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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child protection in religious organisations and settings Investigation Report

Contents

F.5: The 2015 Department for Education consultation on out-of-school settings and the voluntary code

38. The Department for Education is the central government department with national policy responsibility for the overarching framework for child protection and safeguarding, which is overseen by local authorities as set out in the Children Act 1989 and in subsequent legislation.[1] The Department for Education has a policy remit for religious organisations and settings only in so far as those organisations and settings are responsible for the operation of faith schools, early years or nursery provisions, or social care settings (such as running adoption agencies). Its responsibility for the operation of out-of-school settings is very limited and consists of influence rather than any statutory responsibility.

39. As part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy, the Department for Education issued a consultation in 2015 about whether to create a statutory regulatory framework for out-of-school settings – not just those that were religious, but all of those that provided voluntary or paid-for supplementary education.[2]

40. As part of its call for evidence, the Department for Education sought views on proposals for a regulatory system for out-of-school settings, the key features of which would include:

  • a requirement on settings that fell within scope to register, providing basic information so that there is transparency about where settings are operating;
  • a power for a body to inspect settings to ensure that children are being properly safeguarded; and
  • a power to impose sanctions where settings are failing to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, which could include barring individuals from working with children and the closure of premises.[3]

41. Additionally, the focus of the proposals was on the removal of what it determined to be “undesirable teaching”, which involved what it said was the undermining of fundamental British values or the promotion of extremist views.[4] This was defined as “vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values”, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.[5] As Ofsted, the Department for Education and some local authorities identified, some religious organisations perceived this to be a threat to their teaching and religious beliefs.[6] The focus on counter-extremism and implying that all such settings would need to respect “fundamental British values” on registration hindered the progress of potentially valuable measures for the protection of children from sexual abuse and other forms of physical abuse.

42. There were approximately 18,000 responses to the Department for Education’s call for evidence, about half of which were from faith groups and about three-quarters of which were against the Department for Education’s proposals.[7] Ms Dixon noted that among the concerns was the potential of “overstepping of government’s role into religious freedom of expression”.[8]

43. The Evangelical Alliance was among those organisations that opposed the Department for Education’s proposals. It wrote to its members highlighting its concerns and urging them to respond to the consultation.[9] Mr Peter Lynas, who appeared on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance, told us that:

“The out-of-school setting … consultation didn’t seem to understand different settings, and so came with the very blunt instrument in regard to those settings. It didn’t seem to comprehend that this could be the registration and the inspection of private homes or private businesses”.[10]

44. Ms Dixon noted that the call for evidence came out of concerns related to undesirable teaching in the context of extremism, and that through the consultation, the Department for Education learnt that:

“the way in which we asked the question at that point very much got people’s backs up, particularly from religious organisations … five years on, the lens in which we would look through this question and how we would frame it would be far more to do with safeguarding, of which undesirable teaching or countering extremism might be a small part but not the overwhelming tone of the document”.[11]

45. Ofsted called this consultation a missed opportunity, and considered that further regulation is necessary but that this should be focussed on improved access to appropriate child protection training and better model standards and curricula, rather than an idea of “prohibition”.[12]

46. Despite the strong negative reaction to the focus on radicalisation and extremism, the response to evidence also suggests that there was broad support overall for the general policy aim to safeguard children and enable action to be taken when there were concerns about their welfare and safety. For example, the Muslim Council of Britain agreed that supplementary schools that work with children should be regulated so that there are adequate checks and training in place, with a register of those that provide organised classes being accessible to the public.[13]

47. The question is therefore not whether oversight is required, but how that oversight would operate in practice. The majority of those who responded disagreed with the way that oversight could operate on the basis of that consultation.[14]

48. Following its decision in 2018 not to introduce a mandatory code, the Department for Education has provided resources for local authorities to run pilot schemes in order to identify and tackle concerns in out-of-school settings – including trying to work out if the current powers of public bodies are sufficient to meet concerns in this area.[15] The Department for Education has also identified a series of evidence-gathering pilot schemes that are designed to establish whether the regulation of existing out-of-school settings works, and the usefulness of current powers. The results of this could be used to identify best practice.[16]

49. The evaluation of those pilot projects was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department for Education has continued to fund six pilot projects where they show new or novel approaches that could be used to enhance the welfare of children in out-of-school settings. These will conclude in autumn 2021, and include:[17]

  • funding a LADO to focus specifically on child protection referrals from out-of-school settings;
  • local authority accreditation award schemes for out-of-school settings;
  • testing new child protection arrangements by encouraging out-of-school settings providers to provide auditing and referral tools; and
  • providing rights-respecting schools awards for out-of-school settings.[18]

50. The publication of the voluntary code issued by the Department for Education in October 2020, Keeping children safe during community activities, after-school clubs and tuition: non-statutory guidance for providers running out-of-school settings, provides assistance to such settings.[19] However, it does not create any obligations on religious organisations.

51. Many religious organisations recognise a need for common standards, advice and guidance about child protection. However, the government has no current proposals to introduce such measures on a compulsory basis.

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