Government urged to drop church youth work inspection plans

By Adam Offord

| 25 April 2016

Christian organisations have called on the government to scrap plans that would see Ofsted inspect out-of-school education settings, including church youth groups.

Christian organisations said it would be highly intrusive for an Ofsted inspector to scrutinise a Sunday school class, Bible study, youth meeting or church weekend away. Picture: Christian Action Research & Education

The call comes in a joint statement by Christian Action Research & Education, Christian Concerns, Evangelical Alliance, Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship and The Christian Institute.

Last year, the Department for Education launched a consultation on plans to require out-of-school settings that give under-19s tuition or training for more than six to eight hours a week, to register with their local authority and be eligible for “risk-based” inspections by Ofsted.

The consultation, which ran until January this year, said the system would enable action to be taken against settings found to be failing to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, particularly those settings where extremist ideology is being taught.

In their statement, the Christian organisations said requiring churches to register before they are legally allowed to teach children about Christian values “is an unjustified restriction of religious liberty”. 

“Whether the threshold is six hours in any week or higher, the principle of outlawing 'unregistered churches' from teaching children the gospel is an unacceptable overreach of the state,” they said.

“We do not believe Ofsted should become the state regulator of religion. For an inspector to scrutinise a Sunday school class, Bible study, youth meeting or church weekend away would be highly intrusive.” 

The organisations added that the prospect of inspectors questioning volunteer leaders and children without their parents is “an unwarranted incursion into private religion and family life”.

“To require such people to submit to registration and inspection to ensure they are not encouraging terrorism is profoundly misconceived,” the statement said.

“Whilst Christians wholeheartedly support reasonable measures to prevent terrorism and violent extremism, these proposals will lead to a loss of civil liberties and create a large bureaucracy that will divert resources away from restraining extremists who reject UK law.

“Such individuals will simply ignore or effortlessly circumvent the registration requirements.”

Instead, the five organisations have called on the government to develop a targeted intelligence-led approach to tackle extremism in the UK instead of using the current proposals.

Simon McCrossan, head of public policy at The Evangelical Alliance, said: “These proposals amount to the wholesale nationalisation of youth work and the state regulation of private religious practice, more akin to 'Big Brother' than 'Big Society'.

“If implemented, there is a real risk churches will feel forced to step back from the valuable services they currently provide to young people across society.”

The DfE has been contacted for comment.

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