The NSS has produced what appears to be a particularly unpleasant report on the work of Christian organisations in primary and secondary schools. On their website the lead comment is as follows:
Our state schools are being targeted and exploited by evangelical groups as part of their missionary work.
That is a serious charge, for which according to the Department of Education, there is no evidence whatsoever:
We have not seen any evidence to support these claims and have not received any complaints about this.
Read that again, twice, slowly.
All Christian organisations working in the public sphere must be open to reasonable scrutiny. And, as recent cases have shown, safeguarding of children must have absolute priority. But the NSS report is in a different league all together. Ed West wrote a robust critique in the Telegraph a few years ago, pointing out that their agenda was not secularist but atheist. Christine Odone offered a wonderful parallel:
The National Secular Society boasts about 7,000 members – the same number as the British Sausages Appreciation Society. The bangers enthusiasts celebrate the succulent delights of pork in every guise: grilled, baked, or fried. Secularists, too, want their own pound of flesh – but only Christian flesh will do.
There is a great comment on the Telegraph piece about the NSS report, which gets to the heart of the matter:
I care about these issues [the objectivity and integrity of education], but find that my contributions about objectivity and integrity of education and my rights as a parent are constantly challenged by secular humanists. My concern is that secular humanists give lip service to pluralism, but have no intention of implementing it because their objective is to promote their own ideology. We desperately need the freedom to develop rationality and critical thinking skills in education, but the effect of the NSS polemics is to treat any departure from their own agenda as subversive to education. Unfortunately, Mr Gove appears to be taking them seriously.
Is it time we wrote to the Education Secretary about them?
Here is the press release from Scripture Union, whose Council I have been on for nine years.
Scripture Union is justly proud of its history of contributing responsibly to the education of children in schools in England and Wales. When our representatives work in schools they do so only at the invitation of head teachers and under their supervision. Our staff are skilled educationalists who always behave properly as guests of the school and adhere to strict guidelines. In many cases our representatives have long-standing relationships with the schools, and are trusted and valued for their contribution to the curriculum and/or the pastoral care of students.
We share the view of the government, OFSTED and the National Association of Head Teachers that children have a right to proper religious education as part of their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development*. We agree with the government’s non-statutory guidance, which says that “members of religions and belief-groups have an enriching contribution to make” to the curriculum and that where that contribution is made “in an atmosphere of respect and mutual understanding, faith and belief representatives can act as models of community cohesion in action.”
We do not believe that school is a proper place for evangelism. We reject any allegation that our workers engage in proselytising, or promoting “ultra-conservative ideas” in the school context. We do not regard school children as “a captive audience,” and we respect the statutory right of parents to withdraw their children from Religious Education. However we do believe that it is vital for children to understand and explore the meaning and significance of religious belief in society, not least in the lives of their peers. We care above all for the welfare and development of children. We believe that as part of a rounded education children should have the right to meet and question believers of all faiths and none. We are pleased to offer staff and representatives as resources to schools and will continue to do so as long as we are welcome.