The task of education is to impart knowledge – especially of that which might develop literacy and numeracy, for without proficiency in words and numbers one may be muted from community and computed for a lifetime of ignorance, incomprehension and poverty. And when the eyes of the child are turned to the light in order that they might see for themselves and understand their perceptions of the world, they will come to know the value of moral, spiritual and physical formation, for what is the mind if it cannot grasp transcendence? What is intelligence if it is wilfully bound by corporeal indolence? And what is wisdom if it is not the inculcation of virtue and all the principles of goodness?
A good school will be holistic in its curriculum: it’s ethos will be values-based; its culture will be ordered, disciplined and respectful; and its teachers will represent the reification of all that is noble, true, right, lovely, pure and admirable; of all that is praiseworthy and excellent. Within a life-enhancing framework of intellectual rigour, creative vision, practical dexterity and pastoral oversight, the child will flourish in academic attainment, physical prowess and spiritual intelligence.
Unless, that is, the state schools’ inspectorate decides to focus on other matters.
It is reported that two schools – two Christian schools – have been slated by Ofsted because their pupils were ignorant of matters concerning ethnic identity and exotic sexual behaviour. They might have known that some people are born black and some are born brown, but one poor boy, when quizzed by the inspectors, couldn’t explain what a Muslim was beyond an association with terrorism. What theological ignorance. What bigotry of belief. What inexcusable doctrinal disregard and social insensitivity. The lead inspector thereby concluded: “Leaders are failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain. Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.” And so the Durham Free School – which was lauded by the Education Secretary only two years ago – must close.
And then there is the school where 10-year-old pupils were asked what lesbians did. The answers the children gave are not reported, but clearly their clitorical ignorance and masturbatory innocence failed to satisfy the perverted priorities of the inspectors. And so the Grindon Hall Christian School – which rides high in educational league tables and delivers the top school-leaving exam results in the area – has been placed in ‘special measures’.
Ever since the ‘Trojan Horse’ revelation in Birmingham, where a certain illiberal interpretation of Islamic sharia was found to constitute the ethos and pervade the culture of a number of Muslim schools, the Department for Education has decreed that all state schools must promote ‘British values’, which they define in such terms as tolerance, fairness, respect for other faiths, adherence to the rule of law and appreciation of the virtues of democracy. It isn’t clear what is peculiarly British about such values, or if, indeed, they are values at all beyond those which are common to enlightened and civilised humanity.
But there is nothing essentially wrong with requiring schools to teach such values: it must surely be a task of education to instil a sense of national identity, inculcate patriotism and propagate knowledge of associational traditions and cultural mores in the perspective of our island history.
But since when has knowing what lesbians do been a British value? Since when has knowing what a Muslim believes been a British value? If ignorance of difference or the intolerance of diversity is to trump the measure of academic attainment, how might we rate those Ofsted inspectors who are ignorant of the doctrinal tenets of Christianity or intolerant of a school’s historic freedom to manifest its faith ethos? While there may indeed have been some examples of inadequate teaching or weaknesses in aspects of structure, what teacher doesn’t have a bad-hair day? What institution is beyond measures for improvement?
Perhaps, given evidence of leadership deficiencies and pedagogical shortcomings, you might incline toward the Ofsted view that such schools are manifestly inadequate and ought to close. This is taxpayers’ money after all. And you might think this whole ‘victimised Christian’ wailing is nothing but a camouflage for academic ineptitude and an evasion of accountability. Except that in a draft report the inspectors disclosed their own bigotry: “The Christian ethos of the school permeates much of the school’s provision,” they observed. “This has restricted the development of a broad and balanced approach to the curriculum,” they judged. That last sentence, which didn’t make its way into the final report, testifies to a concerning anti-Christian agenda.
In what sense are traditional British values not Christian? What traditional Christian values are not peculiarly British? If the moral orthodoxy of our Christian expression has been irrevocably reduced to an undiscerning mush of multicultural incoherence, the acceptance of multifaith syncretism and the relativist tolerance of every human behaviour, then our British values have ceased to be recognisably British. Indeed, they have ceased to be values of any virtue at all.