Strictly Orthodox Jewish educators have welcomed the government’s new guidance on how school inspectors should talk to pupils on inspection, as it now allows an adult to be present when they do.
Chinuch UK, which represents 80 Charedi schools, including independent schools, academies and grant-maintained schools, gave its verdict after the national inspectorate Ofsted outlined what will and will not be appropriate.
The issue became a sore point in relations following several recent downgrades of Charedi schools, during which leaders complained of inspectors asking children questions they deemed inappropriate in a faith school setting.
The guidance, issued on Thursday, outlines how Ofsted inspectors should talk to pupils during their visits, when they are charged with gathering evidence about the school and judging whether the relevant regulations are being met.
Of particular sensitivity to Charedi school leaders has been the assessment of teaching about characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) issues.
“We recognise that some school leaders do not wish inspectors to ask pupils certain questions, for example about LGBT+ issues,” Ofsted said.
“If a school requests that inspectors do not speak to pupils about a topic that the school reasonably believes is sensitive for its pupils, inspectors will not ask pupils questions about it. Before speaking to any pupils, inspectors will offer assurance to school leaders about any concerns they may have.”
In secondary schools, pupils are required by law to be taught about LGBT+ families and issues, in line with Department for Education guidance, while primary schools must legally consider age-appropriate teaching of LGBT+ issues “through consultation with parents and after considering pupils’ religious backgrounds”.
Ofsted said: “If a secondary school does not allow inspectors to speak to pupils about these issues, inspectors will not be able to demonstrate that the school is meeting its obligations under the guidance.
“This will have consequences for the personal development judgement, the leadership and management judgement and compliance with any relevant independent school standards.”
The outcome “recognises that parents in some faith communities are nervous about their children speaking to inspectors,” said a Chinuch UK spokeswoman.
“Over a number of years there have been several occasions in the Charedi community when inspectors’ conversations with pupils have led to a loss of trust in Ofsted by the community. This new guidance represents positive progress.”
The document requires that inspectors, before starting an inspection, agree with school leaders how they will speak to children and what subjects will and will not be covered. It also clarifies that adults may be present whilst inspectors speak to pupils on a range of topics including potentially sensitive topics but excluding safeguarding.
The guidance also states that inspectors will not speak to pupils without another adult present if parents or the pupils themselves do not consent to this.
“We thank Ofsted for engaging with this issue and hope that by continuing to work together, trust can be rebuilt and the difficulties surrounding this subject can be put behind us,” said the spokeswoman. “Going forward we hope that inspections will be carried out successfully for the benefit of pupils and the entire school community.”
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