The government has confirmed that their plan remains to introduce a system of regulation for Sunday schools and Christian youth teaching.
This comes one year after its consultation on out-of-school educational settings, which would include Sunday schools and other church activities.
The plans would require registration for all groups, with the possibility of inspection for any setting where children attend teaching or training for more than six hours per week. This would include activities held only once per year, such as holiday clubs.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Nash said, ‘We want a system that regulates out-of-school settings and works effectively, but is not overly burdensome’, citing the fact that many of these settings are small and run by volunteers.
Simon McCrossan, head of public policy at the Evangelical Alliance, commented: ‘We are encouraged that there were so many responses to this legislation, as we, along with other organisations, highlighted concerns. The lack of a clear response from the government is leading to a great deal of uncertainty.
The concern of evangelical churches is that, by registering Sunday schools, the government could then have the power to say what doctrine is or is not desirable. Further concern has been raised as a result of comments of Dame Louise Casey, the government’s integration tsar.
In responding to a question about schools from the Communities and Local Government Committee, Dame Casey’s views on ‘equality’ seemed to suggest that Christian schools will be targeted for teaching biblical views on sexuality.
She said: ‘More importantly, when does a teacher running a secular school say: “No, it’s fine for you not to do theatre”, or music or those sorts of thing? When is that okay? I do not really have any view on which religion it is that it is promoting those sorts of views, but they are not okay, in the same way that it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage. That is not okay either — it is not how we bring children up in this country.
‘It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities. We have got to be careful that people can choose, obviously, to live the lives that they want to live, but that they cannot condemn others for living differently’.
McCrossan commented on her remarks, ‘Dame Louise Casey appears to conflate legitimate concerns about safeguarding and terrorism with trying to enforce new social norms on church schools’.
The proposals to regulate out-of-school settings are part of the government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy. In the Queen’s Speeches of 2015 and 2016 proposals for a bill were included, but such a bill has yet to appear.
McCrossan concluded: ‘The government seems genuinely confused as to how to proceed. We hope that Christians will continue to be alert to the seriousness of what is being proposed and that the government will listen to the concerns of faith groups and wider civil society’.