The Church of England’s opposition to the inspection of Sunday schools has made it harder to tackle extremism, the Ofsted boss claimed today.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of the schools watchdog, said it was a “matter of regret” that the Church of England had resisted plans that would have allowed Ofsted to inspect out-of-school settings – like Sunday schools and madrasas.
Groups that promote extremism outside of school will be able to continue evading scrutiny unless the law is changed, Ms Spielman warned attendees of the Church of England’s education conference today.
Speaking to church school leaders today, Ms Spielman called for legislation to be altered to allow Ofsted to tackle these groups through greater scrutiny.
She said: “These institutions, some of which operate as illegal schools, use the opportunity to – in the words of the former Prime Minister – put ‘poison in the minds, hatred in hearts’ of young people. They need to be tackled.
“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.”
It is understood the proposed changes to the law would have required out-of-school groups teaching under-19s for more than six hours a week to register with councils, leaving them open to Ofsted inspections.
Ms Spielman added: “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.”
Despite the negative comments about the Church of England, the Ofsted boss did recognise in her speech “the major and very positive contribution” that church schools play in the sector.
Responding the chief inspector’s comments today, Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, insisted that they supported “tackling potential extremism in out-of-school settings including, potentially, through targeted inspections”.
A Department for Education (DfE) consultation on out-of-school education settings – which proposed allowing Ofsted to inspect such groups – was launched in November 2015.
“We did have concerns over proposals in 2015 which, at the time, could have ensured that everything down to village Sunday schools might have to be registered,” Mr Genders admitted.
But he added: “We have worked closely with Government since then, and are happy to go on working them on any proposal that would target areas of concern rather than imposing a new burden of bureaucracy across the board.”
The Government’s response to the consultation, which closed more than two years ago, has still not been published. The DfE told the Independent that the outcome of the consultation would be “available in due course.”
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