The Church of England has said that Ofsted’s head, Amanda Spielman, was misinformed when she accused it of obstructing plans to tackle extremism. Ofsted is calling for powers to regulate out-of-hours religious schools which would include Sunday schools. The church’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, told The Tablet he had spoken to Ms Spielman since her address to a Church of England education conference last week in which she remarked that it was “a matter of regret that the church has resisted changes.”
Ms Spielman, who is the chief inspector for schools in England, told delegates at the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational Leadership annual conference that they had in effect blocked Ofsted’s efforts to increase its powers of investigation: ”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.” Ms Spielman said it was “hard to think of a more British institution than a Sunday school", but warned “some other out-of-school settings operate less benignly." She recalled how a government plan to require all groups caring for children for more than six hours a week to submit to inspection was dropped in 2016, following an intervention from religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and a group of cross-party MPs.
The Church of England insists it is not resisting inspections of out-of- hours school settings to combat extremism and that it supports “targeted interventions.”
Revd Genders said the “blanket regulation” and powers of inspection that Ofsted is calling for are a massive burden, unhelpful and ineffective: “It would be creating a massive haystack and never being able to find the needle.” He argues there is confusion over the issue of tackling extremism because a distinction needed to be made between voluntary church settings and illegal schools. He stressed that the church wanted to work with the government to keep children safe and if they have got concerns about particular settings “they should intervene.” But, he added: “It’s not for the state to tell churches how to behave or to get into state regulation of religion.”
He said that following his conversation with Ms Spielman “we’ve agreed to continue to talk and work with Ofsted and the government.” He added: “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. 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.”
PICTURE: Amanda Spielman, Ofsted ©PA