Regular readers may recall that the Department for Education ran a call for evidence on out-of-school education settings between November 2015 and January 2016, inviting comment on its (tentative) proposals for Ofsted inspection of out-of-school education settings. Some respondents expressed concern that the DfE’s tentative definition of “intensive education” as “where a child attends a setting for more than between 6 to 8 hours per week” might catch, for example, intensive choir-practices before a major festival. Some also expressed doubts as to whether Ofsted was the most appropriate body to carry out inspections.
In February, Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, made a speech (which we noted here) at the conference of the Church of England Foundation for Education Leadership in which she observed, inter alia, that it was
“… a matter of regret that the Church [of England] has resisted changes in the law to allow Ofsted to inspect these settings. This is not about infringing religious freedom: no one is proposing a troop of inspectors turning up at Sunday schools. Instead, it is about ensuring that the small minority of settings that promote extremism are not able to evade scrutiny.”
But be that as it may, the Government has now published its analysis of and response to the consultation in which it says that, though it “remains committed to safeguarding all children and protecting them from the risk of harm, however they are educated, including children in out-of-school settings”, it also notes that there are already legal powers in place to protect children in out-of-school settings;
“and many out-of-school settings do a great job in providing enriching activities in many subjects – including arts, language, music, sport and religion – and do so in a safe environment.”
The Government – entirely properly – still wants to address concerns about out-of-school education where safeguarding is inadequate and the welfare of the is not being promoted:
“We want to ensure any future system of regulation that we may introduce appropriately targets the small minority of settings which may be exposing children to harmful practices, without causing undue burdens on the sector as a whole. We believe it is equally important that we ensure any future system carefully takes into account the differences within such a diverse sector, where settings vary considerably in terms of their characteristics, and types of activity and education they offer. This system should ultimately build on and complement existing legal powers to ensure that any new regulation adds the most value, making the current safeguarding regime more effective.”
The Government has therefore decided not to pursue the model proposed in the call for evidence. Instead, it intends to develop the evidence base for rolling out a national approach. It also intends to use the evidence generated to identify any gaps in existing powers, with a view to legislation, “when opportunity allows”. Further, it will consult on a voluntary code of practice, later this year, to set out clear standards for providers, explaining what they need to do in order to run a safe operation.
All of which looks like a much more satisfactory approach. It was subsequently welcomed by the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders.