The issue of extremism and indoctrination in schools was debated in the House of Lords this week following a question tabled by Lord Storey who asked the government, ‘what steps they are taking to ensure that children and young people are not being indoctrinated in schools.’
Peers discussed Ofsted’s initiative in identifying unregistered schools, which resulted in the closure of 34 or so schools, the establishment of a counter-extremism hotline, which has been utilised by educators a total of 450 times since April 2015, and difficult situations in which teachers have faced intimidation when they try to address extremism or indoctrination.
The issue indeed has wide implications for British society, and has affected amongst others Sikh educators. During the time of Trojan horse affair in 2014, it was reported that a Sikh heritage principal Balwant Bains, stepped down from Satley School and Specialist Science College due to relentless criticism from a Muslim dominated board. Last month another British born Sikh, Neena Lall head of St Stephens School in Newham received a backlash following a board of governor’s decision to ban the hijab for girls under the age of eight. Following a concerted campaign by conservative elements, (part of which included a spoof video in which Lall was compared to Hitler), the school reversed their decision. This resulted in an unprecedented intervention in support of Lall from Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman.
Contributing to the debate Lord Singh, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) said, ‘My Lords, does the Minister agree that all the main religions should be taught in schools and that if a school is not doing that, it is a failing school? Should not the teachings of religion be in the context of today’s times rather than literally in the language of outdated texts, which can be manipulated for the purposes of extremism? Does the Minister further agree that the teachings should focus, not so much on customs and rituals, but on the underlying ethos so that it becomes self-evident that the different religions are all pushing in the same direction?’
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Education – Lord Agnew of Oulton stressed extremism had no place in British society, and a change in law meant all schools must actively promote British values. He said, ‘If there are any allegations of schools promoting ideologies or discrimination in the classroom, we will not hesitate to take action.’