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Flickr/Bigbirdz https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigbirdz/4828212616/
UK News

Evangelical Alliance concerned about potential government register for church activities for children

by Cara Bentley

The Department for Education recently launched a consultation called 'Children not in school' which seeks to gain public opinion on how to keep track of children who aren't attending mainstream school during normal school hours.

The government wants to start a register, maintained by local authorities, of children not in school and also of 'proprietors of certain education settings'.

It is proposing that there should be a duty on local authorities to check where local children are, and on parents in providing this information. The same could also apply to those who provide other 'education settings', which some Christians fear could include churches.

The EA, which represents thousands of Christians across the country, says it's not clear who 'proprietors' are and that what counts as an 'educational setting' is vague. It fears it could include places like youth clubs, prayer meetings and Bible studies.

The Department of Education (DfE) told Premier it will not include Sunday schools as they would count as 'supplementary education outside normal school hours'.

Simon McCrossan, head of public policy at the Evangelical Alliance, told Premier's News Hour: "Whilst churches take registers of things like trips, the idea of a state register of religious attendance is unprecedented in the Western world and time and again we see that registration begets regulation.

"Why else would you do it? Why register people if you're going to do nothing with it? Okay, we face the spectre again of British values inspections at prayer meetings or Bible studies but, more than that, why should a pastor or a church face potential legal sanction for failure to register the attendance of a teenager who came to a prayer breakfast at 6:30 in the morning? What legitimate interest does the state have, beyond its existing extensive powers, that could warrant such a system of registration?"

The Government says the consultation is mainly to cover children who are home-schooled and to provide a level of duty of care to support them, through their local council. They also want to limit unregulated and illegal activity when a child may be part-learning at home but part-learning with a tutor for a specific subject.

The consultation asks the public to answer questions such as: "Do you agree with the general approach that the proprietors of settings providing education in school hours - other than specified types of school - should be under a duty to supply information to local authorities about any child in scope of the proposed register"

It also asks: "Which settings do you think should be included in the scope of the duty?"

Simon McCrossan said the idea of adults being penalised for not registering a child at a church event would make the UK feel like a watched state: "Why should a pastor or a church face potential legal sanction for failure to register the attendance of a teenager who came to a prayer breakfast at 6:30 in the morning? What legitimate interest does the state have beyond this existing extensive powers that could warrant such a system of registration?

"That's a sort of practice which is extremely worrying and reminiscent of states in the world that we've heard of where they get to monitor religious attendance and that's not something which is conducive to freedom or in fact makes anyone any safer."

The Department for Education told Premier: "The consultation is focused on proposals which will, for the first time, provide a clear picture of where children are if they are not in school during the school week, and was drafted following Government consultation principles outlined on gov.uk."

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