Amanda Spielman: Sunday schools must be inspected to prevent extremism

Church of England schools must support the inspection of Sunday schools to protect their pupils from extremism, Amanda Spielman said today.

The chief inspector of schools said a move by the Church of England in 2016 to block proposals to allow Ofsted to inspect out-of-school educational provision like Sunday schools was “a matter of regret”.

A government plan to require all groups caring for children for more than six hours a week to submit to inspection was dropped in 2016, following an intervention from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and a group of crossparty MPs, who labelled the proposals “bewildering”.

Speaking at the Church of England’s Foundation for Educational Leadership annual conference this morning, Spielman took aim at the church, warning leaders they risked undermining the Church’s own tenets of love and tolerance by allowing Sunday schools to go unscrutinised.

“I’m afraid it is a matter of regret the Church has resisted changes in the law to allow Ofsted to inspect these settings. This is not about infringing religious freedom. Nobody is proposing a troop of inspectors turning up at Sunday schools.”

She said one of Ofsted’s greatest concerns was “what is happening under the radar in so-called out-of-school provision”.

Spielman quoted former prime minister David Cameron, who warned during his premiership that some out-of-school settings operating as illegal schools “use the opportunity to put poison in minds and hatred in the hearts of young people”.

“It’s hard to think of a more British institution than Sunday school,” said Spielman, who acknowledged out-of-school provision was a “mainstay of the work of the Church”, and that activity groups of faiths provide language training, extracurricular opportunities and spiritual instruction for pupils.

But some other out-of-school settings operate “less benignly”, she warned, and must be tackled.

“If we’re to protect many of the tenets the Church holds dear, we need the power to tackle those trying to use education to undermine them.”

Despite these warnings, Spielman said her words should not detract from the “major and very positive” contribution that Church schools played in the school system.