Ofsted report analyses faith teaching

By Marcus Dysch, October 29, 2009

Independent faith schools must work harder to ensure textbooks used to teach about other faiths are accurate and unbiased, according to an Ofsted report.

Inspectors visited 51 private faith schools and found that some teaching materials had incorrect information about other religions.

The Board of Deputies welcomed the report, saying it gave a “strong endorsement” of the general work of faith schools and the “real and positive efforts to address issues of citizenship and cohesion”.

The report was ordered by Schools Secretary Ed Balls in March after concerns were raised about teaching at independent faith schools.

The inspectors looked at how schools develop pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural understanding. Pupils at all the schools were found to have a “strong sense of identity and of belonging to their faith, their school and to Britain”.

Miriam Rosen, Ofsted executive director, said: “All schools have an important role in preparing their pupils for life in modern Britain.”

But the report noted that at a small number of schools some teaching materials contained “biased or incorrect information about the beliefs of other religions”.

At one Muslim school, wording used to describe the situation in the Palestinian territories included “inflammatory language”. At a Jewish school, pupils wrote in “strong language” describing the current climate in the Middle East.

The report did not specify what the children at either school wrote.

The investigators found that in most cases sensitive and controversial topics were dealt with “effectively” by staff who had to manage pupils’ emotions where there was a link to events in the Middle East.

It quoted an example of girls in a Jewish school who held views of Palestinians which were influenced by events affecting relatives in Israel.

Where there was direct personal contact with conflict, Ofsted said, there was “a reluctance to move from their pre-formed ideas”.

Board chief executive Jon Benjamin said independent faith schools were making “real and positive efforts to address issues of citizenship and cohesion”. But he said the board was aware of cases of Jewish children being bullied in mainstream schools when debates on foreign affairs turned into victimisation and name-calling.

Ofsted could not reveal which schools had been visited, or how many of them had been Jewish.

Last updated: 5:48pm, October 29 2009