In June of last year, I wrote a response to the criticism of a group of Christian schools. Several of the schools were due for Ofsted inspections, and I ended the blog with the words ‘Watch this space…’ suggesting that outcomes would ‘probably be determined solely by the current social orthodoxy… even at the expense of denying parents their right to educate their children “in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions” ‘. And that is exactly what has happened.
During a two day period in October, 10 schools within the group were simultaneously inspected, in each case by an HMI, even though previous inspection categorisations were mostly good or outstanding. The behaviour, courtesy and respect of pupils was of particular note, as it was in this recent series of inspections. Nevertheless, the outcomes, as I suggested, reflect the government’s agenda of imposing its one-size-fits-all agenda on all schools, regardless of their size and ethos. Here’s the odd thing – very little has changed in these schools since their last inspections, yet they have fallen to ‘Unsatisfactory’ or ‘Requiring Improvement’ even though they are doing nothing different. It’s an anomaly that the press was quick to spot, drawing the logical conclusion that Ofsted is picking on Christian schools.
The reports show some odd anomalies, too. One school was penalised for the lack of pupil-only toilet facilities, yet many new school builds force teachers and pupils to use the same toilets. Have these schools been similarly penalised, or was Ofsted looking for an excuse?
The provision of high quality careers advice is raised in some of these reports, and this has caused problems for Christian schools in the past. There are two issues here. The first is the capacity of a small school to provide careers advisers. The other issue is more fundamental. The current philosophy of careers advice is focused entirely on providing information about access to wealth creating employment. But for Christians, life is about being the person God created and gifted us to be. That may, or may not, involve higher education and a lucrative career, but any schools falling short of promoting this are being censured at inspection for failing to prepare their pupils for life in modern Britain.
Inspectors also appear to have taken an undue interest in the science curriculum, particularly the teaching of evolution. Why was just one small strand of the curriculum the focus of so much attention? And in all the schools visited? There was clearly a pre-determined agenda and Ofsted seems unaware that it is still legal to teach about a creator God.
After the publication of the reports, things became a little clearer. The Independent ran an article containing its previous content, together with allegations about historic abuse, before proudly claiming that the Ofsted inspections were as a direct result of their investigation. Since when did Ofsted schedule inspections at the behest of the media?
Former pupil Jonny Scaramanga is calling for a specific inquiry into ACE schools, saying that the inspections ‘do not go far enough’. Is he an HMI? Was he at each of the schools inspected in order to deliver this as a professional judgment? Or does he just have an axe to grind, seeing an opportunity to carve out a career in criticism?
And finally, there’s a huge question mark hanging over the role of the British Humanist Association in all of this, with its support of former pupils who claim that ACE schools espouse ‘a fundamentalist, creationist, homophobic, and misogynistic Christian ideology’. The website states that ‘The British Humanist Association has met with the Department for Education on numerous occasions to bring these issues to its attention’, apparently claiming success for having finally provoked action against ACE schools. Since when has a small anti-faith campaign group been able to influence government policy?
Can the government not see what’s going on here? There is a clear agenda, written by the BHA and a couple of former disgruntled students. After some sensational (but largely evidence free) promotion by a single journalist at The Independent, the Department for Education has responded. It is not the first example of the whistle-blowing mentality that is now so popular at the DfE. And those blowing the whistles are believed, with no thought given to the fact that they might be embittered, opposed to Christianity, or just plain wrong.
Ofsted is supposed to be an impartial judge. The Department for Education has been appointed by a democratically elected government with a responsibility to fairly represent all citizens, regardless of belief. The right of parents to teach their children within their community is enshrined in law, even when the values of that community are not consistent with those of wider society.
So why are Christian schools being kicked into touch by the government purely on the say-so of some disgruntled former pupils, a journalist with an axe to grind and an anti-faith campaign group? The Department of Education has some serious questions to answer about its attitude to the role of faith in contemporary society, parental rights in education and the neutrality of Ofsted.