Sunday Schools and Government Inspections. #politics #religion

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There has been some discussion over the English Department of Education policy for Out-of-school education settings: The policy is part of the UK Governments counter extremism policy. You can read the call for responses to the policy which includes the policy proposal and some questions the Government are wondering about here. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/480133/out_of_school_education_settings_call_for_evidence.pdf

What is this policy about?

That’s a great question. It’s a policy which fits with the UK Governments wider PREVENT strategy, (that’s a policy to tackle terrorism and extremism). As part of that the government is going to “work to reduce the risk that children and young people are exposed to harm and extremist views in out-of-school education settings “ (p6).

Why target out-of –school education situations

Well schools are regulated, and harmful practices are ways to get the school closed or teacher involved barred from working with children and young people, and out-of–school provision is not (p6).

And they are dangerous?

The government is saying OFSTED (the English schools inspection body) and Local Government bodies are making the case that they need to be checked out. Highlighting concerns over the Health & safety of premises, also “There have been reports of unsuitable teaching materials being used, and evidence that no suitability checks are being conducted on staff to ensure children are safe” (p6). The make an example of the so-called Trojan schools in Birmingham, UK.

That sounds Bad. What are unsuitable teaching materials?

While discussing good out-of-school settings they say:

We want these settings to continue to provide children with learning opportunities whilst putting in place a system which enables intervention in those cases where out-of-school settings fail to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. It is right to expect children to be in a safe environment and somewhere which does not teach children views which undermine our fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs (p7).

So an unsuitable teaching material would be something which is undermining our fundamental British values. Democracy, the rule of Law, Individual Liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. Do we get to vote on those fundamentals are the British fundamentals, or are they just decided for us and put into law by the government?

They are decided for us by the government. In a very democratic way which we should respect.

Quite. So okay I think what we do at our thing like Sunday school just about gets through, how does the policy work when and if it comes into practice.

As you are in Scotland and it is a policy for England, you do nothing.

What if I live in England. (this is on the world-wide web, and some people in England could be on the internet).
Two options.
1 – go rogue. (I will refrain from outlining the consequences of this, but suffice to say that would be viewed dimly.)
2 – the government will make a way for you to register your out of school setting.

Every Sunday school setting ?

When referring to out-of-school education settings, we mean any institution providing tuition, training or instruction to children aged under 19 in England that is not a school, college, 16-19 academy or registered childcare provider.

(p6)
So that includes churches Sunday schools.

Hold on all of them? that sounds like the state is going to register all Sunday school style events and all Sunday school style event staff in England.

Not quite

we propose to focus resources on where children receive intensive tuition, instruction or training out-of-school, which are closer in nature to other regulated settings and which potentially have greater impact on children, and might pose a greater risk to children (p10)

further

Intensive Education could be considered anything which entails an individual child attending a setting for more than between 6 to 8 hours a week, bearing in mind that this could be over an hour every day after school or on one or both days of the weekend … [or] might establish themselves to provide ‘intensive’ education but less frequently, or for a fixed period of time, for example during school holidays or in the run up to exams (p10).

(check the first few minutes of this house of lords video where Lord Nash assures Lord Storey that Sunday Schools are anticipated as being under the time limit, as are one-off residential events.)

So closer in nature to a school type education model, and over 8 hours a week per child. Phew, I think I am safe.

Phew indeed.

So whay are people so upset.

Well on Thursday, this man, The head of OFSTED, said that every religious learning setting in England would need to be registered, (at around 11.22 on the video).  This would seem to contradict the Lords comment above. Although this ambiguity is perhaps indicative of the fact this is proposed policy, not enacted yet. If he is right though, the Sunday schools of any church in England would be registered and also could be a target for inspection by OFSTED, the results could be their staff could be barred from working with children or the entire thing shut down. of course OFSTED may also find them to be Outstanding and commend them on their practice.

yes it could be ok I suppose, but I am not sure i like the idea of the government have a register of people who believe things, is there anything we can do about it.

YES – these people want you to write to your MP and ask them calmly and politely to go and listen to the debate in parliament about it. As I live in Scotland and my MP cannot vote in this matter I am not going to write to mine about it.

Ok. But doesn’t it concern you at all?

Not really. The church where I help with youth work is registered with the government as a licence entertainment venue for concerts, and for gift aid already. All leaders with children & youth work are registered through child protection systems with the governments child protection check system. Registering that we have a Sunday school and who the staff are is not really an issue as the government already has access to all that information. Also I think this type of move fits into the ongoing narrative within Scottish youth work of the professionalization of the youth work staff. Youth work staff are encouraged to voluntarily become members of the CLD Standards Council for Scotland.

Where it does raise some issues for me is around how much of the youth work I do within the church which is learning (i.e. similar in nature to school based learning) and secondly How I feel about being externally validated / approved for this work. That is something to think about, not be feared I would guess. What should a Sunday morning event for young people look like in nature and is an educational lens the best way to view this work?