Ofsted Chief Inspector warns against religion ‘perverting the purpose of education’

1 February, 2018

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman

Religious leaders are using schools to ‘pervert the purpose of education’ and ‘indoctrinate impressionable minds’, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has said. In a speech being delivered at a Church of England conference today, Spielman calls on schools and headteachers to challenge ‘those who actively undermine fundamental British values.’ Humanists UK, which campaigns for an end to the undue influence of religion in the education system, has welcomed the remarks.

Ofsted’s most recent annual report, published in December 2017, expressed alarm at the ‘increasing number of conservative religious schools that are spreading beliefs that clash with British values and equalities law’, noting that the proportion of private religious schools that are judged to be failing has increased significantly in recent years. The Chief Inspector’s speech today builds on these findings, and notes:

‘Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education. Under the pretext of religious belief, they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology. Freedom of belief in the private sphere is paramount, but in our schools it is our responsibility to tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values or equalities law.’

In a direct message to schools, Spielman went on to say that ‘Rather than adopting a passive liberalism, that says “anything goes” for fear of causing offence, school leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism.’ Schools should not be ‘assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone’, and ‘must not be afraid to call out practices, whatever their justification, that limit young people’s experiences and learning.’

Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘The Chief Inspector is absolutely right, and her comments are supported by years of inspection reports detailing the damaging encroachment of religion into schools.

‘Our view is clear. Parents have the legal right to bring up their children in line with their religion or belief, and – for better or for worse – that right is all but untrammelled in this country. What parents do not have the right to do is demand that the state provides that religious upbringing for them through the schools it funds, especially when it runs counter to equalities legislation and widely-held values of tolerance, respect, and individual liberty.

‘Unfortunately, the support of successive governments for faith schools of all kinds has encouraged religious groups and a minority of religious parents to believe that they do have this right. We have been warning about the consequences of this for decades, but only now are some authorities beginning to wake up to them. That is welcome, if overdue, so we certainly hope that Ofsted continues to prioritise the rights of children over the unwarranted demands of religion, and would encourage schools to do the same.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanists.uk.

Read Amanda Spielman’s speech: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/amanda-spielmans-speech-at-the-church-of-england-foundation-for-education-leadership

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘Ofsted sounds alarm over increase in extreme private and illegal religious schools’: https://humanists.uk/2017/12/13/ofsted-sounds-alarm-over-increase-in-extreme-private-and-illegal-religious-schools/

Read Ofsted’s 2017 annual report: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ofsted-chief-inspector-launches-her-first-annual-report-on-state-of-education-and-childrens-care-in-england

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on religious schools: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.