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17.03.15

MPs criticise Ofsted and ‘wasteful’ overlapping inquiries into Trojan Horse

There was a “worrying and wasteful lack of co-ordination” between inquiries into the Trojan Horse affair, according to MPs, who also severely criticise Ofsted and question the reliability and robustness of the education watchdog’s judgments.

A report published today by the Education Select Committee said that apart from one incident there was no evidence found of radicalisation in schools, insisting the Trojan Horse affair is “less about extremism than about governance and the ability of local and central agencies to respond to whistle-blowers and to correct abuses of power within schools”.

The cross-party MPs were looking into how Ofsted and the Department for Education responded to allegations of extremism in Birmingham schools last year, which resulted in 21 schools being investigated and five being put into special measures.

The report criticises the DfE for what it calls a "lack of inquisitiveness" and says the department was "slow to take an active interest" in the allegations.

However once the allegations became public and different organisations began investigating the MPs say that there was a wasteful lack of co-ordination between the different bodies.

Graham Stuart, chair of the committee, said: “We found a worrying and wasteful lack of co-ordination between the various inquiries carried out by the DfE, Birmingham City Council, the Education Funding Agency, Ofsted and others. In the case of the Birmingham schools, the number of overlapping inquiries contributed to the sense of crisis and confusion.”

The report also criticises Ofsted's "inability to identify problems" in schools on first inspection, when they were found "shortly afterwards to be failing". Oldknow Academy in the Small Heath area of Birmingham, for example, was judged outstanding in January 2013, then placed in special measures after an inspection just over a year later.

Stuart said: “Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of Ofsted’s framework and the reliability and robustness of its judgements. Ofsted must act to restore confidence in the inspectorate.”

An Ofsted spokesman said the watchdog would consider the report’s recommendations.

“As the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, made clear to the committee last year, sudden changes in governance and leadership can have a significant impact on the standards in education. 

“These Birmingham schools were no exception. Ofsted is committed to ensuring that such drastic declines are not repeated elsewhere and will continue to work closely with other agencies to identify and investigate any areas of concern.

“All schools have an expectation on them to teach values such as tolerance and the rule of law and prepare pupils for life in modern Britain. This is outlined in guidance issued by the DfE and Ofsted inspects schools against the criteria in this guidance.”

The education committee report makes several recommendations. The MPs believe the government should:

  • Ensure that there is more coordination between inquiries by different agencies in the future.
  • Draw together the recommendations from all the investigations and set out its response.
  • Keep under review its arrangements for sharing information effectively between the various bodies responsible for oversight of schools.
  • Make an annual written ministerial statement on the priorities and achievements of the DfE’s Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division.
  • Continue to monitor the situation in the individual schools affected in Birmingham to ensure that the students receive the education they deserve.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the report showed that poor coordination at various levels of government had contributed to a national panic.

“It seems that there are too many cooks spoiling the broth, with schools accountable to many different organisations and agencies. This causes confusion and overlap.

“Teachers and lecturers believe they have an important role in supporting students to be well-rounded, confident citizens. Cultivating value systems and offering opportunities to contribute to society are important aspects of this role.

“However, radicalisation is a hugely complex issue and many teachers understandably have not received the training or support to enable them to confidently spot the early signs.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Our understanding of the challenge of extremism, and the way we monitor the ability of schools to respond to it, has advanced hugely in the past few years.

“As today’s report recognises, we are tackling this problem at both ends: taking determined action where we find areas of concern, and building resilience in the system by putting the active promotion of fundamental British values at the very heart of our plan for education.

“We are putting in place a helpline for schools to raise extremism concerns more easily and are working closely with Ofsted, having strengthened their inspection frameworks to include Fundamental British Values.

“No government has done more to tackle extremism, but we remain vigilant. We will respond to the report’s recommendations in due course.”

(Image source: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

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