New Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s department says that independent schools must ‘actively promote’ British values
Independent schools and academies may be forced to drop Christmas celebrations under rules designed to tackle extremists, critics warned yesterday.
They say 6,000 private schools will be compelled to adopt political correctness.
Following the Trojan Horse scandal, in which Birmingham schools came under the sway of Islamic extremists, the Education Department proposed that independent schools must ‘actively promote’ British values – said to include respect for legally ‘protected characteristics’.
Critics warn the rules will bring a series of unintended consequences, including preventing teachers from using words like husband or wife when discussing marriage; making teachers inflate the reputation of politicians in their lessons, and dictating the curriculum and exams schools must use.
They also accuse the Department for Education of setting too tight a timetable when it set up a consultation among schools over the rules. Responses to the key proposals had to be returned last week – a month before the end of the school holidays and at a time when heads are likely to be on the beach rather than answering Whitehall questionnaires.
The Independent School Standards consultation was begun in late June at the height of the Trojan Horse affair, in which a group of schools in Birmingham were found to have fallen under the sway of Islamic extremists. An inquiry found the schools segregated boys and girls, disparaged British soldiers, promoted hatred of homosexuals, and taught scepticism about responsibility for the murder of soldier Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings.
The resulting Education Department proposals say that independent schools must ‘actively promote’ British values, which are said to include respect for legally ‘protected characteristics’ such as homosexuality, religion, gender change, disability, race and marital status. They also require improved teaching standards from schools with the lowest levels of attainment.
The rules will apply to academies and free schools as well as the long-established independent sector.
A consultation paper reveals this would allow Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to take ‘regulatory action’ in cases such as where girls are ‘disadvantaged’ on grounds of gender, ‘failure to address homophobia’, or where prejudice against other faiths is ‘encouraged or not adequately challenged’.
The Christian Institute (CI) warned this may rule out Christmas events if other religions’ festivals are not celebrated to the same degree. It also fears teachers may have to avoid the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ when discussing marriage, so as not to discriminate against same-sex couples.
The CI’s Colin Hart said: ‘They mistakenly advance the principle that political correctness equal British values. Accordingly they could be used to punish any school in the independent sector which has a religious ethos, a set of traditional beliefs, or which does not promote every minority group’s world view.’
The Institute said Christmas celebrations in schools and use of words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in discussions of marriage could be barred under the proposals.
Mr Hart added: ‘Under the plans, private schools, academies and free schools would have much less control over their ethos than ordinary state schools. There was clearly a managerial problem in the schools in Birmingham, but is forcing more than 6,000 schools and nearly three million pupils to the submit themselves to every whim of the PC brigade really the best way to tackle it? It makes no sense.’
Adderley Primary School, Birmingham was among those in Trojan Horse operation by Islamic fundamentalists
A reply to the Education Department from the Independent Schools Council, which represents 1,200 schools, said that forcing schools to accept common standards means they will be ‘subject to political interference’ and that the proposals ‘risk dictating to independent schools which curriculum to follow.’
The Council’s objections also say that ‘there is a major risk of unintended consequences’, that standards in high-achieving schools will be forced down, and ‘time will be wasted considering how schools actively promote these values.’
It added: ‘Explicitly requiring schools to encourage respect for the basis on which the law is made in England comes close to requiring schools actively promote respect for politicians as lawmakers.’
The Association of School and College Leaders, which represents over 18,000 heads and senior staff, said the proposals had been made in undue haste and to such a short timetable that many heads would find out what was happening only after consultation deadlines had passed. A submission from the Association said: ‘This can only undermine respect for democracy and the rule of law as practised in Britain.’
Mrs Morgan now faces a High Court judicial review brought by the Christian Institute over the attempt to impose the rules on independent schools without giving proper time to listen to their views.