Ofsted damaging its relationship with faith schools, says think tank

Policy Exchange calls on the schools watchdog to restore trust with religious groups


An influential think-tank has called on Ofsted to restore trust with faith groups, echoing concerns of Jewish organisations that the inspection service is going beyond government guidelines on LGBT teaching. 

Policy Exchange in a new report this week urged Ofsted to bring its policy into line with that of the Department for Education, which says reference to same-sex relationships is not compulsory for primary schools.

Ofsted should not show “less flexibility” than the DfE, the report said.

The report, The Watchmen Revisited, which looked at Ofsted’s approach to curriculum and to faith schools, was complimentary about the inspection service’s work in general.

But it found a perception among some faith communities that Ofsted had a secularist agenda by using such terms as “muscular liberalism” about itself.

The report’s authors, Iain Mansfield and Tim Clark, said Ofsted’s ability to counter “genuine extremism” had been made more difficult by damaging its relationship with faith groups.

They observed that all seven Charedi schools inspected since last November under Ofsted’s new framework had failed, “despite most of these having been passed under the previous framework, principally for failing to explicitly teach about sexual orientation or transgender matters”. 

Christian and Muslim leaders had also expressed concern about requiring these subjects to be taught in primary schools.

According to DfE guidance, the report noted, “LGBT+ matters must be taught explicitly at secondary level” but at primary level, this was “encouraged but not compulsory”.

They commented, “Where the Department for Education has clearly and explicitly set out a set of parameters within which schools can have flexibility on a matter, it is not for Ofsted to then restrict the flexibility of schools beyond those parameters”.

Writing in response to the report, Rabbi David Meyer, executive director of the Jewish Leadership Council’s schools’ network Pajes, said, “Over the past few months, Ofsted has targeted certain schools within our community and as this report has highlighted, penalised them based on a misinterpretation of the DfE’s guidance to primary schools. 

“We would now ask Ofsted to review all of these inspections and correct their judgments so that they are in line with the guidance of the department.”

Pajes recently warned Jewish schools of a “disparity of opinion” between the DfE and Ofsted over LGBT teaching, after Ofsted criticism of several Charedi primaries.

Ofsted said it would “continue to listen carefully to feedback”.

But the Reverend Stephen Terry, chair of the Accord Coalition, the lobby group which wants to stop faith schools admitting children on the basis of religion, said it was “ deeply irresponsible” to suggest that primary faith schools should be allowed to completely ignore LGBT people.

The Policy Exchange report also accused Ofsted of being inconsistent because it criticised schools that fell short on relationships and sex education but was more lenient towards some schools that failed to fulfil statutory requirements for religious education.

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