By Rabbi David Meyer, Executive Director of the Partnership for Jewish Schools
There has been much publicity surrounding recent Ofsted inspections and the suggestion that it has discriminated against faith schools. The spate of no-notice inspections, coupled with the downgrading of a number of our community’s schools, would seem to support this perception. However, it is important to separate the hype from the facts so that we can get a true picture of the challenges our schools are facing.
Ofsted plays a critical role in monitoring and challenging our schools. Its responsibilities have become significantly more complex following the discovery of the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham. Recognising the significant dangers posed by fundamentalism, the Government’s Department for Education rushed through guidance requiring the teaching of British values and charged Ofsted with ensuring that this was implemented across all schools.
It wasn’t long before the national press was filled with examples of overzealous inspectors asking young children questions about lesbian and homosexual relationships under the guise of inspecting homophobic bullying. How this was meant to help address the growing radicalisation of children was anyone’s guess. Interestingly, and despite recent figures showing a worrying increase in the rise of anti-Semitism, Ofsted inspectors failed to ask questions relating to attitudes to Jews.
As a result of Ofsted’s approach, we have witnessed the downgrading of faith schools across the country as they fail to deliver the required breadth in understanding and tolerance towards sexual preferences and religious beliefs.
Interestingly, there appears to be no mention of any mainstream schools having failed in these areas. This would seem to support the concern that that there is a disparity in Ofsted’s approach to mainstream and faith schools. Whether Ofsted is actually targeting Jewish schools is difficult to say.
Ofsted assures us it is not, but the statistics seem to tell a different story. Since the Trojan Horse scandal in March last year, a staggering 43 Jewish schools have been inspected, an increase of almost 40 percent from the previous year.
Of those inspected, only one was found to be outstanding, while more than half were found to be inadequate or requiring improvement.
Whilst Ofsted’s questionable approach to faith schools has been raised in the House of Commons, it is a little too convenient to only blame it for the recent downgrading of our community’s schools. Many of our schools are achieving exceptional results, and some of the inspectorate’s findings seem overly harsh.
However, in some schools, Ofsted has highlighted significant weaknesses in the quality of provision, and the validity of these assessments must be recognised.Our objective must be to ensure that all our schools are rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’.
For the few schools that are struggling, these reports must be seen as a call to action. However, and especially given the financial burdens schools are already facing, this is not easy.
I am, therefore, particularly pleased to confirm that after Pesach, PAJES will be launching an initiative offering expert assistance to schools that are deemed by Ofsted to be inadequate.
This will include offering support to headteachers and the leadership team, ensuring they understand the Ofsted framework, offering insets to curriculum leaders on how to meet the teaching requirements of British values, and generally helping to ensure the best possible provision for the students. As much as headteachers may loathe Ofsted inspections, I think we all appreciate that they play an important part in challenging schools to achieve the highest standards.
However, tolerance and respect are not just British values; they are at the core of Jewish values, which our schools have been teaching for years. We have every right to be proud of the graduates of Jewish schools and the roles they play in wider society. Rather than undermining our schools, perhaps it is time Ofsted started to appreciate them and learn from our successes.