An important Ofsted report was quietly published this week – one which finally defines what is, and is not, acceptable to Ofsted when categorising a school. It comes down, it seems, to one single issue.
Vishnitz Girls’ School in north London first came under scrutiny with an unannounced emergency inspection in February 2016, after safeguarding concerns were raised. The school’s categorisation fell from ‘good’ to ‘standards not met’. The report published this week is for the third monitoring visit – according to Ofsted, standards are still not met, and Schoolsweek cheerfully named the school as one which has ‘repeatedly failed their legal duties’ but ‘have nevertheless been allowed to remain open’. Another witch-hunt, or a school which has genuinely failed to address valid concerns?
The report makes interesting reading. All but one of the concerns have been addressed. Pupils are ‘well motivated, have positive attitudes to learning and are confident in thinking for themselves’. Teachers use a range of strategies and their ‘good subject knowledge and high-quality classroom resources inspire pupils with enthusiasm for learning and to achieve well’. Assessment information is used effectively to allow students to make good progress. Behaviour is good, with management strategies used to good effect – pupils ‘behave well and … take responsibility for their own actions’.
The school is ‘clearly focused on teaching pupils to respect everybody, regardless of beliefs and lifestyle’. PSHE curricula and schemes of work have been revised, with the help of an external consultant and a compliance officer. All safeguarding concerns have been addressed – staff are well trained and the school is fully compliant on all matters of safeguarding, health and safety, pupil welfare and buildings. So what’s not to like – the school’s categorisation has been returned to ‘good’, hasn’t it?
Sadly, no, and for just one single reason. As a matter of policy, the girls are not taught about gender reassignment or sexual orientation because the curriculum and learning policy is written in accordance with the school’s faith position. According to Ofsted, this means that pupils do not ‘gain a full understanding of fundamental British Values’ and the curriculum does not comply with the Equality Act 2010. The pupils in the school are aged between 3 and 8.
Finally, Ofsted has revealed its true agenda. It doesn’t matter how good your school is in all other respects –simply refusing to teach very young children about gender reassignment will lead to your closure. That is the possible outcome for not only this school, but other Jewish schools which refuse, as a matter of faith, to teach about LGBT issues. All the indications are that the Orthodox community is prepared to stand its ground.
The argument used to justify such sanction is that these are protected characteristics. So is religious belief, but it’s now been made crystal clear by Ofsted that the Equality Act is actually hierarchical, with sexual orientation and gender reassignment at the apex of the Act. All equalities are equal, but some equalities are more equal than others.
The conflict between gender ideology and the tenets of faith is one which has so far been held in uneasy balance by the government. But Ofsted has now clearly drawn up lines of battle between the Orthodox Jewish community and LGBT activists. With Jay Harman, the BHA education campaigner. calling for the closure of their schools, there is little chance of the Jewish community being allowed to continue to live in peace, with parents raising and educating their children as they think best.
The Equality Act now informs all aspects of education policy in both the state and maintained sectors. British Values, according to Edward Timpson when speaking in Parliament recently, provides the moral framework. So, over to the Department for Education to decide what happens when two protected characteristics meet in head on conflict. There are just two options – protect the right of individuals to live and raise their children in accordance with their faith, or make a mockery of the Equality Act by closing schools that fail to comply with your LGBT agenda.