The Tyranny of Values

David Cameron has announced new powers to close religious schools, the latest in a series of measures designed to tackle the roots of Islamic extremism.

In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference on Wednesday, Cameron said that supplementary schools found teaching views intolerant of other religions would be closed.

“Did you know, in our country, there are some children who spend several hours each day at a madrasa? Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with children learning about their faith, whether it’s at madrasas, Sunday schools or Jewish yeshivas.

“But in some madrasas, we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people.

“These children should be having their minds opened, their horizons broadened, not having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate.

“So I can announce today: if an institution is teaching children intensively, then whatever its religion, we will, like any other school, make it register so it can be inspected. And be in no doubt, if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down.”

The announcement has prompted complaints from leaders in the Muslim community.

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) challenged the Prime Minister’s claims that students in madrasas are beaten and indoctrinated:

“…we are concerned at the Prime Minister’s targeting of the supplementary schools. It is neither Islamic, nor prevalent in madrasahs to be isolationist or to preach hate of other faiths. We would hope that these allegations can be substantiated and the evidence brought forward, so that appropriate action can be taken.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Ishtiaq Ahmed of the Bradford Council for Mosques (BCM) rejected the suggestion that madrasas promote radicalisation:

“There’s no indication in Bradford that any madrasas or mosques are directly or deliberately involved in promoting conspiracy theories or radicalising individuals.

“We are working closely with our mosques and madrasas to make sure they have policies and procedures in place. People teaching are DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] certified, there’s training and a lot of information so they understand what their legal responsibilities are.” 

They are right to be concerned. In January, a Christian school was forced to close after inspectors for the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) determined that teachers were failing to properly educate students on “British” values.

Another Christian school was placed in special measures despite achieving the best school leaving exam results in its area. According to a complaint made by the school’s principal Chris Gray, inspectors allegedly asked students whether they “knew what lesbians did” and whether they had friends “trapped in the wrong body.”

The government’s British values regime drew criticism for its invasive approach to religious education when it was introduced last November. Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, accused the regime of twisting Ofsted’s priorities out of proportion.

“The Government’s British values regime is twisting Ofsted’s priorities out of all proportion. Inspectors are asking all kinds of invasive questions and then issuing reports that the parents whose children attend the school don’t recognise.”

Under the new inspection regime, religious institutions offering eight or more hours of study will be forced to register with the Department for Education. Faith groups will be consulted on the precise details of how inspections should be conducted and whether they should be carried out by Ofsted or another body.


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