The Department of Education is carrying out a consultation on Out of School Education Settings – and the potential need for them to registered with and inspected by Ofsted.  You can read about it [here].

This is something that faith groups need to respond to.  If you are involved in children’s and / or youth work for a local church or Christian organisation then you should read and respond to the questions in the consultation.  The deadline for responses is 11th January 2016.

There are a couple of other papers you should read too ::

Countering Extremism Strategy” – The Department of Education’s current consultation on out of school settings comes hot on the heels of this document on countering extremism.  In paragraph 74 (pictured below) it outlines the intent to look at out of schools settings and explains the purpose for doing so.  Read the full document [here].

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So, the first thing to note is this understanding of what we are doing as Churches.  We are engaged in “supplementary education” and a church youth club, kids club, Sunday school . . . possibly Messy Church (I know, parents are mostly present at these . . . ) would be considered an “unregulated education setting.”

Promoting Fundamental British Values” – This guidance was issued a year ago to schools and is the place I found the most substantive explanation to what is meant by “British Values”.  Read it [here].

According to this document, “British Values” are to be taught in schools through their Spiritual, Social, Moral and Cultural development of their pupils.  Schools are to ::

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There is a very important caveat for schools, and I think we can refer to this if need be in any ongoing discussion with Government about this consultation and the potential implementation of their proposal ::

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One more thing to mention, yet another Government document / strategy ::

Prevent” – This was introduced in 2011 and is the backdrop against which the Government is seeking to tackle extremism.  This is worth a read because it continues to be a feature of Government policy and schools across the country have had training as part of this strategy to help staff spot potential radicalisation of students.  See the Prevent Strategy [here].

Right, after all that (!) lets get to it . . . the current consultation throws out potential regulation to cover places where “intensive” education is taking place other than schools / universities etc.  (we will return to that word “intensive” because it is important).

Out of School Education Settings :: Call For Evidence.” – This is what we need to respond to.  This gives you a summary of what the call for evidence is looking for.  Give the PDF summary a read [here].

Within the PDF Summary above you will see that you can either respond online (which is the most useful because this is the easiest way for those reading responses to assess feedback and comments) or you can email responses to the questions (details also in the PDF summary).

Some Thoughts on Responding.

I have screen grabbed some of the questions and inserted them below with some comments, these are to help you consider your own response – don’t just lift what I am saying, I don’t know the context in which you are working 🙂

Curriculum Development and / or Safeguarding 

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The first thing to appreciate is, in all the years I have been doing youth work, Government uses language to talk about things in a particular way that seem alien or you might think do not apply.  However, this question here is important.  If we are teaching young people (Youth Alpha, Christian Discovery Courses, Scripture Union material, Energise from Urban Saints, Youth For Christ Resources) we need to explain that for “spiritual nurture” or “faith formation” or “discipleship” (and your church background might determine which of those terms you might use) we ARE using curriculum, often from national institutions (such as those mentioned).  This matters – we are not lone rangers seeking to fill impressionable young heads with anything we can think of . . . you might simply prepare teaching through praying and reading scripture – BUT, this is still informed by your denominational affiliation and doctrine and church vision and values.  So, make sure you put down what you do and reference anything that is “national” or from an organisation (remember too that many of the above are well established and respected Christian charities).

Secondly, on this one DO highlight that your PCC (or Diaconate) have a safeguarding policy; DO highlight if you have affiliated your youth group, kids club with the local authority (or, in my local, case an organisation like SPARK – which is a support network for the voluntary sector (of which the church is a part); DO highlight that your club has a constitution is covered by insurance and you have safeguarding training and support from your Diocese or equivalent (depending on denomination) or direct from CCPAS.  Safeguarding has improved immeasurably in the church over the last decade, be sure to include all that would be relevant under this section.

Positive Benefits.

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Ok, this for me is where many local church groups can shine.  As I visit church groups all over the place, just some of the benefits I have seen are ::

#. In many places, the local church is the only provider of out of school activities for children and young people.  For that reason alone it is appreciated.

#. If you are running an “open youth club” then I would imagine that this is open to children and young people of all faiths and none.  Historically, local authorities used to provide a “universal offer” for young people – this has gone, being replaced in most places with nothing more than targeted services for those most in need.  The church is one of the few “universal providers” remaining in the voluntary sector.

#. Highlight your diversity!  I have run open youth work (and been involved as a Boys Brigade chaplain) with young people of all faiths – coming along to groups being run by local churches.  We are not exclusive clubs – if you have more than one nationality, if you have Hindu’s, Muslims and Sikhs rubbing shoulders with Christian kids in your clubs . . . this is so positive, and in the countering the extremism stuff the Government is particularly hot on – you are involved in building and encouraging community cohesion.

#. Illustrate, if you can, the positive activities your young people get up to – done a recent sleep out for the homeless, raising money for toy box, serving others in your community . . . are there ways that your group “add value” to those around them?

Hopefully the above have given you some ideas.  A few years ago, a key part of the “youth offer” everywhere (prior to cuts in services) was the mantra, “places to go and things to do.” If you can say nothing more, make sure you make that statement.  

Impact and the meaning of “Intensive”.

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Finally, it is worth mentioning something about the proposed impact.  Here I would highlight that, unlike schools and many playgroups that are already subject to Ofsted inspections, a vast majority of church activity (whilst being run to a high standard in many cases with good safeguarding practice) is being led by volunteers.  This additional burden to register and then potentially receive an inspection might well be too much for already busy people, who – in their limited spare time – are giving as much as they can already to serve the needs of children and young people.  I also think the Government might be underestimating just how much is going on!  Would this even be workable with literally thousands registering (plus those who don’t meet the 6-8 hours a week, but choose to register anyway . . . )

And, lastly – that word “intensive”, what does that mean?  I would argue that almost every group I can think of does not need to register because they are not doing anything intensive for 6-8 hours a week.  It isn’t clear whether intensive means “anything over 6 hours is, by definition intensive . . . or whether it refers to “intensive teaching” (I know lots of keen groups, but I don’t know a single church where young people are subjected to 6 hours of intensive Bible teaching – if that is you, sorry!), I would be asking for clarity on that term.

So, be clear about the potential impact on your team, resources, consider what constitutes “intensive” and, if like me you think that might be ambiguous in terms of what is included . . . question it!

For further reading before you leap online and fill it in – check out this [helpful summary] from the Evangelical Alliance.

That’s it.  I will be trying to keep an eye on what happens with this and do please comment or add your thoughts.