Heavy-handed measures could stop schoolteachers running youth groups

By Colin Hart, Director of the Christian Institute

The idea of having an Ofsted inspector sitting in on your church youth group or Sunday school to see if you are an extremist is, I have to say, highly offensive. It would represent an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion in our country.

We do understand the reasoning behind these plans. There are thought to be a small number of settings where violent Islamist ideology is promoted to children. A targeted, intelligence-led approach to protecting children in such circumstances would be uncontroversial.

Serious risk

But there is a serious risk that the universal approach suggested in the DfE consultation will capture vast numbers of moderate and mainstream religious activities, such as traditional Sunday schools, confirmation classes, choir practice, bell ringing and performing nativity plays.

All of these meet the Department’s suggested criteria for what constitutes an ‘out-of-school’ educational setting. The church running these activities will pass the six-hour threshold cumulatively where they involve, as they often do, the same children.

It is vital that the Department considers the real problems that this heavy-handed over-reach will have on the volunteers who run the majority of these sorts of activities. Thousands of school teachers give up their free time to assist in such events. I fear many will withdraw out of concern that false allegations against their church could put their careers at risk, since the same regulator will be assessing them in their professional role.


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