I beg to move,
That this House believes that Ofsted should respect the ability of faith schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and toleration for others.
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing the time of these debates, and a number of colleagues, including the hon. Members for Southport (John Pugh) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello), would have liked to have taken part in this important debate, but they have unmissable commitments in their constituencies. I am grateful to those of my colleagues who are here to support me.
Faith schools do a marvellous job. That is why parents love them, and I am one of those parents. Of course, when we say faith schools, we are overwhelmingly talking about Church schools. In the state sector there are almost 7,000 faith schools, of which 4,500 are Church of England, almost 2,000 are Catholic, 48 are Jewish, 18 Muslim, eight Sikh and four Hindu. Last year, of the 693 best performing state primary schools, 62% were faith schools—a staggering percentage—even though they account for only a third of primaries nationally.
Church schools are great motors of social mobility. They perform well whatever the background of the pupils. Faith schools are ethnically diverse. About a quarter of pupils of faith schools have an ethnic background other than white British. In my son’s school it is over 60%. Far from preaching intolerance, these schools, because of their strong, unifying, religious ethos, do more for social cohesion than a thousand Home Office initiatives.
Many people’s experience of the Church of England or Roman Catholic school at the end of their road is that it is a delightful haven of well-behaved pupils from all backgrounds and highly motivated teachers putting their heart and soul into the school and its community. But it is faith schools that are under attack from the forces of intolerance, so we must recognise their great contribution and encourage them to carry on doing what they are doing so well.
Groups such as the British Humanist Association would like to ban faith schools. They do no seem to care how much parents and pupils love them or how well they perform—the very definition of intolerance. They try to smear faith schools with what happened in Birmingham with the Trojan horse scandal, but we all know that none of the Trojan horse schools was a faith school. Faith schools should hold their heads up high and not engage in the pre-emptive cringe and kowtow to the latest fashion. They should stand by the principles that have made them such a success: love of God and neighbour, pursuit of truth, high aspiration and discipline.
We do not want any dumbing down. Jewish schools should teach the Jewish religion, and Christian schools should teach the Christian religion. That is likely to give their pupils a better idea of their place in the world, of their potential and of their obligations to others. Yes, they should learn about other religions, which is necessary not only for being a good citizen, but for being culturally aware, but that can take place in the context of the school’s faith ethos. Of course pupils can accept or reject the school’s world view, whether religious or secular. There are plenty of Christians in secular schools and plenty of atheists in Christian schools. The law guarantees freedom of conscience. But by the same token, governors, teachers, parents and pupils who want a religious education also have freedom of conscience, and we must guard their freedoms carefully.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that what is important is the teaching of religious education in all schools so that all children can understand religions and non-religions as they progress through school? We should have proper RE teachers to give young people the wide breadth of knowledge they need to understand everyone else in the country and all those who live in their communities.
Yes, of course I agree. It is very important that RE is a rigid academic discipline. Children must be aware of other faiths and of comparative religion, but they must also have a firm grounding in their own faith’s teachings, because that gives them a sense of belonging and place.
The hon. Gentleman rightly talks about the need for a firm grounding. Is not the line that must be drawn that no taxpayer-funded school should ever be involved in proselytising or indoctrination?
I absolutely agree. I mentioned the thousands of Church of England and Roman Catholic schools. I do not think that there is any evidence that any of those schools are creating Christian jihadists. I have six children, and they have attended faith schools in the state and private sectors. The thought that any of those primary schools in the maintained sector, whether Catholic or Anglican, is teaching intolerance is completely absurd.
The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) mentioned the importance of understanding other faiths. Is that not the critical factor? We should all understand other faiths and schools should teach an understanding of other faiths, but that is very different from promoting other faiths in a faith school.
Absolutely. The cornerstone—may I dare use that word?—of faith schools is that they start from their own religion, and what do all of the great world religions teach? They teach understanding, tolerance and love of God and neighbour, so nobody should be teaching intolerance.
In Windsor we have some really excellent faith schools as well as secular schools—a good mix. I have observed that the pupils who go through the faith schools are equally open minded and tolerant as those in the secular schools.
The evidence for that is absolutely overwhelming.
I now want to turn to Ofsted and the terms of this motion. It may be that the time has come for Ofsted to put itself in special measures, in certain respects. It appears to be guilty of trying to enforce a kind of state-imposed orthodoxy on certain moral and religious questions. This has provoked huge controversy and has rarely been out of the news. We have to ask whether we can any longer have confidence in Ofsted’s reports. Ofsted’s own director of schools, Sean Harford, has admitted that the reliability of inspections is a problem. Sadly, Ministers deflect every question by saying, “It’s a matter for Ofsted.” Perhaps Ofsted is out of control because it is not being held accountable by the Department. That is why we are having this debate.
In September, the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools wrote to the Secretary of State complaining that Ofsted inspectors asked hugely inappropriate questions and bullied their pupils into answering insensitive and anti-religious questions.
Jonathan Rabson, who is chairman of NAJOS in my constituency, has said:
“Jewish schools now have the sense that our Jewish values and ethos are being questioned. We have experienced a campaign to discredit Jewish schools and to challenge the values we espouse…We ask you to take this matter extremely seriously.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that Jewish people feel under attack as a result of Ofsted?
Absolutely. It is no secret that I admire enormously the Jewish religion and the ethos that it creates. What a pity that one of the school’s year 11 girls said that the questioning made them feel “threatened and bullied” about their own religion. Another young girl said that she felt “traumatised” after they had been asked whether they had a boyfriend, knew how babies were made, and knew whether two men could marry. Rabbi David Meyer, the incoming director of the educational oversight body, Partnerships for Jewish Schools, has said:
“We are seeing a worrying trend of Ofsted inspectors showing a lack of respect of the values and traditions of our community.”
I fully support the right of Jewish schools to promote their own ethos and religion.
Let us turn to some other schools. In 2013, St Benedict’s Catholic school in Bury St Edmunds tied for first place in national state school tables for the proportion of pupils going to Oxbridge. What a marvellous school! In September 2014, it was subject to a no-notice inspection. No-notice inspections were part of the response to the Trojan horse scandal. Clearly Ofsted thought that there could be a fundamentalist Catholic conspiracy within St Benedict’s Catholic school. No-notice inspections are quite devastating for the school. Ofsted turns up, rings up, and says, “We’re in the car park. We’re coming in now.” It usually happens because it suspects that something quite serious is going on. The head teacher of St Benedict’s thought that perhaps a no-notice inspection was started because he had not printed a statement on citizenship, although he does not know. The resulting draft report downgraded the school to “requires improvement”. It said that in three of the five inspection areas, the
“younger students show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation”.
I am surprised that Bury St Edmunds is a place where these things are taught.
I am very surprised that Bury St Edmunds, of all places, is possibly a centre of extremism and radicalisation. That is not the town that I know.
The idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is as ridiculous as it is offensive. The local reaction forced Ofsted to remove the offending phrase, but the downgrading remained in place. This suggests that once Ofsted has decided that a school does not support “British values”, it will mark it down in all areas. The unreality of its report was underlined when the exam results for St Benedict’s were finally published. At A-level, the school was placed in the top 100 schools nationally, state and private. Its GCSEs, too, put it among the best performing schools in Suffolk. The Catholic Education Service took the rare step of demanding an apology from Ofsted. Anybody who knows the Catholic Education Service will know that it is not an extremist body, by any manner of means—it is very quiet and restrained. Why have the inspectors who handed this ridiculous report never been brought to account?
Let us look at Trinity Christian school in Reading. It wrote to the Secretary of State in October 2014 after Ofsted had failed the school under “British values”, whatever they are. In November 2013, the school had been rated good in every category, and its spiritual education was deemed excellent. That report said:
“Pupils are well prepared for life in modern, multicultural, democratic British society through the teaching of the Christian principle to ‘love thy neighbour’.”
However, the inspection in October 2014 predominantly focused on the new rules on British values, which had come into force a week earlier. The inspector expressed doubts over the continued existence of the school—I stress, its continued existence—because of its non-compliance with the new rules. She stated that the representatives of other faiths should be invited to lead collective worship, and that the school must “actively promote” other faiths. That is directly antithetical to the school’s Christian ethos. There would be justified outrage if Ofsted demanded that secular or atheist schools actively promoted Christianity, so why should Christian schools “actively promote” what they hold to be untrue? I agree that they should inform children about other religions, but actively promoting them is immoral, impossible and, I believe, a crime against their conscience. We have to wonder how far Christian schools need to go to satisfy the new standards.
On the subject of the Church of England, only two days ago I had a word with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is concerned about this matter. I have also had a word with Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, who is also concerned. This is a mainstream concern in the Catholic and Anglican Churches. By their very nature, such people are not alarmists or extremists, but good and open-minded, but they are deeply worried about what is going on.
Does my hon. Friend know whether the one report he has so far quoted was from an aberrant Ofsted inspector, or is it because of a direction from Ofsted or from Ministers? Who is responsible?
I have not yet finished my speech. I do not want to weary the House, but I have several examples. If this was an aberrant inspection of one school out of thousands, we might say that we should not worry too much about it, but I will quote several examples. There is undoubtedly evidence that such inappropriate questioning has taken place. The schools have complained—I will deal with that in a moment—and there is no adequate evidence that Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, has gone back to the schools and questioned pupils, parents and teachers about the inappropriate questioning.
This debate is terribly important: if it achieves nothing else, it will ensure that there is no kind of pre-emptive cringe on the part of Christian schools worried that they might be marked down if they do not promote “British values” rather than their own ethos. I hope that there will be a kind of pre-emptive cringe on the part of Ofsted. Given that all my hon. Friends have come into the Chamber, inspectors will now be worried about asking such inappropriate questions because they might be held to account.
There is a bit of a pattern. I will mention other examples before I sit down because it is important to establish that pattern, and to convince the House that this is not about one aberrant inspector, but has happened in several schools and across several faiths.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problems have arisen partly because of the knee-jerk way with which British values were introduced last summer? In fact, the requirement is actively to promote not other faiths, but respect for, and tolerance of, other faiths. If this had not been introduced in such a rush and with such a knee-jerk reaction, perhaps that would be better understood throughout the system.
I agree entirely, and we are looking forward to hearing the Minister make that clear. There was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, and perhaps over-zealous Ofsted inspectors have not understood what British values are about. Surely British values are about what our country has always been about, which is tolerance and understanding, not a requirement to promote other people’s religions or values.
We have to wonder how far Christian schools have to go to satisfy the new standards. In September, Bolton Parish Church primary school was told that although
“events such as…Diwali are celebrated…pupils’ understanding of life in modern Britain is underdeveloped.”
Middle Rasen school in my constituency was marked down, apparently because it was too British—a strange problem for north Lincolnshire. How many non-Christian festivals does a Christian school have to celebrate before Ofsted is happy? Faith schools have a legal right to teach their own faith, and English law stipulates that school assemblies and RE should normally be “mainly Christian”, but that has been overridden by inspectors.
Grindon Hall Christian school is one of the top state schools in Sunderland for GCSEs and the top school, state or private, for A-levels. In May 2014, Ofsted rated it good in all areas except leadership and management. In November it was also subject to a no-notice British values inspection—quite alarming for the top performing school in Sunderland. Its primary school pupils were asked if they knew anyone who thought they were in the wrong body. Well, I have sometimes thought that maybe I am in the wrong body—[Laughter.] One parent complained that her 10-year-old daughter was asked if she knew what lesbians did. One sixth-former said that the inspector was
“manipulating the conversation to make us say something to discredit the manner of teaching in school.”
“She seemed to have the view that since we are a Christian school we don’t respect other religions and views.”
A third said:
“It felt like she wanted a certain answer from us and wouldn’t be satisfied until she got that answer.”
Ofsted issued a report that rated the school “inadequate”. Despite the fact that it is the best in terms of results, the Ofsted report marks it as the worst of any school in Sunderland. Clearly, results count for nothing.
As with St Benedict’s, Ofsted issued a draft report with phrasing that tipped its hand. The report said:
“The Christian ethos of the school permeates much of the school’s provision. This has restricted the development of a broad and balanced approach to the curriculum.”
I thought the reason why we are such a tolerant and successful country was our Christian heritage, which teaches tolerance and respect for others. Those inspectors clearly regard a Christian ethos as inherently negative. Although the phrase was withdrawn after complaints, the report attacked every area of the school’s performance, not just British values. Hundreds of parents signed a letter to the Secretary of State to urge a review of the report which, they said,
“paints a picture of our school—and our children—that we just do not recognise.”
The Durham free school is a Christian faith school. Department for Education monitoring visits in December 2013 were very positive, but the school was targeted in the November 2014 no-notice inspections. After the inspections, pupils came forward to report questions asked by inspectors that made them feel uncomfortable. Again the views of the inspection team were revealed in the draft report which claimed that
“RE is a narrow study of the Bible”.
Well, I do not know, but I would have thought that in RE it is not a bad idea to study the Bible fairly rigorously. The school told Ofsted that
“only a very small proportion of the RE teaching at any time has constituted study of the Bible…your inspectors simply could not have seen any evidence during the inspection to support this conclusion.”
Does this not, to some extent, call into question the quality of some of the inspectors? A state school in my constituency said that it would be willing to be inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, because by and large it has practising teachers doing inspections, whereas Ofsted by and large does not.
My hon. Friend and I had a meeting with the Secretary of State earlier and he put that point to her. It is worth looking at, and we should learn lessons from the ISI and how it does things.
Ofsted issued a report that rated The Durham free school inadequate in all areas. That caused panic in the DFE and within hours the Secretary of State announced that she was closing the school—
For the sake of completeness, the hon. Gentleman should mention that both the north-east schools that he has used as examples were found to be teaching creationism as fact in science and biology.
That is not what I have been told. What I have been told is that the pupils were questioned inappropriately and that they were frightened and alarmed. I know nothing about whether the schools were teaching creationism and I make no comment on that. Once the inspectors took a dim view of the schools’ performance on British values, they were marked down heavily. All the Trojan horse schools are still open. Whatever one says about Durham, the allegations against the Trojan horse schools were more serious than anything that was said about Durham. They are still open, yet Durham is to be closed.
Ofsted, too, went into panic mode. Questioned about Durham and Grindon in the Education Committee on 28 January, Sir Michael Wilshaw claimed there was
“very bad homophobic bullying going on in these schools”.
The written Ofsted reports do not say this. Sir Michael’s statement is not being backed up by the Ofsted report. I have had a conversation with the Secretary of State. She has claimed to me and my colleagues that the comments are not true, but they have been reported on and parents have complained to Ofsted in large numbers that the reports are nonsense. One lesbian mum at The Durham free school went to the press to say her daughter had been victimised at a previous school because of her mother’s sexuality, but not at The Durham free school.
Under questioning from the Education Committee, which had been contacted by parents of children at both schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that if the inappropriate questioning had taken place, the inspector would be
“dealt with very severely by Ofsted”.
He said, however:
“I assure you that the sort of allegations that have been made in the north-eastern schools have been investigated very thoroughly and we found no substance to them.”
What does “investigated very thoroughly” mean? Does it mean contacting the parents who made the allegations? Does it mean interviewing the pupils? Does it mean interviewing teachers? It does not. According to one of Ofsted’s regional directors, Nick Hudson, who wrote to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on 16 February, it means that Ofsted interviews its own inspectors. Unsurprisingly, the inspectors deny saying the things that would result in them being “dealt with very severely”. No wonder, then, that Ofsted gives itself a clean bill of health.
Sir Michael and Mr Hudson claim there is no evidence. Parents’ letters are, apparently, not evidence. They are simply being treated as if they are untrue. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth), who would have been here today but for attending an event in his constituency, has written to the Secretary of State demanding to know why Sir Michael claimed on 28 January that the allegations “have been investigated”—past tense—while the Schools Minister, in a written question on 10 February, told Parliament that
“Ofsted is investigating matters raised”.
Which of these statements is true?
The Minister needs to come to the Dispatch Box and announce that there will be a proper investigation into the complaints of parents at these Jewish and Christian schools. There are too many, with too many similarities, for us to believe that they are all just made up. The Minister must tell us that new guidance will be issued to Ofsted on what constitutes age-appropriate questioning—that is all we are asking for—on sex and sexuality. He must make it clear to Ofsted that having a religious ethos is not a negative thing. Contrary to certain inspectors’ fantasies of Anglican or Catholic jihadism, the religious ethos of a school has the ability to imbue its pupils with lifelong virtues that will make them model citizens. That should be welcomed, not persecuted.
The Minister should remind Ofsted that the law prioritises the teaching of the Christian faith in RE and school assemblies because we are a Christian nation with a Christian heritage. He should require Ofsted to respect religious diversity in education. The problems of a few non-faith schools taken over by Islamic fundamentalists in Birmingham do not justify any aggression towards mainstream faith schools. So-called “British values” is a classic bureaucratic response to a problem and it is damaging Christian schools. The truth is that the real basis of actual British values are Christian values. It is the influence of Christianity that has made us one of the most tolerant and successful nations on earth, not this artificial nonsense—a knee-jerk reaction—dreamed up by officials.
The so-called British values the Government are attempting to force through purport to be upholding a status quo, but they are nothing of the kind. In fact, what we are dealing with is an attempt to destroy the rich diversity that currently exists and replace it with a stultifying conformist ideology that is enforced on all people at all times and everywhere. They are happy for people to be slightly Christian, slightly Jewish or slightly Muslim, so long as that is just a pretty façade for agreeing and conforming with an unforgivingly liberal ideology.
We believe in a different Britain. We believe in a Britain where one is free to be truly Catholic, free to be deeply Anglican, free to be an outright atheist, free to be a faithful Hindu, Sikh, Methodist or whatever one’s conscience calls one to be, or even free not to care at all.
We are faced with two roads—one of narrow ideology and the other of broad tolerance and co-existence—and the Department for Education is at the heart of the decision about which road to take. It must be robust with Ofsted. It should tell it to focus on results and to drop the politics. I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), who said that it was not Ofsted’s place to follow every ministerial fad on British values. Ofsted should look at maths and English, not political correctness. The “Book of Proverbs” says:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.
Church schools are a great blessing to our young people, spiritually, morally and educationally. I hope that the Minister will tell us he agrees with these sentiments and will require Ofsted to encourage them in its good work, not undermine them.
This debate is vital, because dedicated teachers in faith schools across the country are deeply worried. Reports of the approach taken by inspectors, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), in applying these schools standards and regulations has generated such concern that in my view Ministers have a duty to step in to clarify the confusion and allay teachers’ fears.
A constituent wrote to me, saying that the school and early years funding regulations
“will cause many early years providers with faith links to be excluded, or to compromise their teaching for fear of being excluded from receiving funding”.
In response, an Education Minister wrote:
“The Government…does not believe that it is appropriate to fund early years settings that teach creationism as evidence-based scientific fact… Nurseries continue to be free to tell creation stories, provided that they do not assert that these are scientifically based”.
What exactly does that mean? A nursery school teacher reading the Biblical account of creation has to say to her three-year-olds, “But children, this is not being taught as evidence-based scientific fact.” That is absolutely ridiculous. The concern is, however, that for fear of contravening the Department’s requirements, teachers are feeling pressurised into the safer option—as they see it—of not teaching the creation story or any other aspects of the Bible.
Another confusion concerns the application of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural standards. The Department states:
“It is not necessary for schools…to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own”.
It is important that the Minister confirms that at the Dispatch Box and that there is no requirement to promote other faiths. What is required is actively to promote mutual respect and tolerance of those with other faiths and beliefs. It is the freedom to follow other religions and a respect for that freedom that we should promote. It is entirely right that we should respect other people, including those with other beliefs, and to respect their right to hold those beliefs, but this is being conflated with a requirement to respect all other beliefs, which is quite a different thing altogether.
I respect Scientologists, but I do not respect Scientology. This confusion is very real. It appears in inspectors’ minds. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote of schools teaching “respect for…various faiths”, making no distinction between the believers and the beliefs. I understand that a Jewish Ofsted inspector has said that Ofsted wants to clamp down on schools that
“don’t conform to their ideology”.
Will the Minister confirm that it is not the intention that the standards should discriminate against any religion or undermine religious freedoms, because that appears to be exactly what is happening?
That brings us to yet another cause of confusion mentioned already: what exactly are British values? The Department’s consultation on British values—such a major issue—was hurried, mainly over the school summer holiday period, and inadequate. To then require the active promotion of those values by teachers is presumptuous and has contributed to the current confusion. The Church of England, in its response to the consultation on independent schools regulations, expressed concern that there had not been a sufficiently broad public consultation to inform the definition of British values and remains of the view that they are inadequately expressed and that broad public debate is still required. Ministers need to act on such concerns expressed by the Church of England, which oversees almost 5,000 church schools, both primary and secondary.
Another source of confusion that has been mentioned surrounds the phrase “age-appropriate”, with reference to Ofsted inspectors’ questions. We hear of different head teachers reporting pupils variously feeling
“bullied into answering inspectors’ questions”,
distressed, “traumatised and ashamed”, and “uncomfortable and upset”. As we have heard, a girl in year 11 felt “threatened about our religion”. It is a rich irony that, if that is the case, the inspectors’ approach contravenes the very recommendation to respect people that these standards extol. Far from promoting British values, these standards seem to be undermining them.
A fundamental British value stated in the standard is “individual liberty”, yet a teacher from an Orthodox Christian school, whom I have known for more than 20 years, wrote to me to point out that
“there are issues of erosion of…freedom”
Ministers need to step in and clarify what questions are and are not suitable for inspectors to ask young children, and how this issue should be approached, so that young people of different faiths can feel comfortable about living out their faiths in today’s diverse society.
Will the Minister confirm that he and his colleagues will look towards giving clear direction to Ofsted inspectors on these and other issues of concern to ensure that common sense prevails, to clarify what teachers in faith schools can expect when being inspected and to ensure that teachers’ ability to work according to their religious ethos is protected, so that the Department’s statement that
“it is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own”
is made a reality and not just rhetoric?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on securing this debate. It is a shame that so few Members are here for this debate on an extremely important subject. The two previous speakers have made important points, to which I am sure the Minister has been listening.
Let me say straight away that this is a matter of conscience, so I speak for nobody but myself. I have a lot of sympathy with what has been said, particularly on tolerance, and on the rights of children, which we need to think about very seriously. I come to this issue from a different angle; I confess that I am an atheist, but I am probably a model of tolerance for other ways of living. I think it extremely important that schools set people up for a full life in modern Britain. I shall come on to give one or two examples of where I feel that is not happening. To me, religious education is about education, not indoctrination. I shall briefly cover four areas in my speech: admissions, staffing, curriculum and community cohesion.
On admissions, it is interesting to note that only four countries in the whole of the OECD allow state schools to select on the basis of religion: the UK, Ireland, Israel and Estonia. No other country does. In fact, we are the only country in the OECD that has a legal commitment to an act of collective worship. That law is broken in about 80% of schools every day; if we think about the number of people involved, this must be the greatest act of collective law-breaking in history. I think it is time that we looked again at the collective worship provisions of the Education Act 1944. Given that so few schools go through with this, we need to clarify the position. It is interesting that we have heard a lot about the aggression of Ofsted, but in theory, it should be marking down and reporting the schools that are not carrying out proper acts of collective worship and are therefore breaking the law.
On staffing, my party is clear is about its policy. We believe that there should be a discriminatory recruitment process only for the staff needed to carry out religious activity in schools. A lady who lives two doors away from me in Redcar found her school in south Middlesbrough taken over by the Vardy Foundation, a creationist organisation, about 10 years ago, and she had to reapply for her job. I believe that the head of the foundation has now sold the schools that he took over. That woman, who was a drama teacher, was told that her new job would largely involve biblical tableaux. Not surprisingly, she left the school, and subsequently pursued a very successful career at a different school in my area. The issue of staffing is extremely important; young people deserve a range of staff to provide for their needs.
As for the curriculum—I mentioned the drama curriculum a moment ago—I suspect that that is where some of the trouble starts. Other Members have said that Ofsted appears to have been over-zealous in some of our more moderate schools. It certainly sounds as though it has, and I think that clarification is needed. However, it has recently identified various practices. I have already referred to the teaching of creationism as fact; that is happening in quite a few schools in the science and biology curriculum. It is a particular issue in the north-east, partly owing to the Vardy Foundation and some of its successor organisations.
GCSE science exam papers have been redacted in girls’ schools because the questions were deemed unacceptable. Some schools have not observed the legal obligation to teach anatomy, puberty and reproduction. Access has been denied to art or music. Schools have espoused a narrow view of the role of women and girls, homophobia, and exposure to extremist views. Those are all real, recent cases, and we need a system that is capable of picking them up.
I was a member of a parliamentary group that recently heard witnesses speak about three topics. The first was the Trojan horse situation in Birmingham, which has been well reported, so I shall not repeat all the arguments now, but I think it is well known that it was a problem for young people. We also heard from an ex-pupil from a Jewish Orthodox Haredi school in north London, who, despite having been born and raised in the United Kingdom, could speak only Yiddish at the age of 17 because he lived in such a tight, closed community. His education had been incredibly narrow. Some may say that his community is free to behave in that way, but I personally think that it is a poor preparation for life in modern Britain.
We also heard from a former Accelerated Christian Education pupil. ACE bases its entire curriculum on the Bible, and the former pupil said that he had left the school, at the age of 18, believing that the national health service and the welfare state were against biblical teaching. In other words, the teaching at the school was a cover for a very right-wing political agenda. Was that person well prepared for life in this country?
I realise that I approach this issue from a slightly different standpoint, but I have to say that the examples given by my hon. Friend are unbelievably alien to the experience of faith schools in areas such as Northumberland. I would not want him to think that that is what faith schools are like. The motion refers to
“the ability of faith schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and toleration for others.”
I am sure that that wording reflects his views as well as mine.
Absolutely. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has anticipated the next part of my speech. I have very little against most faith schools. The head of Ofsted is the former head of a Catholic secondary school, and he said recently that most faith schools “have nothing to fear”. There are outstanding faith schools in my constituency: Sacred Heart in Redcar and St Peter’s in South Bank, and their four Catholic feeder primary schools. The point that I was making in giving those rather extreme examples was that we need an inspection system that is fit for purpose and picks up such instances. If anyone has been given the impression that I think faith schools are riddled with this kind of thing, I wish to correct the record, because that is not what I was suggesting.
May I say something in fairness to Ofsted, which has not sent me a brief? On average, there are probably up to 10 faith schools in each of our constituencies, and I think that most of us have not received any complaints about Ofsted inspections. I suspect that we may be hearing about outlying cases. I do not know whether there is a new procedure, or whether some people are not up to the job or need more training, but I believe that most of our constituents want to be protected from both extreme teaching and the odd bad inspection.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Extreme teaching—and, indeed, extreme inspection, I suppose—is maybe what we are hearing about. Like him, I have not had any complaints from schools in my area about this issue. I do not want to predict the Minister’s speech, but the Department for Education itself has said that it is not true to suggest that schools would ever be penalised for having a faith ethos, so clearly the Department is not taking that position. If there is an issue, it is somewhere in the middle.
I talked about community cohesion, and there are undoubtedly potential issues there. I know we do not always like to talk about this in this House, but it is not new. We still have a huge sectarian problem in the UK in Northern Ireland. The Netherlands in the 1930s had major Protestant-Catholic problems, and one of its policy solutions was to stop educating people separately. I do not put that forward as a policy I think we should necessarily jump into, but it is notable that there are now 62 schools in Northern Ireland that are educating people on a multi-faith basis, and I think the people who live in those communities do see it as part of the peace process, in a place where sectarian divisions run very deep. I am happy to say that there are few parts of the mainland where that seems to be the case.
In a multicultural society, which we undoubtedly have,
“respect and toleration for others”
are vital, and those words are in the motion, so I do not have a problem with its wording. What we are really talking about is Ofsted acting where those things are not seen to be in place. It may well be over-acting, but it is right that it has a role to act if it sees that.
This is not just about parental rights, religion or the state; it is also about the child. It is important to note that article 14 of the UN convention on the rights of the child—the one that is in child-friendly language—says:
“You have the right to choose your own religion and beliefs.”
To be fair, it goes on to say:
“Your parents should help you decide what is right and wrong, and what is best for you”,
so there is an issue about the extent to which children should be indoctrinated and what sort of freedoms they should have. That is encapsulated in the UN convention on the rights of the child. I think children also have a right to be educated to be fit for life in the country in which they live—in this case, Britain. That goes to the heart of what sort of education they should get. Many groups have different views about this. I am standing down in a couple of weeks, but I am sure that this issue will not go away. I think it could grow with the proliferation of religions and cultures. Our laws need to be fit for purpose, as do our inspection processes and the way we fund schools.
As I have said, I have a partial view that not everyone in the House will agree with, but I shall finish with a quote from the chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Jonathan Romain from Maidenhead synagogue. He recently said:
“I want my children to go to a school where they can sit next to a Christian, play football at break time with a Muslim, do homework with a Hindu and walk home with an atheist—and with other children getting to know what a Jewish child is like. Schools should build bridges, not erect barriers.”
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on securing this debate. He has said everything that needs to be said, so I shall now be accused of speaking for the sake of it.
I was born a Catholic and I will die a Catholic, but if I had been born Jewish, I would have been proud to have been a Jew, and so on, but I absolutely understand, like the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales), who has just spoken, that there are many colleagues who have no faith at all. Until we are dead, we just do not know, so I am erring on the side of caution; I certainly do not want to go to hell, because I can only imagine that hell will be like the prospect of a Labour-Scottish National party coalition, so I am now sticking to my faith.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough on what he said, and I very much agree with everything that he shared with the House. My constituents, like his, have raised certain concerns about Ofsted’s system of inspection. The hon. Member for Redcar mentioned the gentleman who is in charge of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. I went to St Bonaventure’s grammar school, and Michael Wilshaw was the headmaster of that school. Indeed, he was knighted during his period as a head teacher. So the head of Ofsted knows only too well the value of a faith school, because St Bonaventure’s is a wonderful school. There are some wonderful faith schools in Southend, including Our Lady of Lourdes, St Bernard’s, St Thomas More, St Mary’s and St Helen’s.
I have been alarmed about the way in which Ofsted’s inspections of schools are unannounced and, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, I think that some of the questions being asked by the inspectors—certainly in a sexual context—are most inappropriate. Parents should be consulted much more readily on the questions that are being asked.
In November 2014, Sir Michael Wilshaw announced that no-notice inspections were used only where there were serious concerns about the breadth and balance of the curriculum, about rapidly declining standards, about safeguarding, or about standards of leadership or governance. As we all know, faith schools are some of the best performing schools in the country. They are marked as either good or outstanding by Ofsted. There is therefore no ground for Ofsted to carry out unannounced inspections on these excellent schools. As far as faith schools are concerned, it is absolutely nonsensical to say that a suspicion of extremism is a ground for making a no-notice inspection.
I also want to raise a shocking example of self-policing following parents’ complaints about the inappropriate and unannounced questioning of their children. I fail to understand how Ofsted was allowed to investigate the complaint made against it. Even more surprisingly, the Department for Education accepted Ofsted’s conclusion that the complaints raised by the parents were “false”.
Is my hon. Friend saying that there is no evidence of the complaint being investigated by any body other than Ofsted?
Yes, that is absolutely what I am saying.
A leaked internal Department for Education document shows that there has been a significant breakdown in trust between the DFE and Ofsted over this issue. The document describes Ofsted’s controversial drive to carry out British values inspections, and accuses the regulator of sending “confused and mixed messages”. However, the Government put the British values agenda in place and they have been quick to say that complaints about inappropriate questions are a matter for Ofsted, apparently without taking any steps to rein in the regulator. There are therefore questions for the Minister to answer today, and I am sure that we are anxious to leave him plenty of time to deal with them.
The Secretary of State sent a letter to colleagues stating:
“The changes we are making were first outlined in a letter to the Education Select Committee by Lord Nash in March of this year. In that letter, Lord Nash explained that the rationale was: ‘to tighten up the standards on pupil welfare to improve safeguarding, and the standards on spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils to strengthen the barriers to extremism’.”
The letter went on to state:
“The Prime Minister’s Extremism Task Force was clear in its December 2013 report that ‘Islamist extremism…is a distinct ideology which should not be confused with traditional religious practice’—but the vague school standards allow Ofsted to treat social conservatives as extremists.”
That is absolutely ridiculous.
The Secretary of State also told us that there are
“twin aims that lie at the heart of the reforms.
The most significant change strengthens the reference to fundamental British values, requiring schools not only to ‘respect’ but to actively promote them. This gives force to a policy first set out by my predecessor in response to events in Birmingham.
The fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs are not new.
They were defined in the Government’s Prevent Strategy in 2011”.
However, the Secretary of State also said:
“The new standards, which require the active promotion of British values, mark a dramatic change in education policy. The previous standards simply required respect for British values and made no mention of the Equality Act 2010…
No pupil should be made to feel inferior to others because of their background. This has long been a central tenet of British education. But it is of course also essential to protect freedom of speech and it is in no way true to suggest that these changes would fetter the views of individual teachers or censor the discussion of relevant matters. A teacher who, for instance, disagrees with same-sex marriage because of their Christian faith will not be prevented from expressing that view by these changes any more than they would now.”
My hon. Friend has spoken about the changes in these standards, but what has been an important change is that the Secretary of State now has power to take regulatory action where a school is in breach of these requirements. That is why it is so important that we seek clarification and that the Minister gives it, because the repercussions on a school if it is in breach of these standards, in the inspector’s view, are devastating.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s advice, and I am sure the whole House will reflect on what she has said. Let me return to what I was saying before she intervened. The letter continued:
“The experience in Orthodox Jewish schools has been that inspectors were actively hostile to traditional Jewish beliefs about marriage held by children and staff.”
That is absolutely shocking.
In conclusion, I believe that tolerance and inclusion are some of the most important British values, but the way in which they are passed on to young pupils should not be imposed on schools. Ofsted needs to cease making unannounced inspections on our brilliant, wonderful faith schools, and stop questioning pupils in a way that is not considered age-appropriate by parents.
As we have to finish at 4.58 pm, Madam Deputy Speaker, I apologise for the fact that I may not be able to leave the 15 minutes I had hoped to leave for the Minister, because if I did so I have would have only six minutes. I will try my best.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on his contribution and his passionate defence of faith schools, in which he admitted to the House that he felt trapped in the wrong body. That was an unexpected revelation; we are all intrigued. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) also expressed concerns that the consultation on British values had been rushed. I agree with her on that and I will say something more about it in a moment. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) rightly gave some worrying examples about the teaching of creationism. He was also right to intervene earlier in the debate to point out those concerns and to detail concerns about things such as the redacting of examination questions and the failure to teach legally required subjects. Those are serious issues and we should take them seriously in this debate. The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) told us about the excellent faith schools in his constituency.
I, too, attended a faith school. I attended a Catholic comprehensive school in Pontypool, and before anyone intervenes to ask me, yes I was taught by nuns, including the wonderful Sister Josephine, who taught me English, and Sister Mary Vincent, who was famous for her ability to deal with boisterous boys and therefore was known by all the pupils as Attila the Nun. It was a school in which it was perfectly possible, as hon. Members have described, to have a balanced education in a faith context. Everyone should take note of that fact.
As hon. Members have said, the debate has come about because of the sudden scandal that broke out in relation to the Al-Madinah free school and other schools involved in the Trojan Horse affair. In fact, the secondary part of the school was closed down as a result of that scandal, so it is not the case that just The Durham free school has been closed down.
There is no question but that British values are important. Given the recent concerns that have been expressed about the young girls who have travelled to Syria, it is clear that we need a national debate about the whole matter as well as about the role that schools should play in teaching British values. As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said, there has not been enough deep thinking about what that involves and about how schools should develop a whole school approach to the discussion of British values.
A couple of things have played into the problems that have been outlined this afternoon. One is the carelessness—I can only describe it as that—of the Department for Education and of Ministers in relation to their free school policy. That carelessness and that desire to make the policy a success in terms of numbers has led to some unsuitable people being given charge of our children. As the hon. Member for Redcar said, it led to things going on in schools—we know they were going on in schools such as the Al-Madinah free school and The Durham free school—that should not have been going on in state-funded, taxpayer-funded schools. Those things happened because of a carelessness in the introduction of that particular policy. Whatever we think about the concept of free schools, it should not have been a rushed job just to get numbers up. The policy should have been introduced with thought, and we should have applied the utmost rigour in testing the suitability of those people who were being given the charge of our children.
The other matter that has played into the problems is that knee-jerk reaction to the consequences of that carelessness in policy, namely the Trojan horse scandal, which involved a number of schools, including some free schools. That knee-jerk reaction resulted in this rushed idea that we had to teach British values. That very quick consultation resulted in the confusion that Members have outlined this afternoon.
As a result, we have confusion—we have heard about that—and condemnation. We get complaints from schools about the way that they are being treated. That is what happens when policy, particularly education policy, is made on the hoof. Last year, when this issue first came up, we had a debate on British values. At that time, I warned against the rush to put the policy in place. I also mentioned the systematic problems that had led to the Trojan Horse affair. However, as Members have pointed out, it was not faith schools that caused the problem. Faith-based education is a positive part of our system, and some of the finest schools in this country are faith-based schools. None the less, those schools must still respect and understand other views. As Members have said, that is what happens in the vast majority of our faith schools across the country.
Faith schools should never be places of indoctrination and proselytisation. The hon. Member for Gainsborough agreed with me on that. Of course those are the words used by the Catholic Education Service in its briefing on these subjects. Faith schools of whatever faith, academies or community-run schools must understand that the teaching of religion in our taxpayer-funded schools is not about proselytisation or indoctrination. It is of course perfectly valid that we should have a faith-based element in our system. Indeed, it is a long and proud part of our tradition.
We believe that had a better approach been in place, we would not have encountered the problems that have been outlined today. A classic example of the British values issue was when the then Secretary of State hit the headlines—he used to do that very effectively—but totally missed the point. As a result of that, we have the debate that we have had today.
I will conclude, as I wish to leave the Minister plenty of time in which to respond. Ultimately, the problem is taxpayers’ money being handed over too freely without accountability to groups who fail to understand that they cannot proselytise and indoctrinate in our schools. The fault for the emergence of that problem lies largely, I am afraid to say, with the approach that the Government have taken.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) on securing this debate and giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important issue. I also thank other hon. Members who have spoken and express my gratitude to the Labour shadow Minister for being generous with his time and for issuing a clear reprimand to his boss for his views on the contribution of nuns to the education system. That will have been noted by the House and no doubt by his hon. Friend.
I welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has given me to provide some clarity on this issue, if that is needed. I hope that I can offer him the assurances for which he has asked. I am grateful to him for notifying me of some of his concerns before the debate so that I could study them in detail. As he mentioned, he also spoke recently to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who takes these matters extremely seriously. I will conclude my remarks with some of the comments that she has asked me to pass on about the Government’s position on these matters.
I should say, especially given the time that I have to respond to the debate, that a lot of the allegations that have been made today about the inspection of particular schools are, as my hon. Friend will understand, contested. It is impossible for me to rebut each of the allegations today. Both the Department and Ofsted take them seriously, but as the Minister responsible for Ofsted I must make it clear that many of the allegations are not accepted and Ofsted has done its best to investigate them closely. The time I have does not allow me to go through each of the schools that my hon. Friend has raised in great detail so I will ask the chief inspector to write to him before Parliament is dissolved explaining Ofsted’s views about the allegations that have been made. I hope that that will be helpful to my hon. Friend.
A number of hon. Members have said, and I am grateful to the shadow Minister for putting the Government’s position on the record, that schools are not required to actively promote other faiths. They have to actively promote respect for those of other faiths. Those two things are different, and that needs to be clearly understood.
The Government recognise the huge contribution of the Churches and faiths to education in our country. As my hon. Friend said, Church and faith schools continue to be included among the highest-performing schools in the country, regularly topping the league tables. It is therefore unsurprising that they continue to be popular with parents, but this is not just about their academic record, as my hon. Friend said. Parents value their strong ethos, and their commitment to the development of character and discipline and to acting for good in society.
There has been a lot of discussion about whether fundamental British values are compatible with the values of different groups and communities in our society, especially those with different faiths and beliefs. For most of us—this has been reflected in the debate today—it is self-evident that these are shared values in our society, but we should be explicit about what the Government require. Our expectation is that every school will promote and teach about democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. I believe that the vast majority of people in Britain, whether they have a faith or not, would agree that schools should be teaching these values, and challenging views and behaviours that are contrary to them.
One of the reasons why I am so confident that we are talking about shared values is that so many schools already do a great job of promoting them, including many Church and faith schools. The Government—my hon. Friend raised this with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—are keen to highlight the excellent practice in many schools. For example, Ofsted inspectors recently highlighted excellent practice in Sinai Jewish primary school in Brent. They found that pupils were not only “proud to be Jewish” but also
“enjoy working with pupils from different ethnic and religious backgrounds”.
The report notes that pupils are
“exceptionally well prepared for life in modern Britain”.
Inspectors noted that St Ethelbert’s Catholic primary school in Slough encourages pupils to see the world from different perspectives and has the notion of tolerance and mutual respect running through its core. Ofsted inspectors singled out the contributions of schools such as Christ the King school in Bristol and Tauheedul boys school in Blackburn, which was commended for having children who are
“very well prepared to take their place in modern British society and embrace British values”.
These examples demonstrate that there is no inherent tension between schools having a strong faith ethos and providing well for their pupils in relation to fundamental British values. They show that Ofsted’s approach successfully reconciles those two aspects in reporting on schools, so the Government do not accept the assertion that schools cannot be expected to know how to promote British values effectively, or that doing so creates an excessive burden. Good schools have always ensured that their pupils learn about the values we share, as well as the beliefs and practices that make us different.
Just as the benefits of promoting British values are clear, so are the risks of failing to prepare pupils for life in Britain. What we saw in Birmingham last year—often in non-faith schools, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough rightly pointed out—and since then in a small minority of cases outside Birmingham were the dire consequences of schools failing, in some cases deliberately, to fulfil their responsibilities. In some schools, girls were treated as second-class citizens in the classroom, made to sit at the back and offered less choice of subjects than boys, limiting their aspirations and career opportunities. Homophobic bullying took place, and there were discriminatory attitudes about other faiths, lifestyles and cultures, with teachers and school leaders failing to intervene, and a lack of any learning about the different faiths and beliefs that make up British society, leaving pupils unprepared for adult life and, in some cases, more susceptible to extremist ideologies and their divisive narratives.
An intolerant extreme ideology is, of course, anathema to the vast majority of people of faith in Britain, but the lesson we must learn from Birmingham and other school failures is that it is right and essential to keep focusing on schools’ work to develop their pupils’ character and understanding of others in society and to hold schools to account fairly where they fail to do so.
My hon. Friend knows that Ofsted is a non-ministerial Department and has independence in its reporting and professional judgments. As such, Her Majesty’s chief inspector is accountable to Parliament, appearing before the Education Committee twice a year. One important aspect of Ofsted’s inspection of maintained schools is the consideration of the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils. I emphasise that that has not been added to Ofsted’s remit in response to recent events and concerns; it has been enshrined in inspection legislation since Ofsted’s establishment in 1992.
There have been reports about schools being unfairly targeted for inspection and, in some cases, quite selective reporting of the outcomes of some inspections asserting that schools have been marked down for aspects of fundamental British values. Ofsted has made it absolutely clear that this is not the case. In an article for The Independent on 5 February 2015, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:
“As a former headteacher of a Catholic secondary school, the charge that I am presiding over some sort of state-sponsored anti-faith school ‘witch hunt’ would be laughable—were it not so serious. I have long been a staunch supporter and proponent of faith schools in this country, believing, as I do, that they are a valuable and enduring feature of our education landscape”.
He went on, which will please my hon. Friend, to say:
“Let me offer this unequivocal reassurance—the vast majority of faith schools have nothing to fear either from Ofsted or from the recent guidance issued by the Department for Education on promoting British values as part of the curriculum”.
Schools are neither discriminated against nor given special treatment based on any religious belief. All schools are treated equally and inspected under the same framework.
The Minister is right to mention partial reporting. At The Durham free school, there were many issues, including the failure to attract pupils.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In all the cases drawn to our attention, there are much wider issues than those that have been described. Quite often, the reasons for the schools being failed in some way by Ofsted inspectors have been not primarily about some of those concerns but about other issues.
In conducting inspections, inspectors are required to uphold the highest professional standards and ensure that everyone they encounter is treated fairly and with respect. I know that Ofsted inspectors receive thorough and comprehensive training in how to plan, manage and conduct a wide range of interviews and discussions with pupils during inspection, in both formal and informal situations. Ofsted has made it clear that it is not looking for answers from pupils that are contrary to any faith, but it must be clear that pupils can express views that are neither intolerant nor discriminatory.
Although Ofsted inspectors will, of course, act at all times with respect for the faith and values of the school, there are key statutory requirements that state-funded schools must nevertheless comply with, including ensuring that the theory of evolution is taught in science, although faith schools can and do teach that it is a theory that their religion does not believe in; the provision of sex and relationship education; and the teaching of pupils about other faiths—Ofsted describe this as “tolerance through understanding”—although this does not mean having to promote or celebrate other faiths. Failure to adhere to these requirements is unacceptable to the Department and Ofsted, and Ofsted would always treat very seriously complaints about any other matters.
Where concerns have been reported in the media, these have often overlooked, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) indicated a moment ago, wider concerns about provision in the schools visited, rather than just weaknesses in promoting British values. That becomes apparent from reading the full inspection reports. Regarding Grindon Hall and The Durham free school, Ofsted inspectors found that the curriculum in both schools was too narrow, resulting in pupils not being adequately prepared for life in modern Britain. Worryingly, the pupils showed a lack of respect and tolerance towards those belonging to different faiths, cultures and communities, and this was unchallenged by staff.
Because of the allegations made by hon. Members and others, I have looked at all these schools. In many cases there are other issues that have led to the schools receiving criticism from Ofsted, often to do with the progress and attainment of pupils. In relation to Grindon Hall, following initial concerns from the principal of Grindon Hall Christian school in December, Ofsted undertook a detailed examination of the inspection evidence. This was conducted as part of its rigorous pre-publication and moderation process. These checks of the inspections found no evidence to indicate that inspectors failed to act with care and sensitivity, or to ask age-appropriate questions when they spoke to pupils. Sir Michael made this clear to the Education Committee in January when he said that Ofsted had “investigated those allegations” and found them to be false. However, subsequent to Sir Michael’s appearance in front of the Committee, Ofsted received formal complaints from the schools in February. These are now being investigated in line with Ofsted’s published complaints policy, and Ofsted will respond in due course.
I am sure we all agree that we need a cohesive, strong and safe society and that all schools, especially faith schools, have a vital role to play in this. The Secretary of State has asked me to underline a number of points. First, where concerns about the inspection of faith schools are raised with us, we pass these to Ofsted to ensure that any misunderstandings are cleared up. Where myths are growing, Ofsted will tackle these by communicating directly with faith groups. Secondly, we will ensure that best practice in relation to faith schools is spread around the system. The Secretary of State has asked me to make it clear that she has raised these issues directly with the chief inspector. I hope that what I have said today will give reassurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, but I am happy to take up any further concerns directly with him.
I am grateful to all who have taken part in this debate, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), for Redcar (Ian Swales) and for Southend West (Sir David Amess), the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) and my right hon. Friend the Minister.
In a few moments we are going to pass the motion
“That this House believes that Ofsted should respect the ability of faith schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and toleration for others.”
That will be an important moment and the motion will be a guide to Ofsted. We have all agreed that faith schools —I think I am quoting the Minister here—do not have to promote other faiths, only respect for other faiths. We can all agree on that.
With regard to the particular allegations, there has not been time, unfortunately, for the Minister to deal with them all. They are hotly contested. When the chief inspector writes to me, I hope he will cover the point I made that there is no point in his asking his own inspectors; he must go back to the pupils, parents and teachers. We do not want any more inappropriate questioning of very young people. We want to create an atmosphere in which faith schools have the confidence to actively promote their own faith in the context of respect for others. On that, I am sure we can all agree.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House believes that Ofsted should respect the ability of faith schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and toleration for others.