All faith schools must actively promote British values
Faith schools must follow rules that “actively promote” fundamental British values, such as tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles, and law, Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, warned on Sunday. The Department for Education, however, dismissed any suggestion that schools would be forced to teach gay rights against their will.
Guidance on new rules introduced by Michael Gove, Morgan’s predecessor, after the “Trojan Horse” controversy in Birmingham, will be issued to private schools, academies and free schools this week. The rules give inspectors power to censure schools that do not conform to the Equality Act, which encourages respect for lesbian, gay and transgender people, and other religions and races. Ofsted has made snap inspections of 40 schools, including Christian and Jewish institutions, following the Trojan Horse affair. The inspections have already led to complaints and demands that the rules be revoked. Schools inspected recently claim they have been penalised for not celebrating enough festivals of other faiths, not giving children sex education lessons, not teaching them to be tolerant of homosexuality and not inviting faith leaders to speak at assemblies.
Morgan, however, told the Sunday Times it was “crucial” that Christian and Jewish schools, as well as Muslim ones, followed the new rules, which require the promotion of fundamental British values, such as tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles, democracy and the rule of law.
Morgan is a committed Christian who last week revealed that she now supports same-sex marriage – having previously voted against it. She said: “Schools should broaden horizons not close minds … and should encourage pupils to respect other people, even if they do not agree with them. I should have thought this is a principle with which the vast majority of people would agree. All schools, of whatever type, have a duty to protect young people and to ensure they leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain.” She added: “These values – democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs – are not new. The requirement to ‘actively promote’ them is designed to reinforce the importance this government attaches to these values.”
A high-profile Jewish school for girls in Salford last week was punished downgraded from good to inadequate by Osted inspectors for failing under the new rules. Following a no-notice inspection, Beis Yaakov secondary school was placed into special measures.
The inspection report said there were “major gaps in students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Students are not provided with sufficient opportunities to learn about or understand people of other faiths or cultures.
“The school does not promote adequately students’ awareness and tolerance of communities which are different to their own. As a result, the school does not prepare students adequately for life in modern Britain.”
But the DfE dismissed as “complete nonsense” the interpretation that Morgan’s remarks meant faith schools would have to teach gay rights. A DfE spokesman said: “It is complete nonsense to say that schools are being forced to ‘teach gay rights’ against their will.
“Ofsted are rightly ensuring that schools do not indoctrinate pupils about gay people – or any other people – being inferior. The same goes for schools that do things like make girls sit separately at the back of the class. Both are practices which go directly against the fundamental British values of tolerance and respect.
“We believe schools should prepare all pupils for life in modern Britain. A broad and balanced curriculum is vital for this.”
Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, criticised the DfE for tweeting: Nonsense to say schools ‘must teach gay rights’. We want schools to teach broad curric based on British values.
“Nicky Morgan clearly does not believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are British values. They are. Compulsory sex and relationship education, including LGBT rights, in all schools is common sense, not nonsense,” he said.