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True news - facts & supporting evidence

I recently published an article highlighting potential conflicts of interest for parties involved in the development of a National Occupational Standard (NOS) for yoga in the UK. In response to the article, an official statement from Paul Fox, Chair of the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) was published on the BWY News Facebook page. The statement contains a number of inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the contents of my article. Below is a summary of points from the statement I wish to address:

1) "The following is a response by BWY Chair Paul Fox to inaccurate and critical statements about BWY on social media."

The response which then follows primarily focuses upon my article: an article which although may be deemed critical of Mr Fox, isn’t critical of the BWY itself. A criticism of Mr Fox isn’t by extension the same as a criticism of the BWY.

2) "In the James Russell article Regulation, Appropriation and Gatekeepers of the NHS, published by the Independent Yoga Network,"

Untrue. The article was published on this website, which is not published by the Independent Yoga Network (IYN.) The introduction to Mr Fox's statement creates the false impression that this is a dispute between the BWY and the IYN. i.e. (1) a response to "inaccurate and critical statements about the BWY" and (2) that were "published by the IYN."

3) "He describes the National Occupational Standards (NOS) as a “qualification”. This is incorrect."

Semantics, but yes, technically the NOS isn’t a qualification. Skills Active website states that NOS "form the key component of many qualifications." Therefore, I will amend accordingly.

4) "Now, through painstaking consultation by Skills Active with a great many yogis, people are realising what the NOS actually contain."

"A great many yogis" is vague and misleading - very few yoga teachers attended the NOS consultation meetings. For example, a colleague who attended the English nation’s meeting, confirmed that there were only 4 others in attendance. At the Scottish meeting in Falkirk, 7 people registered and only 4 attended.

5) "The tired narrative that the yoga NOS is some kind of stitch-up by the British Wheel of Yoga – and now apparently the Minded Institute as well – is totally inaccurate."

The article neither mentions nor alludes to such a narrative.

6) "all stakeholders must contribute to the NOS creation process and that is what has happened."

Incorrect. The number of people who have contributed is tiny compared to the total number of stakeholders.

7) "There is another spurious assertion that Yoga Alliance and the Independent Yoga Network were excluded from this process….. to present that (them) as being excluded is factual distortion."

The article does not make this assertion. Perhaps this is a misunderstanding of what is being conveyed. As this point has been raised, I would like to point out that the IYN, YAP and other stakeholders were excluded from the initial decision to initiate NOS. They were only then invited to the consultation. Ms Larissey of SkillsActive has subsequently apologised to the Chair of the IYN on this issue.

8) "Because it is the statutory duty of Skills Active to create NOS, the conversation with the yoga community was never would you like NOS? But instead, what should be in the NOS that we have always planned to introduce."

Incorrect. There is no statutory obligation to create a NOS for yoga teaching. SkillsActive had a duty to design NOS if there was a demand from the sector, and because the BWY created a demand, they were obliged to follow it up.

9) "James asserts that the government has dropped its support for Skills Active. Where is the evidence for this please? This is inaccurate. Last time I looked, Skills Active continued to enjoy the full support of the Department for Education and Skills."

Evidence:
  • SkillsActive have lost financial support from the government through SportEngland.
    This is well publicised.
  • The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) who licensed (and gave funds to) Skills Active is defunct as of March 2017. This is from the government's GOV.UK website.
    (Note: SkillsActive still advertise as being licensed through UKCES.)
  • UKCES' Sector Skills Council licence has now been devolved to other departments. Here is a quote from RT Hon Anne Minton MP, Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills, confirming the government’s withdrawal of financial support for Sector Skills Councils: “I should point out that the government no longer funds sector skills councils. Those that continue to exist do so if the employers they seek to represent feel that they provide a worthwhile service.”
  • Attached is a full copy of a letter (dated 22/08/17) from Anne Minton MP to the Chair of the IYN in which clearly Ms Minton clearly states: "there is no requirement from the government for these (NOS) to be used in defining standards."
  • I also have attached a copy of SkillsActive ‘Report and Financial Statements’ up to March 2016. Page 5 states clearly that all funding from government depts will cease in the future:
SA-loss-of-funding
  • Mr Fox states that the last time he looked "Skills Active continued to enjoy the full support of the Department of Education and Skills" - this Department ceased to exist in 2007:
    This is from the government's GOV.UK website.

10) "Over the years the IYN allowed entry to REPs by teachers trained to a very low level, including one organisation offering a correspondence course with a single day of practical training."

The IYN have confirmed that the above statement is untrue.

11) "James calls the NOS project “floundering” and “unpopular”, which again is far from the truth."
  • Floundering: during the 2017 consultation meetings from the whole four nations, approximately thirty to forty people showed up in total. A colleague who attended one of the online consultation meetings in July found herself the only participant.
  • Unpopular: an online petition against the NOS has now been signed by 3918 people and this number continues to grow.
It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that the NOS project is both floundering and unpopular.

12) "Heather supports yoga in health care. This is different from her support of NOS."

Great: at last something that addresses the conflict of interests highlighted.

13) "..the work of YIHA (Yoga in Healthcare Aliance) and the NOS initiative have been and always will be completely separate."

This is the kind of assurance the article was calling for. However, it then raises the question as to Caroline Larissey’s role in the work of YIHA? Caroline is the head of qualifications at Skills Active and has been in charge of the Yoga NOS project. She is also presented on the YIHA website as a member of the board.

14) "Heather Mason set up the Yoga In Healthcare Alliance (YIHA) as a social enterprise and she does not draw a salary from the organisation. It is a project of karma yoga supported by leading Parliamentarians at Westminster and the insinuation of selfish and material motives by James – “I’ll let you draw your own conclusions” – is in my view beneath contempt."

Again great, this is the kind of public disclosure the article called for. Mr Fox is also a registered director of the same limited company - does this mean that he too will receive no salary or payment in fees for his services? Even this being the case, conflicts of interest are still of potential concern given the prestige and access to the NHS this work affords those involved and whether or not this is in conflict with their participation in the development of the NOS. Conflicts of interest do not have to be financial. (Note: the invitation for critical thought and speculation on the part of the reader is referred to as "beneath contempt." This kind of response is unhelpful and seems unbecoming of an organisational head.)

15) "There is also a groundless point made by James about cultural appropriation linked to some text apparently on the YIHA website, which was actually written by an Indian-born yogi. Enough said…and so the suggestion of cultural appropriation is totally laughable, as well as poorly-researched mud slinging."

Notice the wording "apparently on the YIHA" - yet the text is on the YIHA website and clearly Mr Fox is aware that it is because in the same sentence he states the ethnicity of the author. The author’s Indian heritage does not automatically preclude the presentation of an inaccurate and culturally bias version of history.

The points I have raised on cultural appropriation can hardly be deemed "laughable" and this cavalier attitude once again demonstrates a lack of awareness & sensitivity towards those issues. As for "poorly-researched mud slinging" - this is also incorrect. I have checked with a number of credible sources, and the historical claims on the YIHA website have also been viewed by a scholar in Ancient Classics who confirmed their inaccuracy.

16) "I was also interested to read the assertion by James that “Paul Fox has publicly and unequivocally denied the links between Hinduism and Yoga”. This statement is false and I would ask James to either produce first-hand evidence to back this up or apologise for grossly misrepresenting my position."

Evidence:
Below is a quote from the ipetition website (accessed 11th November 2016) from a petition authored by Mr Fox:

We respect those from the Sanyasin, monastic and Ashram traditions, and those teachers whose yoga springs from their own personal faith. However we reject attempts to assert a direct link to the Hindu religion or any other faith…. the foundations of the hatha yoga system remain the hathayogapradipika and the sutras of Patanjali."

Following numerous complaints from yoga teachers and members of the Hindu community (who also pointed out the contradiction in citing texts from Hindu tradition - Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā commences with an homage to the deity, Lord Śiva.) Mr Fox subsequently amended the offending sentence:

paul-fox-pr

An official complaint was made regarding the wording of this petition by the General Secretary of The National Council of Hindu Temples (UK) to the Charity Commission. (The complaint included screenshots of the original petition.) The petition is still active on the ipetition website, with an amended introduction, and the host set to 'anonymous'. (At the time of writing, this petition has received 44 signatures.)

17) "However to declare that practicing yoga is linked only to one religion….."

The article makes no such declaration.

18) "It is my sincere wish that every yogi posting on facebook and elsewhere will consider carefully whether what they are reading is based on facts and truth, or whether they are being led down a path of division, disunity and mistrust."

I agree with these sentiments but refute the implication my article is misleading. The disclosure and sharing of information pertinent to the public interest cannot be conveniently dismissed by crying "fake news" and casting vague and unwarranted aspersions. Debate and critique are not the same as division and mistrust. Are we expected to trust those in positions of authority implicitly? Practising yoga doesn’t mean that we suspend our capacity for discernment or suppress controversial issues because we feel their public discussion may in some way may be disruptive to an imagined 'unity' in the yoga community.

Conclusion
My article raised a number of legitimate concerns around conflicts of interest and called for some form of accountability and transparency. Those concerns have been met with contempt, obfuscation and denial and have not been satisfactorily answered. Questions still remain over conflicts of interest and also the alleged requirement of the NOS for the introduction of yoga to the NHS (which has not be mentioned in the official literature of the NOS.) Has the NHS officially requested an NOS for yoga as stated by Caroline Larissey? And if so, why was this not made clear at the beginning of the NOS initiative? I am sure the NOS would have been taken far more seriously if this had been brought to light. I have no doubt that the founders of Yoga and Healthcare Alliance have the best of intentions and I'm sure that we can all agree that yoga has much to offer patients on the NHS. If and when that happens, I think that all parties concerned within the yoga community will need to be consulted and involved in the process, irrespective of their position with regard to the NOS.

The consultation process for the Yoga NOS closes on the 30th November. If any of the issues raised in this article are of concern to you then please make your concerns known to Skills Active.

"National Occupational Standards for yoga teachers in England cannot be enforced if the vast majority of yoga teachers do not feel they are necessary." - Rt Hon, Anne Minton MP - Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills (22nd August 2017)

We as a community of yoga teachers have the power to determine whether or not the NOS becomes a requirement of our profession.

Hari OM Tat Sat
James



References:


Skills Active Website: what are National Occupational Standards
Sport Parks and Leisure - Sport England to cease funding for SkillsActive Article 2016
Gov.UK - UK Commission for Employment and Skills closed in March 2017
Letter from Anne Minton MP regarding the government's position on NOS
SkillsActive ‘Report and Financial Statements’ up to March 2016
Gov.UK - Department for education and skills replaced in 2007
Online petition against the NOS
Yoga in Healthcare Alliance - policy group
Companies House - directors of Yoga in Healthcare Alliance
Yoga in Healthcare Alliance - yoga research
Ipetitions - NOS for Hatha Yoga & Hatha Yoga is not a Religion
Wikipedia - definition of Hinduism
Yuj-it - Debugging Yoga in the UK




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