regulation out of school settings MPs objections

A parliamentary debate about regulating out of school settings took place in Westminster Hall on January 20th 2016.

Points to note: far more MPs than the usual Westminster Hall debate; concerted backbench opposition from the Government’s own party; and rare cross-party agreement from Labour, the DUP, and the SNP, mainly united by a faith background.

Home educators may be interested in some of the arguments put forward which have parallels with home education registration and monitoring.

Read  more about the proposals here 

Andrew Turner, Chair (Con)
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con):
Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con):
Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and twAmersham) (Con):
Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con):
Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con):
Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con):
David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con):
Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con):
Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con):
Michael Tomlinson (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con):
Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con):
Steve Double (St Austell and Newquay) (Con):
Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) (Con):
Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con):
Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con):
Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP)
Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP):
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP):
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP):

Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North) (Lab):
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab):
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab):
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab):

Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP):

The Minister for Schools (Nick Gibb):

Nick Gibb said an impact assessment would follow with firmed up proposals and confirmed that the call for views received more than 10,000 responses. He said that Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups responded to the call for views. The Minister said that many settings told the Government they already have robust measures for safeguarding such as umbrella organisations, voluntary accreditation, or support from the local authority. He added that final proposals will be subject to further discussions with interested parties.

Significantly, the Minister said that “by not registering, such organisations are liable under strict liability to an offence, and we can then take much swifter action when we are made aware of those settings through our usual intelligence routes. That is why this has a double edge: we register the settings and only inspect settings where risks are identified; and we have very real powers to tackle the settings that do not register.”

In response to a question about a variety of groups eg run by one church the Minister said that “the plans are for the threshold to be hit when a child attends a setting for more than six hours a week and that activities run by one setting would be aggregated but, following the call for evidence, we are considering a range of issues and how to take forward the proposals. We will look at whether it is appropriate to disaggregate particular activities or indeed, exempt particular activities altogether. That question was in the call for evidence.”

This was the Minister’s set piece in the debate:

“First, I can confirm that the Government are not proposing to regulate settings teaching children for a short period every week, such as Sunday schools or the scouts, nor will it apply to one-off residential activities, such as a week-long summer camp. We are looking specifically at places where children receive intensive education outside schools, where they could typically be spending more than six to eight hours a week.

Secondly, providers wishing to set up and run out-of-school education settings will not need to seek the Government’s approval to do so. Although our proposals envisage that such settings operating intensively should register, the aim of that is simply to improve the visibility of such settings. There would not be an application process and registration would be automatic. We have no intention of tying up voluntary and private sector organisations in red tape.

Thirdly, we are not proposing that settings eligible to register should be routinely inspected. This would be wholly disproportionate and an inefficient use of resources. We think that an inspection should only happen when there is evidence that certain prohibited activities might be taking place within a particular setting. Settings that provide a safe environment for children to learn in could legitimately expect never to be inspected.

Fourthly, we have no intention of seeking to regulate religion or to interfere in parents’ right to teach children about their faith and heritage. Protecting religious liberty is a fundamental principle. Out-of-school settings will not have the same obligations as schools actively to promote fundamental British values. Although out-of-school settings of all types can, and do, impart positive values to children, they are not the main providers of children’s education, and it is certainly not the state’s role to prescribe what they should teach, just as we are not seeking to prescribe other aspects of how they operate. I can therefore confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and other hon. Members that Sunday schools will not be under any requirement to teach any other religions.”

The main points made by MPs during the debate were:

proposals will discourage volunteers, especially teachers who will fear that being reported to Ofsted would damage them professionally
measures must be proportionate, sledgehammer to crack nut
we have sacrificed too much of our liberty in the name of equality
it’s come about because of Islamic extremism but the Government has to appear even-handed by applying it to everyone
it will tie up thousands of non-jihadi groups in red tape
is it anything that goes on for more than 6 hours eg one-off weekend trip or does it have to be regular every week
what happens where a setting such as a church runs various groups which add up to more than 6 hours
why not just require everyone to have a DBS check
does Ofsted or the council have the resources to carry out all these inspections
people you are trying to catch will either not register or will put on a show for the inspectors

why should faith groups be forced to teach about other religions

neither Ofsted nor the Government is trusted to interpret “British Values” fairly

faith schools have already been penalised by Ofsted

proposals are “Stalinist” or “statist”
burden placed on providers, many will close
what are local authorities expected to do and who will pay for it
making the haystack bigger
why not use existing powers
danger of malicious complaints
it’s probably illegal
it breaches human rights
it is the thin end of the wedge, successive Governments could add more and more
it represents the nationalisation of youth work
it is an attack on religious freedom
people are confused about what is proposed
proposals are rushed, reactionary and badly thought through
anyone wanting to evade regulation will just cut down on hours to stay under the threshold
it is against the promise in the Conservative manifesto to reject sweeping authoritarianism
parents are often present at these settings
parallel with home education registration under Labour (Graham Stuart)

most objections in debate are people from faith background

there is no way it could be implemented in a proportionate and reasonable way
if church and community groups close because of red tape, children will be worse off
this has come about because of illegal unregistered schools, so why not get to grips with that first, enforce existing law on illegal schools
how many settings are we actually talking about

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm160120/halltext/160120h0001.htm#16012030000001

Shortened Version of Debate

Edward Leigh, Con: why do problems with madrassas mean Sunday schools have to register?
Graham Stuart, Con: action should be proportionate, capture information on children at risk not every child
Cheryl Gillan, Con: more red tape, disincentive to volunteers “verging on the ridiculous and should be swept away”
Gavin Robinson: against Conservative manifesto promise to “reject any suggestions of sweeping, authoritarian measures that would threaten our hard-won freedoms.”
Edward Leigh, Con: why have Ofsted inspect churches and mainstream religious settings to see if their doctrine meets British Values test
Jeremy Lefroy: what about when children are taken on weekend trips, that will be more than 6 hours
Edward Leigh, Con: huge numbers of groups will have to register as part of a scheme designed for spotting a few Islamic extremists or jihadists. Excessive. Stalinist. What about scouts, youth groups? Scout Association says proposed threshold is neither helpful nor workable and sufficient scrutiny already exists. Will discourage volunteers.
Caroline Spelman, Con: DBS check is rigorous. Does everyone teaching Islam have to go through it, if not, they should?
Edward Leigh: agree use DBS checks, use intelligence and existing powers not sledgehammer to crack nut
Catherine McKinnell, Lab: constituents have raised issue of burden on volunteers. Also does Ofsted have resources to implement proposals and how much will it all cost.
Edward Leigh, Con: Ofsted doesn’t have capacity. DfE apparently says one off residential activities won’t be covered. Problem having local authority in charge of registration because some councils are not friendly to church groups.
Seema Kennedy, Con: Good groups will register but ones who should register won’t.
Edward Leigh, Con: Extremists will not register and will not talk about cutting people’s heads off when the Ofsted inspector is around. What is emotional harm? Richard Dawkins says it is mental abuse to teach children that the Bible is true. What if an Ofsted inspector agrees? Thousands of responses to the consultation from Christian groups terrified because Ofsted will now decide whether to bar someone or close down their youth work by assessing whether their teaching is undesirable or incompatible with British values. Why should Department decide what is undesirable teaching in a church? Harmless hobby groups not the target but forced to register so scheme will look even-handed.
David Rutley, Con: there should be risk-based proportionate approach based on common sense.
Edward Leigh, Con: The real target is religious teaching. Many religious groups do not have confidence in Ofsted eg Orthodox Jewish schools, and Catholic schools. They say Ofsted wants their pupils to study other faiths. Catholic Education Service is worried about “Vexatious complaints and the use of the system as a means of pursuing critical objectives”. Problem of “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” Talked to Sir Michael Wilshaw previous day, he has to appear even-handed. Burden on providers. How will voluntary bodies be notified of duty to register. “Whose responsibly will it be in the setting, especially if the group is informal and has no structure? What about venues with different groups operating on the same premises? How will ad hoc groups calculate whether they breach the six-hour threshold? How many will be forced to register just in case? How will they know what Ofsted is looking for if they ever get a visit? How will they prepare for a visit? Can football be played in a non-British values compliant way? Can a conservation club be intolerant? Should martial arts clubs be worried?” Teachers won’t risk their careers volunteering in groups that might be penalised by Ofsted.
Cheryl Gillan, Con: Why should local government meet the cost.
Edward Leigh, Con: the scheme will not make children any safer from extremism; it will just tie up thousands of non-jihadi groups in red tape. Islamic extremists will not register and if Ofsted try and inspect them they will hide the evidence. We should use intelligence services instead, also ask whistle blowers to come forward. Existing laws are sufficient, eg children at risk of significant harm, or health and safety for dangerous premises. Where it turns out it is an unregistered school we should enforce the law. End up with 10s of 1000s law abiding groups registered, and Ofsted will pick on conservative religious groups and say they are against British values. Politicians want to look as if they are doing something. “. If they actually want to do something, they need to knock together the heads of the police, social services departments, Ofsted and all those with existing powers to make them use those powers properly.” False allegations against teachers are a big problem. “A system based on “British values” and “undesirable” teaching is ripe for subjective, exaggerated and politically-motivated complaints, especially against religious groups. This will generate false flags and waste time. Finding extremists is already like finding a needle in a haystack. This system will just make the haystack much bigger.” Misogyny and homophobia can be subjective. Religious people do have the right to say that they believe their religion is right and that others are wrong. Some people say Sunday schools won’t have to register because they don’t last for 6 hours but what about 3 different groups organised by the church – choir or youth group- of which Sunday school is a part?
Stephen Timms, Lab: Government officials inspecting and supervising religious activity is not good. Big state approach. British values defined by Government. Does Government just want to be seen to be doing something about extremism? Why should a person who is deeply religious be seen as suspect? Islamic extremists tend not to go to mosques regularly, they are outsiders.
Gregory Campbell, DUP: Religion should not be suspect because of the actions of a very small number of people.
Stephen Timms, Lab: Inspecting publicly funded schools is different from monitoring occasional problems in voluntary settings which would make Ofsted the state regulator of religion. “Sensitivity and tact are not the hallmarks of Ofsted. Its job, on our behalf, includes a lot of heavy lifting.” Should we have other inspecting bodies, supervised by Ofsted?
Robert Flello, Lab: isn’t that just another layer of bureacracy?
Fiona Bruce, Con: disproportionate and probably illegal. Can’t guarantee it won’t affect salt of the earth organisations. Once regulations are in place they could be used differently in future. Human rights issue. I thank Professor Julian Rivers, professor of jurisprudence at the University of Bristol and an expert on law and organised religion, for his advice. He describes the proposals as “astonishing”. He says that such a registration requirement, as it would apply to religious groups, would “be straightforwardly in breach of the UK’s international human rights obligations.” freedom of thought, conscience and expression, to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority. Consultation has been rushed and it was bad it happened over Advent and Christmas. Proposals must be abandoned.
Rob Flello, Lab: it should be scrapped
Jim Shannon, DUP: need safeguards to ensure not everyone is investigated. Ridiculous to apply this to Sunday schools or scout troops. The Evangelical Alliance, an umbrella group representing some 2 million practising Christians in the UK, said that the proposals risk the “wholesale nationalisation of youth work and the indirect state regulation of private religious practice”. Christian Institute said “an unprecedented attack on freedom of religion in this country”. Erosion of civil and religious liberties.
Gerald Howarth, Con: This has come about because of Trojan Horse incidents in Birmingham. Christians do not threaten our national security and neither do Buddhists or Sikhs. “British young people, brought up in British schools and taught British values, are now perpetrating the most barbaric medieval practices imaginable.” Extremism isn’t everywhere, even if there are revolting far-right groups, they don’t threaten national security.
Gavin Robinson: he’s been told it was counter-Islamic strategy.
Gerald Howarth, Con: Confusion about what is being proposed. Prime Minister’s letter says ““I want to be clear: the Government is not proposing to regulate institutions teaching children for a short period every week, such as Sunday schools or the Scouts. Nor will it apply to one-off residential activities, such as a week long summer camp. We are looking specifically at places where children receive intensive education outside school, where children could be spending more than six to eight hours a week.”
Michael Tomlinson, Con: runs Christian youth camp over 2 weekends, would that have to register?
Gerald Howarth, Con: risk giving Ofsted massive powers to define extremism and British Values. Applies to too many groups without evidence of extremism or Islamic fundamentalism.
Gavin Robinson, DUP: proposals are too wide and too shallow
Helen Grant, Con: proposals are rushed, reactionary and badly thought through
Gavin Robinson, DUP: jihadists wouldn’t abide by the law anyway, won’t they just evade regulation, cut hours down, not register. Faith schools can select their own assessors but church groups would all come under Ofsted: Sunday schools, Alpha courses, Scouts once they reach 6 hours. European Convention on Human Rights: enshrined freedom of religion and association. We would be like Belarus or Turkmenistan. Conservative manifesto said reject sweeping authoritarian measures threatening freedom.
Caroline Spelman: Church of England provides 500,000 children with out of school educational activities involving 80,000 volunteers. Church wants measures to be proportionate and avoid unintended consequences. Use existing laws eg DBS check. Churches already have to have a child protection officer if they do any teaching, other educational out of school settings should have the same. Does Government think religious activity is problematic? Muslims in constituency asked her to help with unregulated private madrasas.
Steve Double, Con: we should be promoting the teaching of the Bible. What evidence that Sunday school inspires terrorists.
Graham Stuart, Con: There also seems to be little evidence that the inculcation of ideas in madrassahs leads to extremism. We have had little from the Government to show an evidential link—it seems to be lonely teenagers looking on the internet rather than being taught in schools, officially registered or otherwise.
Steve Double, Con: in danger of applying onerous restrictions on the many to address the actions of a few. Young people are inspired by Christian camps and Sunday schools.
Caroline Ansell, Con: the ones we need to register won’t. Teachers won’t help out at voluntary groups if Ofsted is involved. Proposal is “statist.” Let families choose. Parents are often in the settings as well.
Graham Stuart, Con: Parallel with home education registration under Labour, there might be a problem so lets register everyone. Statism. Parents duty to educate child, not state. Most speaking today from faith background, he is no faith. Gross infringement of rights including rights of Muslims. Think of reds under the bed, the real danger was illiberal response. In past leader of Catholic church opposed to Government yet Catholics law-abiding. What about Islamic extremism? Ofsted is over-stretched, so are local authorities. With home education registration proposals we knew the ones who were trouble wouldnt register but meanwhile everyone else would have to jump through hoops and have state imposition “I have changed my mind on this proposal. At first, I thought it could be proportionate and reasonable, but I do not think it can be, so let us not do it. ContactPoint was wrong, and so is this—let us put a stop to it.”
Carol Monaghan, SNP: teachers won’t volunteer if there is more bureacracy. DBS checks are already required. Teachers in Catholic schools teach different views, not brainwashing. Children in more danger spending 6 hours in front of TV.
Kevin Foster, Con: if church groups are closed, children will be less healthy, staying indoors, maybe more obesity
Carol Monaghan, SNP: don’t tar all Muslims with same brush, and don’t be too aggressive to Muslims.
Wendy Morton, Con: heavy handed. These groups are heart of community.
Carol Monaghan, SNP: local mosque is centre of community. So called Muslim attacks are poisonous individuals with their own agenda. Defend freedom of speech and respect all faiths and none.
Nik Dakin, Lab: more than 20 MPs here for debate. This began with unregistered schools in Birmingham where DfE didn’t immediately shut them down.
Graham Stuart, Con: Orthodox Jewish school in Stamford Hill operated illegally for 40 years. “The Department for Education, Ofsted, local authorities and others need to enforce the existing law before they are capable of extending it elsewhere. Let us enforce the existing law first and then consider extending it, once we can do what we are already supposed to properly.”
Nik Dakin, Lab unregistered schools are real issue. Out of school settings can be sorted within current legislation. Also problem with oversight of state schools. Local authorities don’t have sufficient resources to investigate. Sledgehammer to crack a nut. Red tape won’t make people register. Questions for Minister: how many out of school settings currently registered, how many Govnt estimate should register, how helping to register.
Nick Gibb, Minister, Con: schools better under us.
Mrs Grant: impact assessment done? Financial cost of registration and assessment?
NIck Gibb: impact assessment to follow with firmed up proposals. Call for views received more than 10,000 responses. Parents freedom to decide how best to educate their children is fundamental principle of our society and our education system. Parents value education provided by faith schools. 76 new free schools out of 300 have religious designation or ethos. Government has to find balance, not just extremism but also physical punishment, unsuitable individuals and unsafe or insanitary conditions. How can we protect children in out of school settings in same way as childcare, state and independent schools, while avoiding disproportionate regulation. “We will uphold parents’ right to educate their children about their faith.” Many settings tell us already have robust measures, umbrella organisations, voluntary accreditation, support from LA. Christiam, Muslim, and Jewish groups responded. Any final proposals will, of course, be subject to further discussions with interested parties.
Graham Stuart, Con: what about practicalities? “Those who wish to teach in this extremist way will effortlessly elude any regulation system that we set up. We will therefore have an expensive and burdensome system that captures so many organisations, but does not capture the very organisations that we need to capture. Is that not the central point? To me, it seems to be a rocket that explodes this whole policy and should cause the Minister to think again.”
Nick Gibb, Con: “by not registering, such organisations are liable under strict liability to an offence, and we can then take much swifter action when we are made aware of those settings through our usual intelligence routes. That is why this has a double edge: we register the settings and only inspect settings where risks are identified; and we have very real powers to tackle the settings that do not register.”
First, I can confirm that the Government are not proposing to regulate settings teaching children for a short period every week, such as Sunday schools or the scouts, nor will it apply to one-off residential activities, such as a week-long summer camp. We are looking specifically at places where children receive intensive education outside schools, where they could typically be spending more than six to eight hours a week.
Secondly, providers wishing to set up and run out-of-school education settings will not need to seek the Government’s approval to do so. Although our proposals envisage that such settings operating intensively should register, the aim of that is simply to improve the visibility of such settings. There would not be an application process and registration would be automatic. We have no intention of tying up voluntary and private sector organisations in red tape.
Thirdly, we are not proposing that settings eligible to register should be routinely inspected. This would be wholly disproportionate and an inefficient use of resources. We think that an inspection should only happen when there is evidence that certain prohibited activities might be taking place within a particular setting. Settings that provide a safe environment for children to learn in could legitimately expect never to be inspected.
Fourthly, we have no intention of seeking to regulate religion or to interfere in parents’ right to teach children about their faith and heritage. Protecting religious liberty is a fundamental principle. Out-of-school settings will not have the same obligations as schools actively to promote fundamental British values. Although out-of-school settings of all types can, and do, impart positive values to children, they are not the main providers of children’s education, and it is certainly not the state’s role to prescribe what they should teach, just as we are not seeking to prescribe other aspects of how they operate. I can therefore confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and other hon. Members that Sunday schools will not be under any requirement to teach any other religions.
Gavin Robinson: what about accumulated activities eg Sunday school, youth group, scouts all one church adding up to more than 6 hours.
NIck Gibb: The plans are for the threshold to be hit when a child attends a setting for more than six hours a week and that activities run by one setting would be aggregated but, following the call for evidence, we are considering a range of issues and how to take forward the proposals. We will look at whether it is appropriate to disaggregate particular activities or indeed, exempt particular activities altogether. That question was in the call for evidence.
Fiona Bruce, Con: youth workers would fear teaching non-mainstream issues, shut down debate, else might get reported.
Nick Gibb: not Govnt intention to infringe on freedom to follow particular faith or hold particular belief. Welcome helpful suggestions, want to continue the dialogue.
Edward Leigh: In conclusion, I thank the perhaps up to 20 people—friends and colleagues from all parties—who have turned up this morning. It is not often that we have a debate such as this in Westminster Hall, and we have heard some very powerful speeches and very powerful points.
I will sum it all up: we have sacrificed too much of our liberty in the name of equality, so I beg the Minister to bear in mind the places that are under the radar, as the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) mentioned. Bear in mind the cumulative hours. Bear in mind that there is very little extremism—indeed none at all—ever practised in Methodist Sunday schools. This is the point we are making, and we are doing so powerfully and strongly. We are not a party that intends to further state regulation and control; we are a party of liberty, freedom and religious tolerance. I will leave it there.

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2 thoughts on “regulation out of school settings MPs objections

  1. Pingback: Consultation on Regulating Part Time Education in Wales | edyourself

  2. Pingback: Alternative Provision, Illegal Schools, Tracking Children Out Of School | edyourself

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