Vetting the bishop and other #FakeNews

“Health and Safety gone mad” is one of those perennial Daily Fail stories designed to inspire rising levels of anger and frustration in their readers. Such stories are aimed at further disgusting the eponymous resident of Tunbridge Wells, and are always worth dosing with the sauce of scepticism.

It is in such a spirit that I approached their latest weekend offering

Top headmaster blasts terror rules that meant he had to vet a sermon by Eton’s Church of England chaplain

There may have been a brief pause after the Grenfell tower tragedy caused a number of anti-EU journalists and politicians to swallow their calls for a post-Brexit bonfire of health and safety regulations, but it looks as though normal service is now being resumed.

The headteacher (son of anthropogenic climate-change denier Nigel Lawson) claims that “he has been forced to check advance texts from a bishop who preached at a confirmation service, and from the Reverend Stephen Grey, senior chaplain at Eton.”

Let’s be clear, he may have chosen to interpret the regulations in that way, but absolutely no-one was forcing him to do so. There may be all sorts of reasons to doubt the effectiveness of the Prevent strategy, but requirements to vet bishops is not one of them.

It is common sense to expect headteachers not to invite, encourage, or permit, the preaching of extremism in (or out) of school. Although outside a few obvious but narrow examples of fascism and Islamic fundamentalism, there’s very little common agreement in British society for what constitutes extremism.

To turn this expectation into a requirement to vet sermons is another thing entirely, and suggests that Mr Lawson is either very lacking in confidence about his own authority to exercise responsibility, or seeking to deflect attention from something else.

(Given that he “last month launched the school’s first biathlon, in which more than 70 girls and boys swam in the sea without wetsuits before completing a three-mile cross-country run” we may not have far to look for an area where he may be experiencing criticism from some parents and governors about appropriate risk assessment and pupil safety, taking into account the normal rules for the sport.)

There is a proper debate to be had about teaching young people to make sensible judgements about risk, and about managing risks appropriately, rather than becoming boringly risk-averse, and too cautious to have fun. This, however, is not it.

There is a proper debate to be had about the Prevent strategy, whether it is working, and what effect it is having (or not having) in education. This, however, is not it.

This is just a silly story stirred up by a Headteacher who has found a sympathetic ear from a journalist looking for copy, which may be great for feeding prejudice, but does nothing to inform.

That Mr Lawson said these things to the journalist, I do not doubt, for Jonathan Petre checks the facts he reports, and all he reports is what Mr Lawson said. My problem is that nowhere is he – or anyone else who has retailed this story –prepared to point out that Mr Lawson’s claim is not true. Prevent does not entail vetting bishops, nor even Eton chaplains. No-one is forcing him.

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