In November 2015, the Government launched a consultation on proposals for a new system for registering and inspecting education settings outside of school. It argued that this would enable action to be taken where settings are failing to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, which includes failing to protect them from the harm caused by extremism. The consultation closed on 11 January 2016. However, a response from the Government remains outstanding.
I know there is real concern that these proposals could put an administrative burden on voluntary organisations and faith groups running youth activities, including Sunday schools, Scouts and Guides, Music Groups and Church Youth Activities. I am also aware that concerns have been raised about the potential for tension between increased safeguarding and religious freedom.
During the last Parliament, the Government said it “had no intention of seeking to regulate religion or to infringe people’s freedom to follow a faith of their choice or hold particular beliefs”. It also stated that it “was not proposing to regulate institutions teaching children for a short period every week, such as Sunday schools, but that any new system would be targeted, proportionate and focus on establishments that are believed to preach hatred or put children at risk”.
The current Government has announced proposals to establish a Commission for countering extremism, but the Queen’s Speech in June 2017 made no explicit reference to out-of-school education settings. We must await the response to the consultation on this and I hope all views will be carefully considered as part of this process.
I believe we have to do all we can to ensure that children are out of harm’s way when they are in school or out of school, not just in Ipswich but in the whole UK. While it is vital that all communities are able to practice their religion free from persecution, it is also very important that all genuine concerns and any evidence of out-of-school settings engaging in prohibited activities are investigated.