It appears that the discernment of the present government is waning, for it is to bestow upon faith schools a new independent inspectorate which will supplant Ofsted. The new body – to be called ‘The Bridge Schools Inspectorate
’ - will be responsible for monitoring standards in the schools belonging to the Christian Schools Trust and also those belonging to the Association of Muslim Schools.
Presumably, Christian or Muslim schools which belong to neither will continue to be inspected by Ofsted, which will also be charged with inspecting the inspectors of The Bridge Schools Inspectorate. The argument made in support of the body centred on the need for inspectors to have a special appreciation of the curriculum, traditions and ethos of particular faith schools.
But a scheme which sends ‘religiously sensitive’ inspectors into religious schools is not what the country needs at this time, and it will lead to further religious segregation. While the objective is to ‘contribute to community cohesion’, the proposal is manifestly divisive, and will lead inexorably to Muslim inspectors inspecting Muslim schools, Roman Catholics inspecting Roman Catholic schools, Sikhs inspecting Sikh schools, and Jedi Knights ensuring a fair moderation process. It is noteworthy that a body called The Schools Inspection Service already inspects 26 schools affiliated to Focus Learning Trust (FLT), an umbrella organisation of the Exclusive Brethren. But this was established in quite a different era, before preachers of Islamism became synonymous with subversive views, treason and terrorism, and there is no compulsion to replicate the model to accommodate the present ‘sensitivities’ of other faith groups. Yet this is being deemed an appropriate model for dealing with the burgeoning number of faith schools, even though the Exclusive Brethren are not noted for their aversion to British culture or Western values.
It is true that the Independent Schools Inspectorate inspects most of the 1300 private schools which are affiliated to the Independent Schools Council, but these are set apart by their wealth, not by political or religious ideology. And what is there to appreciate about the curriculum of faith schools when the national curriculum is supposed to be taught by all schools in receipt of state funding? Or are they to be permitted opt-outs from the statutory requirements to promote the Christian faith and heritage of the nation, or the daily act of ‘broadly Christian’ collective worship? Is ‘Citizenship’ to be adapted to accommodate the views of those who wish to dispense with democracy and Parliament and adopt shari’a law?
The chairman of the Commons schools select committee Barry Sheerman MP said that some councils were finding it difficult to know what was going on in some faith schools - especially Muslim schools – and this somehow justified the new inspectorate. But why are they finding it difficult? Why can’t Ofsted carry out spot checks like they do in every other state school? Why can’t the LEA audit and monitor? The Sheerman justification is no justification at all; indeed, ‘specialist’ inspections may make the whole process even more opaque to the kaffir councillors.
Michael Gove MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (was a government department ever so clumsily named?) affirmed the Conservative Party’s commitment to faith schools, but stressed that it was important ‘to ensure that we build a society which is cohesive and make a success of diverse Britain’.
Quite how he intends to do this, he has not yet revealed.
But Cranmer wonders why the term ‘faith school’ only ever seems to refer to Roman Catholic, Jewish or Muslim schools. Why should Church of England schools not also be scrutinised by inspectors sensitive to their unique ethos?UPDATE
Cranmer has received an email from a helpful communicant relating Hansard on a recent debate between Mr Gove and Secretary of State Mr Ed Balls:
4 Feb 2008 : Parliamentary Debate Children, Schools and Families: Topical Questions
Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): Last week, the Department gave the Association of Muslim Schools, a group of independent Islamic faith schools, a new right to establish its own separate inspection arrangements, and according to its own website, the association has also received £100,000 in Government funding. But the association's deputy chair, Mr. Ibrahim Hewitt, the head of the Al Aqsa school in Leicester, is on record as saying that
"the word integration doesn't even belong in a true democracy".
He has also called
"political zionism a threat to world peace",
and said of
"zionist control of the media"
that there is no smoke without fire. He has objected to Holocaust memorial day, and he is the UK chairman of Interpal, an organisation under investigation by the Charity Commission following a "Panorama" examination of its links with Hamas. Against that background, does the Secretary of State not think that we need to be more, rather than less, rigorous in policing the growth of separatist Islamism in education?
Ed Balls: Of course we do, and that is why the inspectorate the hon. Gentleman mentions will itself be inspected by Ofsted and come under the tough rules in the Bill now before the House. It is revealing that when we published our children's plan in December, the hon. Gentleman did not make a single reference to any of the issues raised in it, and also that, although he is now publishing his own children's plan, he does not raise the issue of children's policy in the House. That shows what his priorities are.
Michael Gove: I am disappointed by the Secretary of State's partisan tone on this serious issue. We have faced the problems that I have described before. The King Fahad academy, which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) referred to, has used textbooks that describe Christians and Jews as pigs and monkeys, and Ofsted has acknowledged that it did not study the details of all the textbooks concerned. Indeed, of 606 visits by inspectors to Muslim faith schools, only 94 have been made public. The Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Committee has pointed out that we just do not know what is being taught in many Muslim schools. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that we have proper inspections by independent figures who are fluent in the relevant languages and aware of the ideological challenge posed by separatist Islamism?
Ed Balls: That is what our legislation is doing, and the Ofsted oversight of all inspection is the right way to achieve it. We cannot have different rules for different schools; they must all come under one legislative framework. On the instances raised of particular problems in recent months, we have taken action, and so has Ofsted; where action needed to be taken, it was taken. That is what independent inspection is all about. As I have said, it is very revealing that on the day that the hon. Gentleman publishes a flimsy document on children's policy, he and his colleagues have made no reference to it whatever.