The Evangelical Alliance, a UK wide Christian group, are calling for the government to abandon proposals to regulate out-of-school settings across England.
The government’s is currently consulting on proposals around home education and out-of-school education settings, which are marred by ambiguity and could potentially lead to the state regulation of church life and a national registration system entangling much of wider civil society including museums, sports clubs, even some grandparents caring for their grandchildren.
The Evangelical Alliance has spoken out against the proposals and called as a matter of urgency for clarification from the government, warning that they could lead to an unprecedented state backed register of religious attendance for every person up to age 19.
Simon McCrossan, head of public policy at the Evangelical Alliance, said:
“Last year the government finally accepted that their plans on out-of-school settings were unworkable and an unnecessary intrusion upon civil society, but some people just won’t give up.
“The government are now seeking to introduce a set of far reaching, bureaucratic proposals that bear a striking resemblance to those abandoned plans.
“Civil society and the state are different things, and time and again we see that registration leads to regulation which in turn leads to the limiting of religious freedom. The ambiguity and the refusal of the government to clarify the purpose and scope of these regulations leads to a grave concern that there will be a chilling effect on the church’s ability to practice and proclaim its faith in Jesus.
“In their current form, these plans hold open the door to a state register of attendance at church activities and will impact both religious and non-religious groups alike – from bell ringers to youth clubs – because there is no clarity as to their scope and the ambiguity seems intentional.”
In 2015 the government proposed regulating out of school settings. The Evangelical Alliance and many other groups expressed concerns that the proposals could lead to the regulation of Sunday schools and other church activities. After more than two years of delay the government quietly dropped the idea last year, but seem to be returning to the proposals through the home education proposals.
The Evangelical Alliance is committed to ensuring vigorous safeguarding and health and safety provisions are in place. But the government needs to work with faith community and other civil society groups to ensure these proposals are workable and effective.
The government’s consultation on Children not in School goes beyond proposals for home education and also suggests creating a legal obligation upon ‘proprietors’ of ‘settings’ to take, maintain and store registers of attendance at the setting for state inspection upon request, with sanctions for failure to do so.
Nowhere in the consultation is any clarity as to what counts as a setting, or who is a proprietor, leading to the inevitable assumption that future regulation could cover a whole raft of activities provided by churches and other civil society groups.
The 2015 proposals collapsed due to their broad focus, vague language and unintended outcomes. In this current consultation the Evangelical Alliance believe that there are three questions about the contexts covered which the consultation document fails to answer:
- What is an educational setting?
- What are normal school hours?
- Who is a proprietor of a setting?
While the government insists that these terms will be set out in future legislation, this is seen by the Evangelical Alliance as leaving open a door to wide ranging regulation and potentially an “unprecedented intrusion upon religious activity”.
Mr McCrossan went on to say:
“It looks like these proposals could lead to the registration of early morning prayer meetings and after-school bible studies. This would be an unacceptable and unprecedented infringement of religious liberty more readily associated with regimes that have dubious human rights records.
“Although the government responded to our legitimate request for clarification, the ambiguous nature of their response suggests that these proposals do pose a threat to church life and wider civil society activity and must not go forward.”
The Evangelical Alliance has published a guide to responding to parts of this consultation and is encouraging people to respond to the consultation.