of the tenets that the Church holds dear, we need the power to tackle those trying to use education to undermine them.”
14 March 2018, the government published its Green Paper on community integration strategy with various sections prepared by different government departments. The Education section revived the idea of government registration and Oftsed inspection of out-of-school education settings and indicated that the government planned to run some pilot projects in certain geographical areas.
10 April 2018, the Department for Education published two documents: a) The first was a report on the responses to the consultation on compulsory registration and Ofsted inspections of out-of-school settings conducted more than two years earlier. b) The second document presented a “package of measures” intended to ensure children receive “the best possible education either at home or outside of school a series of measures”.
The consultation responses
The responses to the 2015-16 consultation on whether to introduce compulsory registration and Ofsted inspection of all out-of-school settings including Christian schools, makes devastating reading for Oftsed. The proposals were not merely overwhelmingly rejected by the vast majority of those who responded, but repeatedly referred to significant concerns and mistrust relating to Ofsted having been raised by many of those responding to the consultation.
Misuse of statistics
However, even more disturbing has been a disingenuous attempt to disguise the sheer scale of opposition to these proposals. More than 18,000 individuals and organisations responded to the consultation. Of these, 3,082 were submitted via the government’s online consultation website, approximately 7,500 were submitted equally legitimately by post or email and a further 7,500 expressions of concern were submitted in the form of petitions. However, in a quite extraordinary misuse of statistics, the 20-page summary of the consultation responses only deals in detail with the 3,082 online responses (whom it terms “respondents”) and merely summarises the remaining responses (whom it terms “correspondents”) on a single page. This is particularly concerning as that single page summary of the 15,000 “correspondents” admits that their primary concerns related to freedom of religion:
“The main themes from correspondents were similar to those raised in the online consultation response forms. The primary cause for concern was around the effect that the proposed regulation would have on out-of-school settings being able to exercise religious and other freedoms.”
It is also true, of course, that the restricted nature of the online consultation mechanism meant that organisations submitting the most detailed and well thought out responses were required to do so in other ways. Yet it is precisely these most detailed responses which have largely been excluded from the analysis.
Overwhelming rejection of the proposal
Even among the 3,082 online respondents there was overwhelming rejection of the proposal for compulsory registration and Ofsted inspection of all out-of-school settings.
- Only 4.5% of people had any concerns about any out-of-school education settings they knew of and “Of those respondents who raised concerns, most expressed them in broad terms about out-of-school settings as a whole or the potential for there to be concerns about activities taking place in such settings, while others took the opportunity to express concerns about the impact of the proposed policy to regulate out-of-school settings” (