20 July 2016
Continued uncertainty over government plans for Sunday schools
Readers may have seen recent newspaper reports, citing a Westminster source, that the government is planning to change its proposals for the registration, regulation and inspection of out of school settings (OOSS) – known by many as 'OfSTED in Sunday School'. According to such stories the government will reportedly no longer require settings such as Sunday schools to register, as had been previously suggested.
The Alliance remains extremely cautious of any reported assurances until the government formally responds to previous consultations in both England and Wales. Notably, the article suggests that OfSTED will gain the power to inspect Sunday schools and other church groups 'if there is reasonable cause'. The question of whether 'reasonable cause' is linked to specific allegations of criminality or vague terms such as 'fundamental British values', 'emotional harm', 'undesirable teaching' and 'non-violent extremism' is central to the concerns of many church leaders who fear that ministries could be subject to vexatious complaints.
In any event, the Alliance has always maintained that the registration of OOSS was superfluous and disproportionate given that the overwhelming majority of staff in churches and voluntary groups are already registered with the government via the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The Alliance would also encourage any churches who do not have safeguarding procedures in place to do so, and if in need of advice contact the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service.
Viewed another way, the reported change of government position could amount to an expansion in the scope of the proposals. If OOSS no longer needed to register with the state, it appears difficult to see how the registration threshold of 'intensive education' – six to eight hours cumulatively for a given child in any week – is necessary. In other words, a small church group which operated well below the six to eight hour threshold may have previously been outside the scope of Ofsted but may now be subject to a 'reasonable cause', howsoever defined, inspection.
The Alliance is concerned that the proposals as currently outlined potentially amount to the state regulation of religion and may inadvertently create state approved beliefs and practices across social, ethical and religious issues.
Commenting on the proposals, head of public policy Simon McCrossan said:
"These plans are misconceived. Churches make a vast and valuable contribution to our society, and all church-based activities must have the freedom to teach the core tenets of their faith to young people.
"This will include the Christian commitment to biblical truths about Jesus, his death and resurrection, or about the origins of life. It will also cover attitudes towards relationships and sexuality, and therefore could easily become the target of activists trying to disrupt the valuable work and mission of the Church.
"Consequently, these plans need to be abandoned otherwise they risk further pitching one section of society against another."
The Alliance continues to campaign upon this issue and urges members to pray about this issue and if able, contact your MP using the form below.