The Church of England has hit back at the government for imposing a “narrowly focussed” set of ‘British Values’ on schools in the wake of the Trojan horse scandal. The measures are designed to combat Islamic extremism but could instead target Church of England schools for being insufficiently multicultural, or for providing a traditional British education.
The comments came from Fr. Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s head of education, who has responsibility for a quarter of all British primary schools and around one million pupils, in an article criticising the way so-called ‘British-Values’ are being imposed through “policing” the school system.
Genders said the introduction of the new rules had been rushed, and required more discussion than had been possible over the last summer if the government was to get an accurate picture of what ‘British values’ actually are.
Regardless, the new ‘British Values’ set by London-based politicians and civil servants are being enforced but appear to be at odds with the values held by many ordinary people outside of the M25, as the recent experience of one Christian school shows.
The unnamed school in Reading, Berkshire was failed by school inspectors and potentially faces closure because they have not invited an Imam to address the school assembly or lead lessons, and was therefore failing to promote “acceptance and engagement” and “tolerance and respect of all faiths and cultures”.
Simon Calvert of the Christian institute said of the threat to the school, which had previously been rated as ‘good’ by the government: “Worryingly, evidence is already emerging of how the new regulations are requiring Ofsted inspection teams to behave in ways which do not respect the religious ethos of faith schools… the new requirements are infringing the rights of children, parents, teachers and schools to hold and practise their religious beliefs”.
Fr. Genders said that while the Church fully supports schools teaching “the values of tolerance and respect for those coming at things from a different perspective”, he believes that these government mandated values “cannot be allowed to become a test or an assessment of whether somebody in a community is ‘safe’ or ‘loyal'”. Genders said that policing the school system in this way would lead to alienation and a feeling of rejection by some groups, and that “extremism thrives when religion is banished to dark corners”.
The article quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby who recently addressed a conference of educators who said of Church schools: “The way that commentary around ‘Trojan Horse’ has made it sound as if schools with a religious character are a problem. That’s simply not true and that fact seems to need a lot of repeating: no church schools or faith-based schools were caught up in ‘Trojan Horse’. We are the solution, not the problem. That needs saying really quite regularly.”
A recent Church report on the government’s new rules criticised the “narrowly focussed” set of values now prescribed, and said it lacked some key British values including “loving your neighbour”, the importance of dissent of the sort shown by the people who campaigned to abolish the slave trade, or repeal the corn laws, and a commitment to the “common good”.
The report said: “By assuming the power to decide what reasonable or unreasonable behaviour is in our education system, the Secretary of State would be taking very wide powers for herself and her successors and closing down the broader public debate across communities and schools themselves.”
The Church is in many respects the nation’s longest standing educator, and controlled many of the nation’s schools for centuries, and began to provide access to education to a broader section of society long before the government decided to become involved. The state merely picked up what the church had began, said Genders: “The Church of England started mass education more 200 years ago, by providing schools across the land, especially for the poor and disadvantaged, some 50 years before the state joined in.”