In response to a call for evidence from the House of Commons Education Committee, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has called on Ofsted, the government department responsible for inspecting schools in England, to be responsible for the inspection of all aspects of ‘faith’ schools. Currently most religious schools run their own inspections on Religious Education (RE) and Collective Worship, but the BHA has warned of the continued dangers of failing to provide effective oversight in these areas.
Under existing arrangements, Ofsted inspectors are barred from specifically inspecting denominational RE or Collective Worship in ‘faith’ schools. Rather, ‘faith’ schools appoint their own inspectors in these areas and Ofsted may only attend RE lessons and assemblies as part of their general assessment of a school’s contribution to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of their pupils. In its submission, the BHA states that Ofsted is unable to fully ‘ensure that pupils are receiving a broad and balanced curriculum’ given these conditions and questioned how an overall evaluation of a school’s effectiveness could be made without specific monitoring of such important aspects of school life. The potential for conflicts of interest to arise when schools appoint their own inspectors was also noted.
Education Campaigner Jay Harman commented, ‘At a time when such a heavy emphasises is placed on schools’ promotion of British values, it is hard to fathom why Ofsted are still prevented from specifically inspecting on RE and collective worship in “faith” schools. Good quality RE is essential if schools are to produce open-minded and tolerant citizens, but we know, and Ofsted knows, that there are many schools that would rather indoctrinate their pupils or encourage them to believe creationist or otherwise pseudoscientific teachings. Failing to effectively monitor the teaching of RE gives a huge amount of cover to those schools and the system urgently needs to change to address this’.
Other matters the BHA raised in its submission
In addition to the conflict of interests in the inspection of state-funded ‘faith’ schools, concerns were also raised in the submission about the private school system. While Ofsted currently inspects around half of all such schools, the other half is inspected by an independent inspectorate appointed by the school. The BHA has previously expressed doubts about the impartiality of one such body, the Bridge Schools Inspectorate (BSI), who were formerly responsible for inspecting schools from the Christian Schools Trust (CST) network or the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS). Whilst the BSI was forced to close earlier this year following allegations that their inspectors had extensive links to the schools they were inspecting, similar concerns still exist around the School Inspection Service (SIS). Despite having been founded by the Focus Learning Trust (FLT), a group of schools that teach in line with the beliefs of the strict Exclusive Brethren Christian group, the SIS is responsible for inspecting all FLT’s schools, as well as Steiner schools, about which the BHA also has concerns, particularly in relation to the teaching of pseudoscience.
On that point, the BHA’s submission also expressed concern at the fact that neither Ofsted’s inspection framework, nor the Inspectors’ Handbook, addresses the teaching of pseudoscience in schools. On a number of occasions in the past, the BHA has identified pseudoscientific or creationist teaching in schools only to discover that a recent Ofsted inspection had failed to also identify such issues. This was the case, for instance, with Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Hackney, which was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2014 despite ‘blacking out’ GCSE science exam questions where they contradicted the schools beliefs in areas such as creation and sex education.
For further comment or information, please contact Jay Harman on 020 7324 3078 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the BHA’s submission to the Education Committee: https://humanists.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015-08-17-Education-Committee-the-work-of-Ofsted-BHA-written-submission-FINAL.pdf
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on RE: https://humanists.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.