Ofsted urged to rebuff calls to soften inspection of faith schools

Ofsted should be a ‘lightning rod’, according to Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Rev Stephen Terry.

His comments came as the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education claimed that members of the House of Commons Education Select Committee urged Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman, ‘that Ofsted should soften its inspection of faith schools’.

Accord cited a question from Committee Chair Robert Halfon MP in which they said he received representations from faith school providers unhappy about the scrutiny their schools were receiving and urged Ofsted’s Chief Inspector to ‘try and assuage these concerns’. They also cited comment from Committee member Ian Mearns MP in which they said he placed ‘an onus on Ofsted to allay the concern of some faith schools, including within the Charedi Jewish school sector, that objected to having to cover LGBT content’. They claimed that his comments to the Chief Inspector indicated that Ofsted still had ‘some way to go’ in convincing these schools that the inspectorate was treating them fairly.

Mearns said that within his constituency which has a number of Orthodox Jewish educational settings, there have been some concerns expressed by people within the Orthodox Haredi community ‘about the teaching of LGBT issues in primary schools’.

“One of the things that I have seen quoted is that—one parent put it in a nutshell, “I do not want my child learning about transgender at any age when they still believe in the Tooth Fairy.” Others have gone on to follow it up by saying, “Is it not the case that under the new guidance, teaching of LGBT will be considered a required element of relationship education but heterosexual relationships will be part of sex education” and this will mean that, as is the case today, parents will have the right to opt the child out of a lesson regarding heterosexual relationships but not the LGBT element within primary schools. He said.

Halfon added to those comments, saying ‘I have had representations from—I am not saying this is the view of any Committee—faith bodies that Ofsted is now delivering an anti-faith agenda’.

“Whether it is ongoing comments, questioning the wearing of the hajib, the desire to inspect unregistered faith classes such as Sunday Schools, the proposal that faith schools and schools should be inspected under the new EIF, the repeat calling out of faith schools that have not met the standards, while at the same time apparently—apparently, I stress—turning a blind eye to over a quarter of state schools that are allegedly failing to deliver religious education as required by law. In advance of your coming here, inevitably I have had all sorts of e-mails from very concerned communities.” He said.

Spielman pointed out that in the state sector, ‘the inspection outcomes for faith schools is significantly better than for non-faith schools’.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, the Revd Stephen Terry, said: “Whatever Ofsted’s role in the school system, it should not be a lightning rod for issues that other public officials are too timid to address. Political leaders should support inspectors in treating schools consistently and in seeking to ensure schools adhere to the law and best serve their pupils.

“It is shocking and irresponsible that some should instead be special pleading so that Ofsted goes back to being soft on faith schools and effectively implements double standards.” He added.

Terry said that special interest groups, including faith schools, ‘should understand their duties under the law to provide a balanced and inclusive education’.

“They can do this while putting forward their particular ethical, social and moral view of the World. If this is not achieved then it will be much harder for all young people to play their part in building the tolerant society which Britain desperately needs to maintain and develop.” He added.

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