Education & Family

Ofsted rejects claims schools downgraded as 'too white'

Sir Michael Wilshaw Image copyright PA
Image caption Sir Michael had ordered a wave of no-warning inspections across England

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has said it is "nonsense" to claim that schools would be criticised by inspectors for being "too white".

It follows claims the demand for schools to promote "British values", in the wake of the Trojan Horse investigations, was punishing schools for a lack of multiculturalism.

"This is not about political correctness," said Sir Michael.

He was speaking as Ofsted published the findings of 35 no-warning inspections.

Ofsted's surprise inspections uncovered problems with poor teaching, inadequate governing bodies and failures to safeguard pupils against extremism in a wave of school inspections without warning.

'Modern Britain'

This downgraded 23 schools, with 11 of these put into the inadequate category. Three of these had been judged as outstanding in previous inspections.

Ofsted says a number of these inadequate schools were "failing to teach respect for other faiths or developing pupils' awareness and knowledge of communities different from their own".

The wave of unannounced inspections, carried out in September, followed concerns from the Trojan Horse inquiries in Birmingham that if schools were given advance warning of inspections they could conceal unacceptable behaviour.

Image copyright ASCL
Image caption Heads' leader Brian Lightman opposed no-warning inspections becoming standard

The Trojan Horse investigations, examining claims that schools were being targeted by groups with a hardline Muslim agenda, warned that some pupils did not know enough about other communities or other beliefs.

This prompted a requirement for schools to promote British values of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

But this has proved problematic, with accusations that it is causing unintended consequences, including warnings from Christian and Jewish schools and schools which have a predominantly white intake.

Last week, there was high-profile coverage when a school in Lincolnshire, with few ethnic minority pupils, was not found to be outstanding because pupils lacked "first-hand experience of the diverse make-up of modern British society".

This was reported as a school being criticised as "too white".

There were claims that a Catholic school in Suffolk had been initially downgraded for not teaching their children enough about preventing radicalisation - but this was subsequently withdrawn.

A Church of England representative warned that tolerance and mutual respect would not be achieved through "an ever increasing inspection regime".

The National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools warned that the "changing requirements" about British values were prompting "insensitive and inappropriate" questions during inspections.

'Diverse society'

But the Ofsted chief has dismissed such claims.

"Ofsted would never criticise or penalise a school just because of its intake or because children of one particular heritage or religion predominate over another," said Sir Michael.

"It's nonsense, for example, to suggest we would mark down a school for being "too white". We simply want to ensure children are receiving a good education and are being prepared for life in modern Britain."

This was not about "political correctness", said Sir Michael, but about "being realistic about the diverse society we now live in".

"It would be wrong for inspectors to only criticise certain types of schools and not others if we find they aren't doing enough to promote respect and tolerance of others and an understanding of the core values that bind us together as a nation."

Despite the findings from this wave of surprise inspections this will not become the standard approach.

The proposal for such no-notice inspections received fierce criticism from head teachers.

"Moving to no notice for routine inspections is unnecessary and would be counter-productive. It stifles creativity and treats professionals like naughty children," Brian Lightman, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, had warned.

This group of inspections showed the logistical difficulties - in one school neither the head nor the chair of governors was available on the day when inspectors arrived without warning.

In October, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw confirmed that schools would continue to be given a half day's notice for standard inspections.

Sir Michael said that there were existing powers for no-notice inspections where there was sufficient evidence for such an intervention.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: "We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.

"This ensures young people understand the importance of respect and leave school ready to play their full part in British society.

"While the vast majority of schools successfully promote these values, we will not hesitate to step in when pupils are being let down."

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