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22 December 2016

Castles on sand: The Casey Report and out-of-school settings

Castles on sand: The Casey Report and out-of-school settings

As a child, I had a phase of being somewhat obsessed with castles. During this phase, one of the castles I learned about was the motte-and-bailey castle. It consisted of a strong tower on a hill – the motte, surrounded by a more vulnerable wooden wall with additional buildings inside – the bailey. If the enemy got into the bailey, defenders could retreat to the safety of the motte. 

What on earth does this have to do with advocacy? Well, when I moved into the area of public policy, I started hearing a kind of argument that looked very like a motte-and-bailey castle.

For an example, look at the Casey report, published a few weeks ago. This was the product of a review conducted by Dame Louise Casey into the integration of different minorities in the UK. In chapter 7 the report re-introduces highly controversial proposals to regulate out-of-school education settings. This category would include Sunday schools.

The Evangelical Alliance has raised serious concerns about these proposals in the past, noting the threat they would pose to religious freedom. 
However, Casey argues that Ofsted ought to intervene in out-of-school settings to deal with four things. These are: corporal punishment; unsuitable premises; the appointment of unsuitable staff; and undesirable teaching, such as promoting extremist views.

In this case, the first three form the motte. They are concerns that most people would share. And all three are in fact covered by existing laws.
Corporal punishment is banned beyond reasonable chastisement. Health and safety regulation prohibits unsafe premises for children. And unsuitable people are already screened out through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

In Casey's fourth issue, though, we come to the bailey. Because 'undesirable teaching' could really mean anything you like. Especially as terms like 'extremism' or 'British values' remain as vague as they always were. 

That's one of the reasons why the proposals to regulate 'undesirable teaching' in out-of-schools settings were criticised so fiercely when first introduced. For example, a ComRes survey of MPs, commissioned by the Christian Institute in January, found that more than half of 150 MPs polled thought the proposals would "threaten legitimate and reasonable activities" and risked "the freedom of law-abiding citizens". These concerns reflected our own research, which found that 81 per cent of evangelicals think that policies designed to counter extremism may make it harder for Christians to express their faith in public (http://www.eauk.org/idea/british-values.cfm).   

Casey's response shows the motte-and-bailey defence in action. She writes: "Ensuring the welfare of children must be paramount and it does no good to deny that there are concerns and particular risks with settings about which not much is known and where a significant number of children spend a considerable amount of time; or to reject out of hand proposals to ensure the well-being of our children."

While the concerns of different organisations about regulating 'undesirable teaching' are mentioned. Casey does not respond on this point. Instead, we only hear of 'concerns' and 'risks' that could be from any of the four problems she listed. Criticising the proposals to regulate undesirable teaching is described as an 'out of hand' rejection of safeguarding good practice. Casey has, in other words, gone back to the motte. 

Laying siege to a motte-and-bailey argument means asking the right questions. What is already illegal under existing law? What is it specifically that you want to make illegal, and why do you want to do this? It is hard for anyone to answer these questions without revealing what is their motte and what is their bailey.

These are questions we will continue to ask as the government responds to the Casey review next year, and as they continue to employ the deeply problematic language of 'non-violent extremism'. 

 Image: CC0  Mareks Vinholds