New, dangerously anti-free-speech regulations have come into force in English schools on the 29th September 2014. They are contained in the new Independent School Standards regulations, which change the legal framework for academies, free schools and private schools. Ofsted has been asked to enforce the same minimum standards for all other schools.
Among them are the requirements that schools actively promote:
(v) further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures;The former is very good in theory, if we didn't know that the "tolerance" and "respect" are not mutual but one-directional, at the expense of British culture.
(vi) encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010.
As for the latter, the new standards will only be met if a school in England "actively promotes" the rights enshrined in the Equality Act.
Colin Hart, Campaign Director of the Coalition for Marriage, explains what this innocent-sounding regulation means in practice:
As a result, schools will undoubtedly be put under pressure to promote same-sex marriage. Advice from a senior QC confirms this.Indeed, the Government Consultation Documents are specific about what these "protected characteristics" are. A clue: think of words that are often used in conjunction with the suffix "phobia".
a. Para 3.2.2The protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation (s4 Equality Act 2010).
b. “The new requirement for schools to actively promote principles which encourage respect for persons with protected characteristic (as set out in the Equality Act 2010) is intended to allow the Secretary of State to take regulatory action in various situations: for example… failure to address homophobia; or where prejudice against those of other faiths is encouraged or not adequately challenged by the school”.
This all conflicts directly with previous good guidance issued by the Government. But earlier reassurances can’t disguise the fact that schools will now have to comply with the new minimum standards...In short, the new regulations are written in such ambiguous terms that any opinion about an institution - like same-sex marriage - may be taken as a lack of respect for some people - homosexuals.
If schools were required to promote respect for people as people there would be no problem. But the additional requirement of “paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010” transforms the duty in an alarming way.
One of the ‘protected characteristics’ in the Equality Act is sexual orientation. It could easily be alleged that a teacher who says “I believe same-sex marriage is not real marriage” has shown a lack of respect for people of a same-sex sexual orientation.
Schools will come under immense pressure to endorse same-sex marriage in order to comply with these regulations. Since the equality rights must be “actively promoted”, they will undoubtedly change what is taught in schools.
Under existing equality law, schools cannot discriminate against pupils but governments have carefully excluded the school curriculum from the Equality Act. The regulations break the seal around the curriculum for the first time. Now activists could launch a discrimination claim over the content of lessons.
This is why the Association of School and College Leaders has warned about the harmful implications for freedom of expression in schools.
The Government keeps talking about “British values” but seems to think this means promoting political correctness.
In its alarming consultation document, the Government lets slip some of its thinking.
3.2.2It’s astonishing that the Government thinks schools should challenge the personal beliefs of parents for being contrary to political correctness. This could lead a head teacher to reprimand a parent who tells their child that marriage is for a man and a woman.
PART 2 – Spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of students
… Schools will be expected to focus on, and be able to show how their work with pupils is effective in embedding fundamental British values. ‘Actively promote’ also means challenging pupils, staff or parents expressing opinions contrary to fundamental British values.
The new requirement for schools to actively promote principles which encourage respect for persons with protected characteristics (as set out in the Equality Act 2010) is intended to allow the Secretary of State to take regulatory action in various situations: for example where girls are disadvantaged on the grounds of their gender; failure to address homophobia; or where prejudice against those of other faiths is encouraged or not adequately challenged by the school.As we know from recent history, reasonable opposition to same-sex marriage is routinely described as ‘homophobia’. Does the new equality requirement mean a school must discipline or dismiss a teacher who voices support for traditional marriage? Will parents of prospective pupils be interrogated about their beliefs before their child is granted a place at school?
The plans also slip in another attack on parents by demanding that in future private schools must conform to ‘national norms’ rather than the expectations of parents.
Any school with a religious ethos which upholds traditional marriage will now have to defend itself against the new rules. Schools could be harassed by inspectors or even have their governors removed by the Secretary of State.
The regulations are a fundamental change of approach in our education system, which have been slipped out under the radar. It is vital that these dangerous plans are opposed and exposed. [All emphases added]
As John Bowers Q.C. explains:
The Regulations are not framed as a duty to promote the protected characteristics but instead as a duty to promote respect of people, having particular regard to those protected characteristics. It adopts much of its language from the human rights case law (tolerance, respect etc). It is however a small step as a matter of interpretation to elide the respect for a person to respecting the beliefs and practices of the group to which that person belongs and this is especially so given the reference to active promotion, a concept to which I refer below in more detail. It may also be said that the words “paying particular regard” shift the duty beyond that of merely respecting people since otherwise it could have been framed simply as a duty to respect persons. [Emphasis added]Mr Bowers also remarks that the curriculum is in danger of becoming politicised,
because respect for some protected characteristics (or more correctly respect of those with different protected characteristics including faiths and beliefs) may be highly contentious. The law has thus far stayed steadfastly outside the classroom door (and indeed from promoting respect in the classroom) and this has been the policy of governments of each political colour. [Emphasis added]It's been an article of faith of successive governments that the curriculum should not be a political football and that teachers should not even potentially be the subject of litigation. But all this could be an unintended consequence of the amendments.
Mr Bowers provides examples of situations in which teachers may fall foul of the standards because what they say may be perceived as a lack of respect for people who hold the corresponding beliefs: portraying jihad negatively, dismissing the concept of man-made climate change, making jokes about veganism. He concludes:
The danger of litigation is exacerbated by the vagueness in the proposals arising from the concept of active promotion.I find the concept of "protected characteristics" entitling the persons who possess them to "particular respect" a bit politically-correctly sinister, implying that some groups of people are more equal than others. We already know that Muslims are more equal than non-Muslims and homosexuals are more equal than Christians - we've seen it repeatedly demonstrated -, but now it could be enshrined in government's school regulations.
41. The inevitable result is to open teachers up to increased scrutiny, pressures and complaints. There is a real risk of major litigation over what happens in the classroom. Further the contents may undermine their academic freedom.
In the end, all this means one thing: much more power to the government and less freedom of expression to people. We are on a slippery slope to totalitarianism, and plenty of progress on that route has already been made.