"OFSTED has gone too far," say Christian schools
Christian educators have spoken out about the 'inappropriate behaviour' of Ofsted inspectors after a batch inspection judged their schools to be failing.
Ten schools supported by Christian Education Europe (CEE) were inspected on 16-18 October 2016 with one day's notice. The reports became public during December. Schools previously judged as 'outstanding' and 'good' were marked as 'inadequate' and 'requires improvement'.
The schools say that inspectors' behaviour was inappropriate.
Chris Oakey, principal of Luton Pentecostal Church Christian Academy, said that students were questioned behind closed doors about 'British values' and their beliefs about human sexuality, and that one of his pupils described the questioning as "patronising" and said it was "entrapment".
Wesley Richards, chairman of the management board at The King's House School, Windsor, spoke out about the 'agenda' that he perceived in Ofsted's inspection. He said that in a curriculum meeting an inspector asked the teachers: "Do you teach about other religions or do you pretend they don't exist?"
He also reported an overheard phone conversation in which the inspector said: "I think I can nail this one on progress in reading and writing alone".
The King's House School was judged 'inadequate' on safeguarding. Mr Richards commented:
"We are always looking to improve our school and welcome feedback from Ofsted about how we can better serve the children in our care. However, we are concerned about the conduct of the inspectors and the double standards by which they work.
"We were criticised for our safeguarding, whilst inspectors are allowed to interview our children behind closed doors, without a teacher present and without parental consent. We were unable to verify what questions were asked or the manner in which they were put to the children. Our teachers are required to leave doors ajar or blinds up if they happen to be the only adult present - something Ofsted does not practice.
"Ofsted is operating without accountability and undermines the 'British values' it promotes, by failing to show respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, in this case, Christian."
Ofsted said that the Department for Education asked it to do a batch inspection of schools teaching the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum. But the schools have received no explanation as to why ten schools supported by CEE were inspected on the same day.
The reports praised the behaviour and character of the pupils, the ability of pupils to think independently, and the high esteem in which parents hold the schools. No parent has removed their child from any of the schools as a result of the inspections.
But Ofsted criticised the Bible-based curriculum, and said there were issues with "safeguarding" and "leadership", adding that "a number of these schools were not promoting British values effectively enough."
The schools say that the reports create a misleading picture of the education they provide and are seeking legal advice from the Christian Legal Centre. They have complained to Ofsted about the reports but so far have heard nothing back.
The freedom of parents to choose how their children are educated is strongly protected in both UK and European Law.
According to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the state must respect the rights of parents to educate their children in accordance with their own religious beliefs.
Independent Christian schools also enjoy strong protection. In 2014 Lord Nash responded to Lord Warner's written question about teaching creation in schools: "Independent schools are not downgraded in their Ofsted inspections purely as a result of teaching creationism…independent schools have the freedom to choose what they include in the curriculum. Teaching creationism does not, of itself, conflict with the standards."
Ofsted's reports criticise the curriculum in the schools as "wholly based on biblical teaching", and "not broad and balanced; as it should be".
The Independent School Standards, however, do not require that a school's curriculum be 'broad and balanced'.
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said:
"Ofsted has gone too far. The behaviour of the inspectors is inappropriate and hypocritical, and Ofsted is wrongly applying state school standards to independent schools.
"These schools produce children who are kind, tolerant, interesting and go on to do good jobs. Most of all, they are happy, and their parents are overwhelmingly positive about their learning experience. That is what Christian education does for them.
"Ofsted is critical of the Christian belief system within the schools and yet it is this very belief system that is the foundation of schools across this country. The standards of 'British values' are being misapplied and undermining an invaluable element of our nation's heritage, Christian education. Further, the 'British value' of individual liberty is not being respected.
"Parents are free to educate their children in accordance with their own religious beliefs, and this freedom must be protected.
"Far from being an independent and impartial regulator, Ofsted is driven by political ideology and those not following this ideology are now liable to be punished."