At the beginning of the summer a row erupted between the Department for Education and the Christian Institute.
The source of this argument is surprising because the Christian charity is bitterly opposed to the new rules being forced on all independent schools in the wake of the Trojan Horse school enquiry.
Why would this group seemingly champion the rights of schools in Birmingham to reflect the views of their Muslim parents and the beliefs of the majority of children who attend them?
Well firstly, there now appears not to have been a plot, with the Trojan Horse letter widely seen as a fake. There certainly was systemic managerial failings at these schools and these manifested themselves in the bullying of Christian and other non Muslims, along with the imposition of a faux sharia code.
No one seeks to justify or apologise for this wrong-doing. These practices were deplorable, never should have been allowed to develop and those responsible must be held to account and, yes, this includes losing their jobs. The teachers and other staff knew such conduct was unacceptable and those who say otherwise have no place in the teaching profession.
But the Government’s Draconian response is even more dangerous because, buried in the consultation documentation on the new rules, is the plan to strip parents of the right, along with the school, to set the ethos of the institution. Even more sinister is the proposed insertion of the rule that schools will actively have to teach and promote “National Norms”, but then the Department fails to explain what they are.
It is this innocuous phrase that has led the Christian group to threaten action against the Government because in the future national norms will be set by the Department for Education and will presumably change at the whim of both the uber-PC civil servants or the Secretary of State…I’m not sure which is worse.
I mean, a national norm might be that England are not very good at football and while we the fans are passionate and devoted, we are also frequently disappointed – Or perhaps, just perhaps, it might be far worse.
What if national norms are really cover to force every school to teach and promote the liberal Left’s pet subject multiculturalism or the views of every tiny minority group, even when they oppose and despise our religious heritage.
Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter could be stripped of their religious meaning for fear of offending other religions, while teachers and schools that back traditional values would run the risk of being downgraded by Government inspectors. In the worse cases, schools not unlike the PM’s beloved Eton, could find the 600-year-old practice of Chapel on a Sunday in breach would of these national norms and therefore scrapped.
These measures would equally apply to Jewish, Muslim and even schools that dogmatically push a secular curriculum. National norms would destroy the individualism in the current system, applying to all free schools, academies and fee paying schools, but not ordinary state schools. That’s right LEA controls schools would not face this level of state control and interference.
And it’s not just that the independent schools, some 6,000 of them, face losing control of everything that makes them different; they were given just a few weeks to respond. A fact the Department dismissed, claiming that teachers were given plenty of time and ample opportunity to take part. The fact the consultation took place during the summer holidays was also dismissed. You see teachers should not have holidays as they must respond to every diktat and piece of paper issuing forth from the DfE.
The irony of the official position was exposed to critics when, in an astonishing display of brass-neck, Government lawyers said they could not respond to the Christian Institute’s lawyer in the specified time since they were short-staffed because it was August.
No, this latest power grab by the Government must be resisted. Removing the power of parents to set and control the core beliefs of their children’s school, including those which are not funded by the State, represents the most significant power grab since before the introduction of the national curriculum. Coupled with the botched consultation process, it is clear it is not just morally wrong but quite possibly illegal as well.
Let’s hope the new Secretary of State recognises the dangers of pressing ahead with these proposed new regulations and calls a halt to them before it’s too late.