The Coalition for Marriage has denounced new Government regulations for independent schools in England which are clearly aimed at compelling schools to promote same-sex marriage, regardless of the wishes of parents or teachers. This measure provides the latest evidence of the insincerity of the Cameron government in claiming that rights of conscience would be respected when marriage for homosexuals was forced onto the statute book.
These coercive provisions are contained in the new Independent School Standards regulations which change the legal framework for academies, free schools and private education. This means that they target a total of 6,238 schools. The number of pupils enrolled in academies alone amounts to 2,423,535, so millions of schoolchildren, teachers and parents will be affected by this new imposition. Ofsted has been charged with enforcing the same minimum standards on all other schools.
The Coalition for Marriage has published an analysis of the new provisions, accompanied by detailed advice from a senior QC consulted by the Christian Institute. This latest aggression by social engineers in a supposedly Conservative-led government is ominously significant, even historic, in that it crosses a red line never before violated by introducing state interference in the curriculum. Even Labour never went as far as that in its social engineering mania.
In supposed respect for that convention the school curriculum was excluded from the provisions of the Equality Act. Now, however, these new regulations will trample down that tradition of political neutrality in the curriculum in English schools. Regulation (b) (vi) introduces a duty to “encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 (a)”. Note the weasel language regarding “protected characteristics”. Nobody has any problem with pupils being taught respect for other people – they have long been instructed in that duty in religious knowledge classes, civics lessons and in the home.
But respecting “protected characteristics” defined in the most un-British piece of legislation ever passed is an entirely different matter. It involves ideology rather than people. One of the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act is sexual orientation. The regulations assert a “new requirement for schools to actively promote principles which encourage respect for persons with protected characteristics” with the intention of allowing the Secretary of State to take regulatory action in various situations, including “failure to address homophobia”.
Colin Hart, Campaign Director of the Coalition for Marriage, observes: “As we know from recent history, reasonable opposition to same-sex marriage is routinely described as ‘homophobia’.” He asks if a school must discipline or dismiss a teacher who voices support for traditional marriage and whether parents of prospective pupils will be interrogated about their beliefs before their child is granted a school place. Such totalitarian inquisition is already practised with regard to fostering and adoption.
The sinister term “actively promote” was defined in the Government’s consultation document: ” ‘Actively promote’ also means challenging pupils, staff or parents expressing opinions contrary to fundamental British values.” Anyone who thinks that is simply aimed at jihadist sympathisers is sadly deluded. “Fundamental British values”, in a Government context, bears no relation to the traditional ethos, beliefs and standards of mainstream Britain; on the contrary, it is coded language for political correctness.
This blueprint for indoctrination further insists that in future private schools must conform to “national norms” rather than the expectations of parents. So much for independent education. If this is the climate of enforcement that will prevail in the independent sector, what kind of Stalinist Thought Police can we expect to rule over state schools?
The QC’s opinion commissioned by the Christian Institute, another body alarmed by this interference with academic and moral freedom, quotes a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights: “The state is forbidden to pursue an aim of indoctrination that might be considered as not respecting parents’ religious and philosophical convictions. That is the limit that the states must not exceed.”
The British Government prefers to “challenge” parents. They should accept that challenge and respond, most notably at the ballot box. Some of them took the opportunity of doing so on Thursday. It beggars belief that this offensive against the ideological impartiality of the school curriculum, traditional marriage, parental authority and freedom of speech results from an initiative by a so-called Conservative Prime Minister.
Now we know just how “free” the Tories’ free schools are intended to be. Independent education is an oxymoron when the intruder State attempts to enforce its progressive prejudices on pupils and teachers. We are being herded along a road well trodden by totalitarian dictators before. How long before we arrive at the Orwellian destination where pupils are indoctrinated with the slogan “Be a good citizen – report your parents”? Debauching the school curriculum is an aggression too far by Dave’s PC social engineers.