Veteran Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh last night made a passionate defence of faith schools in the face of what he said was an attack on their basic ethos by the "forces of intolerance".
Leigh proposed the motion that "this House believes that Ofsted should respect the ability of faith schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and toleration for others". He was particularly critical of the Office for Standards in Education because of what he said was its inappropriate treatment of Christian schools such as the Durham Free School, which is fighting closure after an adverse report, and Grindon Hall, both in the North East.
He said: "It may be that the time has come for Ofsted to put itself in special measures, in certain respects. It appears to be guilty of trying to enforce a kind of state-imposed orthodoxy on certain moral and religious questions."
Referring to schools minister David Laws, he said: "The Minister should remind Ofsted that the law prioritises the teaching of the Christian faith in RE and school assemblies because we are a Christian nation with a Christian heritage. He should require Ofsted to respect religious diversity in education. The problems of a few non-faith schools taken over by Islamic fundamentalists in Birmingham do not justify any aggression towards mainstream faith schools."
He referred to a number of schools which Ofsted had criticised for a failure to teach "British values" as required by the Department for Education and Skills.
"So-called 'British values' is a classic bureaucratic response to a problem and it is damaging Christian schools. The truth is that the real basis of actual British values are Christian values."
Responding to Sir Edward, Laws said Ofsted did not discriminate against faith schools and that "All schools are treated equally and inspected under the same framework." He quoted Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former head teacher at a Catholic school, who said in an Independent interview last month: "Let me offer this unequivocal reassurance—the vast majority of faith schools have nothing to fear either from Ofsted or from the recent guidance issued by the Department for Education on promoting British values as part of the curriculum".
Ofsted was approached to comment but did not respond.