Are Ofsted inspections of Sunday schools really the answer to tackling extremism?
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Are Ofsted inspections of Sunday schools really the answer to tackling extremism?

We are living in turbulent times. A fact that the all-too-recent devastation in UK reminds us of only too well

“The Counter-Extremism Strategy says that out-of-school religious institutions teaching children would be forced to register so that they can be inspected.

“Let us be clear: we strongly support Government efforts to defeat terrorism. Any terror attack should lead us to pray. The Bible also tells us in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for “all those in authority”.

However, an outcry by Christians over plans to register and inspect Sunday schools is forcing the Government to “tread carefully” over the matter earlier in this year.

“The British Government consulted on giving Ofsted legal power to investigate any setting in England that provides instruction to children for more than 6 to 8 hours in any week. The consultation closed on Monday 11 January 2016.”

Ofsted in Churches

Many churches will be caught because children can attend multiple events in one week. In addition to Sunday school, a particular child could also attend a baptism or confirmation class, choir practice, and even a youth group. The time across all groups will be added together (‘aggregated’) to give the total time a child spends under instruction by the church. One-off events such as holiday Bible clubs would also be counted.

“Breaches could lead to groups being closed down or individuals being banned from working with children.”

If a child may exceed 6 hours’ attendance every week, or just for some weeks of the year registration is triggered in both cases. This results in all activities, including the Sunday school, being subject to potential ongoing inspections.

We are concerned that these misguided responses to extremism threaten to take away vital freedoms from law-abiding people, and seriously undermine the religious liberty of Christians.

Equality Oath

The Government and Parliament have an extremely difficult job ahead. There is no doubt that Islamist terrorism poses a very serious threat.

We strongly support efforts to combat terrorism and the ideologies which underpin it, but it is vital that the Government’s political response is focussed on the root cause of these attacks and that Christian freedoms and the civil liberties of innocent British citizens are not jeopardized.

The Government before the election was considering introducing an ‘Equality Oath’ that doctors, social workers, teachers, and other public office holders would be forced to swear, pledging to uphold ‘British values’.

But forcing people to sign up to a particular Government’s view of equality would be dangerous and illiberal. Sections of the press have already warned that it would deny the right to dissent.

Ofsted Inspection U-turn

“Christians have already been urged not to celebrate Sunday school inspection u-turn too soon.”

Simon Calvert, deputy director for public affairs at the Christian Institute, said:

“If the government wanted to go ahead with some kind of regulation and inspection system, it could do that without the need for a counter-extremism bill. We have to be on the alert.”

A Whitehall source was quoted by the Observer newspaper as saying the bill was “sinking without a trace” and it’s understood the proposed legislation will be quietly set aside.  A Home Office spokesperson said: “Legislation to tackle extremism is being considered within Government. We will consult fully on any legislation before it is introduced.”

‘Keep Historic Freedoms’

Christians need to contact their MPs and urge them to defend the historic freedoms this country was built on.

In the year ahead let’s do as the Bible says and pray for “all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”.

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