The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today responded to the Government’s consultation on proposed new independent school standards. The standards, which all Academies, Free Schools and private schools will be required to follow, include requiring schools to ‘actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’. Previously schools merely had to ‘encourage respect for’ those values. The BHA has broadly welcomed the changes.
In its response, the BHA has said the following:
- On British values, ‘none of the values listed are uniquely British. We are aware that when these proposals were first introduced, Michael Gove said that would be a misreading of them to conclude that the implication is that they are uniquely British. But nonetheless there is a lot of public debate and confusion over this point and we think the new regulations might be clearer if the word “British” was removed or used in a way that removes the possessive adjective, for example if “British values” is changed to “values of modern Britain”.’
- On extremism, the BHA has welcomed the above-listed values being extended and strengthened throughout the standards, but is concerned about the requirement to respect/appreciate cultures, not individuals who belong to different cultures.
- On equalities, there are references to schools being required to follow the Equality Act 2010 throughout, which means that if an independent school breaks the Act, then this would no longer be up to the Courts to enforce but can be regulated by the Department for Education. The BHA has welcomed this as a significant step towards ensuring equality. However, the BHA regrets that ‘support for equality of opportunity for all’, which is in the list of values Academies and Free Schools must follow, is not in the list for private schools.
- On pseudoscience, the BHA has called for more to be done to prevent independent schools from teaching pseudoscientific ideas as scientifically valid – either through a change in the standards or through changes to Ofsted’s inspection framework.
In the last few months the BHA has also responded to consultations on barring extremists from working in schools, tightening up the rules around independent inspectorates (such as the Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which inspects Christian Schools’ Trust and Association of Muslim Schools schools, and the School Inspection Service, which inspects Exclusive Brethren and Steiner schools), and how the scheme of providing free nursery places is funded.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘These changes represent a significant and positive step in the right direction in terms of preventing extremism and ensuring equalities in private schools, Academies and Free Schools. More however must be done to ensure that every young person receives a full, comprehensive and unbiased scientific education, with no school teaching creationism or intelligent design as scientifically valid and yet still achieving good marks in its statutory inspection.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7324 3072.
Read about the consultation: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/proposed-new-independent-school-standards
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on countering creationism: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/countering-creationism
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.