Ofsted is to inspect religious educational institutions, such as madrasas, which will be shut down if they are suspected of “filling children’s heads and hearts with hate”, the prime minister announced today.
David Cameron set out the plans in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference, in which he said children were spending “several hours a day” in Islamic religious schools, known as madrasas.
Mr Cameron told delegates in Manchester that some of these supplementary schools were helping to “incubate divisions” within society.
According to party statistics, there are between 3,000 and 5,000 religious supplementary schools in England, of which between 700 and 2,000 are madrasas. Approximately 250,000 children attend the schools.
“Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with children learning about their faith, whether it’s at madrasas, Sunday schools or Jewish yeshivas,” he said.
“But in some madrasas we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people. These children should be having their minds opened; their horizons broadened, not having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate.”
In a bid to combat this, he said such schools would be subject to greater scrutiny, and be expected to register with authorities.
If a supplementary school is teaching children for more than eight hours a week then they will be forced to register with the Department for Education.
“If an institution is teaching children intensively, then whatever its religion, we will, like any other school, make it register so it can be inspected,” Mr Cameron said. “And be in no doubt: if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down.”
The country had, Mr Cameron said, for too long been “so frightened of causing offence” when it came to tackling such issues.
Ofsted will be given power to inspect the institutions, and a consultation will be launched on how best to do this. Conservative Party sources said additional resources would be made available for the inspectorate to carry out the new requirements, although how much would be determined by the consultation.
As with any school, if a religious supplementary school fails its inspection, an intervention proceedure would be put in place and an improvement plan would be instigated. If the institution fails to improve it will be closed.
Elsewhere, the prime minister reiterated his desire to see every school converted into an academy, stating that local authorities running schools would be a “thing of the past”.
The government’s education reforms were “already working”, the Tory leader declared, adding that the free school and academy movement was “sweeping across our country”.
“Headteachers are growing in confidence as they throw off the shackles of local council control, raising the aspirations of children, parents, communities.”