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Genders: Ofsted should only inspect out-of-school classes where extremism concerns are highest

09 February 2018

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THE Church of England has not resisted Ofsted inspections of out-of-school classes, its chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said this week. But inspections should be “targeted” where there were particular concerns about extremism, rather than imposed across the board, he said.

On Thursday of last week, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, told the national conference of the C of E’s Foundation for Educational Leadership that “the Church has resisted changes in the law to allow Ofsted to inspect” out-of-school classes, such as Sunday schools. There were some out-of-school settings that “need to be tackled”, she said, because they “put ‘poison in the minds, hatred in hearts’ of young people”.

“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.”

After the speech, Mr Genders said that the C of E did “support tackling potential extremism in out-of-school settings, including, potentially, through targeted inspections”. It had raised concerns, however, “over [government] proposals in 2015 which, at the time, could have ensured that everything down to village Sunday schools might have to be registered.”

Since then, the C of E had “worked closely with the Government, 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”.

Speaking to the Church Times on Tuesday, Mr Genders said: “We made it extremely clear [in 2015] that the state’s responsibility should be to keep people safe, and if there were reasons for concern along safeguarding and health-and-safety lines, then there is already legislation to deal with that. We were not resistant to that in any way. We were simply saying that the way to ensure that wasn’t by creating a new version of bureaucracy.”

The Government should “focus on intervening where there is genuine cause for concern”, he said. “We do not want to create a bureaucratic burden, which will not help. What is needed is to ensure there are targeted interventions.”

He said that the Church told the Government at the time that it was “not the state’s role to tell any voluntary group what it should believe”, and that the Church wanted to avoid state control of religious expression.

“There still needs to be an ongoing conversation between the Church and the Government,” Mr Genders said. “We do not want to see the state intervening in the Church, or, indeed, in any religion.”

Ms Spielman used her speech to call on school leaders to promote “a muscular liberalism”, which “holds no truck for ideologies that want to close minds or narrow opportunity” in their schools.

“Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education,” she continued. “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.”

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