As outlined in its 2011 Prevent strategy, the government has been attempting to reduce the risk that children and young people are exposed to extremist views (see also 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act / 2015 Counter Extremism Strategy). The latest part of this work, is a proposal for a new system to oversee out-of-school settings providing intensive education to young people (defined as greater than 6-8 hours per week), which will include many madrasahs across the country.
The government is seeking evidence on this proposal by 11 January 2016 (see here for the full consultation document).
Summary of proposals
The government wants to introduce greater oversight on out-of-school education settings that provide intensive education to young people (defined as greater than 6-8 hours per week). The key features of this new system of oversight will be:
• A requirement on settings providing intensive education to register, so that there is transparency about where settings are operating;
• A power for a body to inspect settings to ensure that children are being properly safeguarded (ensuring safety of children, keeping basic records, appointing suitable staff, safe premises; teaching in line with fundamental British values; no corporal punishment); and
• A power to impose sanctions where settings are failing to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, which could include barring individuals from working with children and the closure of premises.
Summary of feedback received so far
The MCB has engaged in a range of consultation on these proposals including sessions in different parts of the country with legal experts, practitioners within education (especially madrasahs) and scholars. Questions have also been sent to our affiliates through an online survey: //www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYMSDCD
Below represents a summary of the responses received so far (note the references in brackets refer to sections in the government’s consultation document here).
This summary will be updated on an ongoing basis:
1. Overall strategy
The following fears have been highlighted so far:
• Link to Prevent: The background within the consultation suggests that this proposal is being introduced as part of the Prevent strategy, which is deemed toxic by Muslim organisations across the UK
• Proposal looking at education through lens of security: Whilst there are significant improvements to governance required within many madrasah organisations, this should not be done under the guise of improving security
• Discrimination/Targeting of Muslim communities: The definition of “intensive teaching” is worrying in that it seems to have been designed to include daily madrasahs and not bible study classes, for example. Such choices seem to indicate that the policy is targeting Muslim communities in particular, which seems discriminatory.
• Government interference: Faith teaching in religious institutions should not be restricted by government interference – such interference is hugely worrying.
2. Registration process (3.11-3.14)
• Creating access to best practice is hugely valuable: Encouraging all institutions to have access to advice, guidance and training, is hugely beneficial to many institutions
• Mandatory registration is worrying: Many religious classes, including learning how to read / learn Qur’an, are delivered by small groups of people or even individual elderly men/women at their homes. It would be unfortunate if extra bureaucracy would stop such classes taking place. Furthermore, religious teaching should not be subject to government interference through a mandatory register – is this the first step to requiring all faith institutions to be registered?
3. Inspections (3.15-3.17)
• Regime to ensure appropriate safeguarding is useful: it is understandable that there is a means to check whether certain activities are being done within out-of-school education settings
• Inspections by OFSTED is hugely worrying: any inspections should be done within the communities / faith, who understand the nuances they see. It would be hugely concerning to see OFSTED inspectors within faith institutions asking about how the faith is taught. There are also concerns about the reliability and capability of OFSTED to perform such inspections.
4. Prohibited activities (3.18-3.20)
• Governance deficiencies are important activities that need to be improved: ensuring safety of children, keeping basic records, appointing suitable staff, safe premises, no corporal punishment – are all activities that need to occur
• Government interference into teaching of faith within faith institutions is hugely worrying: the proposal should not include any reference to what is taught, as the government should not play a role in this space. Faith institutions should determine what is desirable teaching in out-of-school education settings. The particular reference to British values is concerning given the lack of clarity on its definition. Would teaching on not allowing women to take specific religious roles (e.g. priests, rabbis, Imams), or views on homosexuality / same-sex marriage by faith institutions…etc. be considered undesirable?
5. Sanctions (3.21-3.22)
• Action should be taken in a collaborative fashion: where there are deficiencies, actions and support to help such institutions improve is required
• Any sanction should be proportionate and sensitive: inappropriate sanctions such as closing down madrasahs without appropriate reasons are not likely to be conducive to improving the welfare of children
6. Any other points of interest / concern
• Child safety is paramount: regardless of any concerns, the safety of children is of paramount importance for all.
• Increased bureaucracy and financial burden on voluntary institutions: many out-of-school education settings are run by volunteers, and increased bureaucracy / costs need to be balanced with the benefits
• Wording received so far: “bad proposal”, “ill conceived”, “worrying trend”, “To me it seems it is designed with Muslim community in mind”
If you have any further feedback, please do not hesitate to get in touch by completing the survey/feedback here://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYMSDCD