Is a UK government body harassing Jewish and Christian schools?

Is a UK government body harassing Jewish and Christian schools? October 24, 2014

2312105_1d033e6aThe new intolerance is clothed with the language of promoting equality. Yet it seems religious groups are less equal than others. In this article I will outline a worrying pattern that hints at the possibility of a secret UK government plan to weaken, and eventually close, religious schools.

More Coverage:
Independent Christian school Releases Details of Closure Threat
Has the UK government breached the Human Rights Act in recent school regulations?

Christian and Jewish schools in the UK have been reporting worrying examples of what can only be described as harassment by the official schools’ inspection body, Ofsted (The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills).

To understand the recent allegations of governmental religious intolerance, one needs some background on the so-called “Trojan Horse” scandal. This was described as a secret plot to Islamize secular state schools in Birmingham. Secular head teachers were apparently forced out of certain schools, with a goal of creating what was effectively a Muslim school.

These events and the appointment of a counter-terrorism expert to investigate them were already controversial, as the very different reports of the Guardian and the Telegraph demonstrate. The official report of an investigation into these events can be seen here.

Some have suggested that as a result of these events other Muslim schools are being unfairly targeted elsewhere in the country (see this Daily Mail article). I did reach out to the UK’s Association of Muslim Schools for a reaction to this article, but have not so far received a reply.

As a knee jerk reaction the UK government made some changes to the regulations for independent schools, which it also stated will be applied in the future to state schools, both religious and secular.

It should be noted by my non-UK readers that in the UK all schools are regulated to some degree by the government, but the relationship with independently-run schools is different than with state-funded schools. Some state-funded schools are actually run and governed by religious bodies, and in some cases those schools are run according to a religious ethos, but still regulated and paid for by the state.

It seems from the cases reported below that the new regulations are now being applied to all schools, by arrangement with Ofsted, although technically they have not yet been released.

The regulations can be found here and are based on the 2010 Equality Act. Essentially they require schools to “actively promote” equality with respect to the protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010. Those characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

It hasn’t taken long for these amended regulations, which on first glance may seem harmless enough, to have prompted what one can only hope were unintended consequences.

Ofsted appears to some observers to have suddenly increased the number of their inspection visits taking place at orthodox Jewish schools, and the schools concerned have expressed grave concerns. Schools visited by Ofsted are “reporting a campaign to challenge their religious ethos and attempts by inspectors to impose secular culture and values on students.”  They claim that inspectors are creating “a climate of hostility designed to unsettle the pupils.”

Mr Jonathan Rabson, Executive Director of NAJOS (The National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools) said: “This confrontational approach by inspectors is a worrying trend that has never been seen before in the history of the UK Jewish community and we fear that this suggests a shift in policy towards faith schools . . . Ofsted inspectors have asked hugely inappropriate questions and bullied the pupils into answering insensitive and anti-religious questions.”  (Source: Press Release NAJOS 8 October 2014.)

It seems that if these reports are accurate, the inspectors paid no regard to the fact that these orthodox Jewish children were being raised in a very conservative manner, to not interact with those of opposite gender, and to not have TVs or Internet devices. The idea that a young child from such a sheltered background should be asked whether they had a boyfriend or girlfriend by a stranger is preposterous, and frankly bordering on being abusive towards such young children.

NAJOS claims “30% of maintained Jewish secondary schools have received unannounced visits from Ofsted, and many of our independent orthodox Jewish schools have also received no-notice inspections.”  This seems like clear evidence of discriminatory targeting which, unless there really was good cause, surely breaks the very Equality Act these regulations were designed to protect!

It is unsurprising in such circumstances that the Jewish community fear anti-Semitism may have played a part in these decisions. (Source: NAJOS Letter to Nicky Morgan re inspections – 24 September 2014.) The 30% figure is disputed by Ofsted. (Source: Full Response from Ofsted re letter to DfE.)

The Guardian reports further on these allegations here.

Ofsted replied to the allegations concerning Jewish schools as follows:

“We have written to NAJOS to respond to their concerns and to assure them that Ofsted has not been disproportionately targeting Jewish schools for unannounced inspections. Nor are we questioning Jewish values and ethos. 

Inspectors must, however, ask questions that probe the extent to which pupils are prepared for the next stage in their education or for employment and for life in modern Britain. Inspectors are asked to use age-appropriate questions to test children’s understanding and tolerance of lifestyles that may be different to their own. Please note that a meeting has also been arranged with NAJOS to discuss their concerns.”

A NAJOS spokesman I approached replied to the Ofsted statement as follows:

We are not reassured by Ofsted’s response. We are still very concerned by: 

– Ofsted’s lack of understanding and sensitivity to the context and ethos of  orthodox Jewish schools, e.g. scheduling an unannounced inspection of a primary school on the eve of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and visiting a secondary at the very end of term when the 6th form are not present and then criticizing attendance levels 

– The inappropriate questions used by Ofsted inspectors, apparently with drive to impose a secular agenda which challenges our religious views and principles

– The interpretation of fundamental British values by Ofsted which appears  to demand that schools “actively promote” other faiths, and are not satisfied with “respect for and tolerance of other faiths” which is at the expense of the school’s own faith agenda. 

A similar pattern is also being claimed by some Christian schools, both independent and state-sponsored. A Catholic state-funded school was accused earlier this month of not doing enough to teach their children about how to prevent extremism and radicalization. In this case Ofsted withdrew the report for “quality assurance.”  (Source: Guardian and Ipswich Star.)

The Christian Institute has written an e-mail to the Department for Education, which I have permission to share here. They cite two other cases, for which unfortunately they are not prepared to mention specific names. They point out they believe that the new regulations, and the way they are being interpreted, are not consistent with acts governing the right of religious schools to “primarily” teach their own religion during Religious Education.

One Christian school was apparently told that although it celebrates Eid and Diwali, it did not do enough to “celebrate the rich religious and cultural diversity within the school.”

Many religious schools still see the Assembly as an act of worship, something that was common in my youth even in secular schools.  I remember singing Christian hymns at school. I also believe that even back then, the few children of other faiths were given the option to sit out religious assemblies if their faith meant they could not participate in an act of worship.

It is in this context of Assembly as an act of Christian Worship in a church school, that we hear allegations that a school was threatened with closure if it did not invite ministers of other religions, such as imams to lead these sacred moments and pray.

Most Christian parents would have no objection to their children learning about other faiths. Many would even have no objection to them learning about it from imams. Where there would be a strong objection, which I am sure would be shared by many from other faiths, is if children would be forced to be part of an act of worship in a different religion.

Clearly we need more information about the two anonymous cases cited by the Christian Institute, but all these cases together do pose worrying questions about the government’s attitude to faith schools moving forward.

In response to the Christian school allegations,  an Ofsted spokesperson said:

“Ofsted does not recognize this allegation and we are keen to look into this matter. Unfortunately, the Christian Institute has declined our requests to provide the name of the independent school to which they refer, and we have written to them to ask for clarification. We are not aware of any Ofsted report about an independent Christian school that makes reference to requiring leaders to invite clerics of other faiths to lead assemblies. 

 “Ofsted and the approved independent school inspectorates check independent schools against the standards set by the Department for Education. Within these standards, all schools must teach tolerance of those of other faiths and take steps to prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain.

 “Ofsted does not have the power to close independent schools.”

This reply by Ofsted is a little disingenuous on two counts. Firstly, the media has never suggested that the comments found their way into a final report. Indeed, and this is only speculation on my part, but I do wonder if the reason for the reticence of the school to come forward is because the report is not yet finalized. It is also very possible that the comments were made verbally by an inspector. It is hard to investigate the facts further at the moment. I have asked Christian Institute if the school would be willing to speak with me on condition of anonymity but they declined.

Secondly, although Ofsted itself doesn’t have the power to close down an independent school, the Department for Education very definitely does, and it would be guided by Ofsted reports suggesting a school had failed in its duty in some way.

It seems to me that at minimum these recent trends are consistent with a further progression of the steady march towards a future where the militant secularists will succeed in their goal of eradicating all expressions of religion from British schools. I wish we could build a future of true tolerance for all, where difference is welcomed and accepted rather than suppressed.

UPDATE

Ofsted has responded to this article as follows:

“We do not target schools simply on the basis of faith. Ofsted has inspected some state-funded and independent Jewish and Christian schools without notice recently, as well as some independent Islamic schools. All were selected for inspections on an individual basis, and regardless of their faith. No conclusions can or should be drawn about a trend or pattern.

“Ofsted chooses when to inspect a school on the basis of its performance and the length of time since the last inspection. Sometimes schools are selected for inspection because complaints have been received about them, or because the curriculum information on the school’s website required by statute is incomplete.

“We only inspect independent schools at the request of the Department for Education, checking those schools against the standards set by the Department for Education.”

Interestingly they do not comment on whether they have a desire to restrict religious schools further from actually being religious, and perhaps even close them. We will watch future developments with interest.

Over to you:  Have you any experiences related to this story, or comments to make?

Please feel free to comment below or contact me on email if you wish to remain anonymous at adrian@adrianwarnock.com

More Coverage:
Independent Christian school Releases Details of Closure Threat
Has the UK government breached the Human Rights Act in recent school regulations?


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  • DTNorth

    “I wish we could build a future of true tolerance for all, where difference is welcomed and accepted rather than suppressed.”

    And do you really think that having segregated religious schooling is going to achieve this.

    It NEVER has.

    • So you would be someone who wants to abolish religious schools then?

      I do believe that segregated schools can and do still teach tolerance and respect. Also, for religious minorities (like evangelical Christians) who may feel that their children will be at risk of being mocked and denigrated in secular schools, a religious school offers that option. Also religious schools do not always require religious affiliation from their pupils. Some are open access but run to a certain ethos.

  • What gives OFSTED the right, or indeed any Brits, to preach to minority groups about how they should live their lives. This is a cosmopolitan country, the Muslim community have the right to educate their children how they choose. What has being British got to do with your religious belief? In Britain there are Hindus Sikhs pagans Jewish Buddhists atheist Zoroastrians Rasta’s and many more should they all change there religious beliefs because they are British? Studying the Qur’an will certainly help towards these children becoming fully integrated citizens of the UK.

    Ofsted should be an advisory body – full of experts who are able to support and guide schools into a better service for our young people. Instead, figures are massaged, teachers bullied, children get a raw deal and all because there are ‘standards’ to be reached or else the brown stuff hits the fan. The standards seem to me to be all wrong; my children’s first school had a motto ‘learning with love and loving to learn’. From what I have seen in primary schools throughout my 20 years (I have just thrown in the towel) is a continual drive to get children to higher standards quicker than ever which tends to overlook the fact that they are children and need time to explore and assimilate their learning. Child-centred learning should be top of the agenda with Ofsted helping to achieve the goals. We get what we pay for and currently we have a system which berates rather than supports.

    Ofsted had to abandon an inspection of a private primary school after pupils
    as young as nine were questioned about their attitudes to homosexuality.
    Parents were concerned after children told them inspectors had spoken
    privately to a group of nine and ten-year-olds at the Muslim school, asking
    them: ‘What does the word gay mean?’ and ‘Is it used in a bad way at school?’It
    is claimed the children were also asked about terrorism and whether it was
    discussed. Ofsted was forced to cut short its visit to Olive Tree Primary School in Luton after parents threatened to withdraw their children. Glulam Shah, 40, said his ten-year-old son came home complaining about being asked ‘scary and weird questions’. He said the inspector told his son not to be offended, adding: ‘It’s just a part of the law we have to ask you.’ Ofsted apologised for upsetting parents, but a spokesman said: ‘As part of any school inspection, inspectors will ask pupils about the effectiveness of the school’s actions to prevent and tackle discriminatory and derogatory language – including homophobic language’
    This is outrageous….trying to open a conversation about homosexuality or indeed any kind of sexuality with a 9 year old…..without parental consent…and without the parents being present…heads must roll…that inspector must be sacked…. Aren’t Ofsted aware that the attitude towards same sex relationships is
    not exactly wonderful in Catholic and Church of England schools? Some gay and
    lesbian teachers have found it so difficult working in Christian faith schools
    that they have either left or had breakdowns. If the OFSTED inspectors had put
    the same question to the parents, I wonder how they might have responded?

    These Ofsted inspectors should resign for frightening young children with their sexual views. Ultimately, it is parents, not teachers, who are responsible for their
    children’s moral teaching and guidance. And in this case in Luton, the parents
    exercised their parental responsibilities, fully. These questions you raise are
    of sexual and moral matters, that certainly should not be put to young children
    without the presence or consent of their parents, who have exercised their
    parental rights by threatening to remove their children from the school in Luton
    if Ofsted inspectors were allowed to continue their cross examination of young
    children about their views on homosexuality. OFSTED, failed teachers, failed
    pupils. Muslim schools should be inspected by Muslim members of the Ofsted who understand their needs and demands. Non-Muslim inspectors and teachers are not in a position to inspect and teach in Muslim schools. Ofsted should concentrate on the standard of education in core subjects like English, Math and Sciences. Ofsted reports on 4 areas for every school, Teaching and learning, Management, Pupil behaviour and Achievement. It is very difficult to work out which of these groups would cover the questioning highlighted in this article. Sounds like Ofsted making things up as they go along.

    Who can blame these parents? What kind of person asks questions like those to a 9 year old? Ofsted is out of control. This country is being turned upside down by some ideological approach which has nothing to do with ‘good parenting’. Children, note CHILDREN do not need these sorts of questions. By all means teach them about tolerance and respect for the law, but let children be children. A subject? Why homosexuality and not pornography then? What other attitudes should be checked off the list? How many attitudes should be checked? Or are some attitudes less ‘acceptable’ to the thought police than others? This is unadulterated political correctness gone nuts. The problem as it was expressed at the beginning of the article is not primarily with the question per se, but with the fact that the children were left alone with an adult they didn’t know and then asked these questions. That is surely utterly inappropriate. Indeed, if I were an Ofsted inspector I would refuse to see a child without an accompanying adult because of the danger of molestation accusations. Ofsted’s inquisitorial style and political correctness have both gone crazy. There are ways of finding out about children’s attitudes by simply listening on the playground and listening and observing in class. Honestly, I think this country is going mad… It is no ones business what your attitude is to homosexuality, let alone expecting a nine year old to even have an opinion. What are they going to do if they reply that “its a bit weird” Ask them about their bikes or roller skates or favourite pets. They are children for God’s sake!!

    This is really a story about the very very variable quality of inspection teams. It’s a well known fact in education, and it damages the integrity of Ofsted as an inspectorate. The people who run Ofsted should be held accountable. There are some good teams, and some very poor ones. Who quality controls them? Those people should be made accountable. The problem with Ofsted, I think, is its leader. One who’s more interested in appearing in the media and playing “philosopher king” off his territory than ensuring his organisation is run properly. It seems ridiculous to me that he went straight from being a head teacher to running the inspectorate. Don’t think he’d ever run an organisation at all.If someone officially pulled rank on me (similar to Ofsted inspectors); and demanded to know my sexual views, I would tell them to sod off, and go and get a life. Unfortunately, the children in question, did not have the years of experience to do this when confronted by Ofsted inspectors, who should be more concerned about the education in Luton, from personal experience of living there and looking after 3 small children, it is not so good. Many people who are followers of some religions are uneasy about homosexuality, indeed it is proscribed by them, and whatever the more liberal demand their belief is unlikely to change. What is the response going to be from Ofsted if a child states that practising homosexuality is wrong and against their religion’s teaching, that of course being what they are taught at home ? It is not the school that is teaching this it is in all their religious teachings and books- e.g. the Bible. Ofsted should be an advisory body – full of experts who are able to support and guide schools into a better service for our young people. Instead, figures are massaged, teachers bullied, children get a raw deal and all because there are ‘standards’ to be reached or else the brown stuff hits the fan. The standards seem to me to be all wrong; my children’s first school had a motto ‘learning with love and loving to learn’. From what I have seen in primary schools throughout my 20 years (I have just thrown in the towel) is a continual drive to get children to higher standards
    quicker than ever which tends to overlook the fact that they are children and
    need time to explore and assimilate their learning. Child-centred learning should be top of the agenda with Ofsted helping to achieve the goals. We get what we pay for and currently we have a system which berates rather than supports.

    If 8 out of 10 schools are getting good or outstanding why is that not a headline? That would be positive & when the next Pisa comes out & shows no improvement the government would be made to look stupid because the 8 out of 10 schools are good or outstanding is bullshit just like much of what Ofsted say. Ofsted are a political tool used to show progress to the electorate & win votes. Their comments, inspections & judgements are utterly, utterly worthless. Wilshaw was just on radio 4 and he seemed to reject the proposal that parents have any responsibility for their children’s attitude to learning and behaviour, preferring to point out that Head teachers ‘have tremendous powers to set the culture’. This wilful blindness is what has hindered the progress of too many students in mainstream state schools for too long.

    One of the most remarkable things about this whole through-the-looking-glass “debate” is that the media still treat OFSTED as anything other than a bad joke. OFSTED are corrupt, incompetent, self-serving and redundant parasites. There are plenty of cases which demonstrate that an OFSTED “judgement” has slightly less value than wet toilet paper, and Michael Wilshaw is an oafish buffoon so lacking in intelligence that he finds it absolutely impossible to imagine that there might be any other way of teaching than the one he used himself thirty years ago. Yet when he opens his bowels and shits out his latest attack on teachers, the media treat it as if it’s the bloody word of God. Incredible. Whether Ofsted’s reports are accurate is a perfect example of luck.

    Look at the way Ofsted subcontracts the inspection work. Do we have any actual Ofsted employees working consistently together to improve schools. Many inspectors are retired teachers, lead inspectors have full-time posts in schools. The teams are ad hoc and only visit schools for two days before walking away without any responsibility for their judgements, which are increasingly meaningless to students, parents and teachers.Ofsted is a fraud. What’s the difference between a plastic surgeon and an Ofsted Inspector? A plastic surgeon tucks up features. Actually, a good Ofsted report can often be down to luck. Take a look at the Secret Teacher’s posting in the Guardian on Saturday 10 November 2012. The article is entitled: ‘Dear Ofsted inspector, I am giving you notice to improve’. Can we be brave enough to do away with Ofsted altogether and instead bring about a revolution by investing in good teachers?

    Ofsted don’t know their arse from their elbow, who on earth would work for such a miserable organisation? Always so negative, positives are only ever begrudgingly given. Miserable, miserable bastards. Quite honestly I’m bored to tears hearing about Ofsted and the latest pronouncement from Wilshaw on what is wrong with state education. Maybe just maybe people don’t give a fuck anymore given all the bullshit politicians, ‘experts’ and prates like Wilshaw keep giving us. Out of curiosity, I read the Ofsted Inspector’s Manual recently. One might expect a manual to contain instructions. This particular manual was 148 pages but, if you removed the waffle, it could have been summarised in a single page. Apart from a dozen repetitions of the need to reduce stress on those being inspected (without saying how that would be achieved) it contained no instruction whatever. It was certainly not a manual by any normal definition of the word. I did wonder if it was conceived and authored by early products of its own creation. The abolition of Ofsted is long overdue. An inspector speaks. OFSTED are an obstacle, a hindrance an irrelevance to a good education. It is their raison d’etre.

    The questioning about homosexuality is badly handled but probably comes from good intentions. The more worrying line of questioning is mentioned near the end of the article: ‘The inspectors also asked the children if they had seen anything on the news about terrorism that they had discussed in class.’ What concerns do they have about Muslim pupils’ knowledge of terrorism? The article doesn’t elaborate but if I was a parent at this school I’d be furious about this. It’s actually quite chilling. There is absolutely no need to talk to children sex. Homophobic or not. I wouldn’t be bloody happy about pseudopod talk to a child. It’s not right you
    sick people. Whatever happened to pubescent sex education ???? WHY OH WHY CAN’T WE ALLOW CHILDREN THEIR INNOCENCE? If I was a nine year old boy, alone in a room with a strange man, and that man started asking me those sorts of questions, I would be worried that he was going to sexually abuse me. Leave them alone to grow up. The majority are not homophobic, racist or sexist in a playground. They are picking bullying for whatever reason. They are kids. The snap out of it during secondary school. Usually rebelling against whatever they were taught to hate. Leave them alone.

    The problem is the Islamification of schools through the sheer weight of numbers of Muslims in them. Attitudes to gays and terrorism may be some kind of litmus test for such Islamification but Ofsted seem to have approached this in a clumsy and insensitive way. The elephant in the room is that if you have a school full of Muslims then it is always going to be an Islamist school. It’s too late to avoid that now. Islam outlaws homosexuality. It’s perfectly reasonable to ensure children forced into a religion and a religious school by their parents are educated and accepting, and generally set up to become good citizens. It’s also reasonable to suspect a Muslim school, wouldn’t encourage acceptance of homosexuality, or discourage playground negativity towards it.

    The parent(s) of children being asked seemingly rather directly about “gays” might have reported this directly to the Police and demanded an investigation. There could have been accusations of ‘grooming’, surely there should have been two people in the room when such a question is put? Should the Ofsted inspector
    concerned have turned out to be homosexual, perhaps a question that some of the parents might have posed, then there could have been repercussions. Certainly it would have been used by the ‘Tabloids’. If the matter is accurately reported then Ofsted are behaving in a really insensitive and probably incompetent manner. Religions may variously accommodate homosexuality but their adherents may certainly resist attacks on their beliefs and therefore their freedom. Hinduism outlaws homosexuality. So does Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity! I have been a Governor of a Muslim school and I would have been up in arms if I found out such questions were asked to small kids and no mention was made in any Governors training regarding school inspections that this kind of question were asked. Faith schools do not condone same sex relationships, this is true of Catholic and C-o-E schools – so does seem unfair to focus on an Islamic school. Ofsted needs to be put into special ensures as it is clearly not fit for the purpose. Let’s hope this is the final nail. Get a grip OFSTED and stop trying to find pathetic ways to demonise the Muslim faith schools! Ofsted is behaving like the Stasi used to do in East Germany. There is no place for this kind of surveillance in a free society.
    IA
    http://www.londonschoolofislamics.org.uk

  • SeekTruthFromFacts

    “Many religious schools still see the Assembly as an act of worship,
    something that was common in my youth even in secular schools.”
    Isn’t this “a daily act of collective worship” still the law for state schools? Still seems to be in the Education Act 1944: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/7-8/31/part/II/crossheading/religious-education-in-county-and-voluntary-schools/enacted

    More importantly, I think you’ve missed a key angle to the OFSTED-and-religious-schools story. My layman’s understanding was that OFSTED subcontracted inspections of many Christian and Muslim independent schools to a small organization called Bridge Schools Inspectorate, precisely to avoid accidentally treading on toes in the way that they clearly have. Has there been some change in this policy? Why didn’t the Christian school in question make sure they were inspected by Bridge, who seem like sensible people?