OFSTED. If you’ve ever worked in teaching, the word probably strikes fear into your heart. Their inspection regime keeps teachers and school managers on their toes, and is intended to ensure that taxpayer’s money is well spent. They inspect, monitor standards and publish statistics about early years and childcare, schools, initial teacher training, children and families services and further education and skills inspections and outcomes.

Like most government funded bodies, they are currently facing cuts, having to produce efficiency savings and generate more with less staff and less resources than they really need. And current proposals would see their workload increasing markedly, extending their responsibility and oversight to many voluntary organisations, charities and religious groups who deal with children and young people.

Because a small number of Islamic groups have been found in the UK which are operating ‘schools’ or clubs which endorse violence, work against social integration and do not comply with existing legal requirements, the government proposes that any groups teaching or directing children with sufficient regularity for enough hours each week must be registered, and liable to inspection. This would include the work of thousands of volunteers in organisations like Scouts, Guides and Saint John’s Ambulance, as well as summer camps and clubs and Sunday schools. At the very least, it would add to the bureaucracy and paperwork which gets in the way of doing what they really want to – making the lives of young people better and richer, and improving society. At worst, it could be, for some, the cause of box-ticking policies, anxiety, and a discouragement to doing the good work they are. It would certainly add to OFSTEDs workload.

Most of these groups covered receive no money from the taxpayer. Most of them are voluntary, charitable, and undeniably exist for a social good. Is it really the government’s business to be supervising and directing such efforts? Is this really the best way to deal with a small number of people who have been found to be breaking laws that already exist, and whose criminality was dealt with effectively as soon as discovered with no new legislation required? As is so often the case, the real answer would seem to be to give current regulatory frameworks, applied by police and other enforcement bodies, a realistic chance, by providing the means to ensure existing laws and standards are followed. But the precise opposite is happening, and in order to appear to be doing something about the problems, politicians offer yet more guidelines, red tape and legal interference.

It’s not hard to imagine where this might lead. OFSTED has absolutely no expertise in regulating religious organisations – that’s something we might associate more with China, Iran, Indonesia and other, less open and democratic countries. Faced with the myriad of diverse and mutually contradictory claims of the mainstream faiths – e.g. there is no God (Buddhism), there is one God, who is one person (Islam), there is one God, who is three persons (Christianity) or there are hundreds of millions of gods (Hinduism) – OFSTED will be forced to resort to the kind of simplistic, militantly secular (and naturalistic) politically-correct box ticking that already characterises the ‘equality and diversity’ agenda in much of the civil service. That means any exclusive claims, like Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God, the only hope of salvation and the only source of life, will not be acceptable. Biblically faithful Sunday schools and summer camps will be pressured, legally hounded and eventually silenced in the name of inclusivism and tolerance. Not because they’re causing harm, promoting violence, or in any way destabilising our society – they do the opposite – but because they don’t fit with a narrow (and historically ignorant) conception of ‘British values’.

And the march of those militant and war-mongering Islamic sub-groups which have already shown contempt for our laws will simply go on – unregistered, underground, and unchecked, much as it currently is. You can’t challenge religious lies with a political agenda, shutting down or neutering religion by denying freedom of speech and debate. You can only challenge religious lies with religious truth. In reality, the biblical view of tolerance, mutual respect, freedom, equality under law and non-violence is what provided the foundation for most of what is good about 21st century Britain. The last thing we need, when those values are threatened, is to risk hindering the proclamation of biblical truth which supports them.

16 February 2016