DfE had received no complaints about ten of the Trojan Horse schools. Why, then, did Gove order inspections?

Janet Downs's picture
‘The Department did not receive complaints regarding the remaining ten schools which contributed to the decision to commission inspections.’

Department for Education (DfE) response, 19 August 2014, to Freedom of Information request

21 schools were inspected in April 2014 as part of the Trojan Horse investigations. Ofsted ordered six but the remaining fifteen were at the request of Michael Gove, then Education Secretary.

Four of these fifteen were named in the Trojan Horse letter but that left eleven which were not. So why were these eleven chosen? Had the DfE received complaints?

The DfE confirmed it received four complaints about Oldknow Academy but no complaints about the remaining ten. It says these were inspected because:

‘the [then] Secretary of State had a range of concerns regarding the other eleven schools. Internal investigations raised a number of potential issues, particularly in relation to leadership and governance and the safeguarding of children in these settings.’

It’s unclear, however, what sparked these ‘internal investigations’. Or what form these internal investigations took. There were, after all, no complaints.

I can only speculate but in some cases it appears staff changes may have triggered inspections. In January 2014, Ofsted were concerned about ‘constant changes’ in leadership and high staff turnover at Ladypool Primary School. Inspectors judged it to Require Improvement. Nevertheless, inspectors praised new head, Huda Aslam, for taking ‘swift action to accelerate the pace of improvement’ and noted there’d been a ‘marked improvement in governance’.

A monitoring inspection of Ladypool took place on 24 March 2014. Inspectors found the local authority (LA) was providing ‘training, support and challenge’. However, inspectors said some staff were ‘in a state of denial’ about the need to improve and were ‘reluctant to face the facts’.

A week later, Ofsted returned. This group of inspectors criticised LA advisers for not ensuring leaders and governors fulfilled their statutory responsibilities. This overturned the monitoring judgement made a few days previously which said a National Leader of Governance was providing support to keep governors up-to-date with their statutory duties. The second group of inspectors found staff confidence in the head, leaders and governors was ‘mixed’. It’s unclear whether this group is the same as the ones criticised a few days before for being ‘in a state of denial’.

Liz Manley, who was head of Ladypool Primary School during the 2011 inspection when it was judged Good, is one of the ‘Trojan Horse’ heads whose cases have been taken up by the NAHT.

Welford Primary School and Marlborough Junior School both had new heads but these were because the previous heads retired. Montgomery Primary Academy had many changes of staff since becoming an academy in October 2012 but monitoring in March 2013 found the sponsor, AET, was providing ‘valued’ support.

But there had been no staff upheaval at Ninestiles Academy. A full inspection in October 2013 judged it Outstanding in all four categories. In 2012, Michael Gove had praised the executive principal, Christine Quinn. It’s difficult to understand why Ninestiles should have been subjected to what Quinn described as a ‘harrowing’ experience when it was Outstanding and no complaints had been received.

Similarly, Small Heath School and Waverley School had been judged Outstanding in all four categories in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Ofsted had praised Small Heath’s head and leaders for ‘excellent leadership’ and Waverley’s governance for supporting the school’s improvement ‘exceptionally well’.

There appear no obvious reasons why Alston Primary School and Gracelands Nursery School should have been inspected just as there are no obvious reasons why Ninestiles, Small Heath and Waverley were targeted. And the staff changes at Welford, Marlborough and Montgomery seem insufficient grounds to send in Ofsted as part of Trojan Horse. Remember, no complaints had been received.

There is one school remaining: Washwood Heath Academy. There were historical allegations dating from 1999/2000 about the predecessor school, Washwood Heath Technology College, although it was not until 2002 that Birmingham City Council took decisive action. The Council used new legislation to replace the entire governing body. The last full inspection report, done before Washwood Heath became an academy, judged the school to be Good.

Of the ten schools, then, only two appeared to present concerns and in one case, Washwood Heath, they were historical. It’s unclear why Gove should have picked out eight schools for high-profile, highly-stressful inspections if the DfE had received no complaints and previous inspections had revealed no cause for alarm.

Ofsted reports can be downloaded here.

UPDATE 21 August 13.05. Re Alston Primary School. There were substantial staff changes at the school noted in the full inspection of May 2013 when Alston was judged Inadequate. Monitoring reports reveal an Interim Executive Board was put in place and support given by Leigh Junior School. The Leigh Trust sponsored Alston from 1 January 2014. Michael Gove signed an order for it to convert to academy status and Alston officially became an academy on 1 July. It is still unclear why Gove ordered an inspection when he had agreed for the sponsor to run the school as an academy.
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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 20/08/2014 - 15:32

As we saw with the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, a lack of parental complaints does not provide reliable assurance that a school is providing a good standard of education. This is especially the case with Free Schools and is the great weakness of the concept.

Groups of parents having particular educational, religious or other views cannot be allowed to open and run their own state funded schools without very carefully defined and rigorous regulation. Schools are provided primarily as sate facilitated acts of educational entitlement for children. What this means in detail is righty determined by the elected government of the day, or better still, a standing non-party political National Commission of Education.

There are without doubt large numbers of parents with views about how their children should be educated that could not be accommodated within any proper system of national regulation. In my headship school, if given the power, the majority of parents would have voted for the imposition of corporal punishment.

Complaints are most likely to reflect genuine concerns in schools that have a diverse pupil population that reflects the national class, cultural, religious and ethnic diversity. The very existence of such a school is a statement of its values, which are not likely to be the same as a school set up to please uniform groups of parents wanting to dictate their expectations onto the whole school population.

The great strength of the principle of comprehensive education is that it is designed to prevent ghettoisation in any form. The great weakness of recent governments of all political persuasions has been the failure to recognise and celebrate this principle.

Diversity and parental choice actually result in the exact opposite within individual schools. Like selling council houses, such policies are deliberately superficially attractive in ways cynically designed to gain support for what are strategies for implementing hidden ideological agendas.

Marketisation requires choice within a market of competing diverse provision. It is therefore always going to be the driver of unhealthy uniformity of pupil populations within schools, and a destroyer of equality of entitlement for children.

Bog standard excellence is best in all public services.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 20/08/2014 - 16:02

Is it possible to find out whether what these schools have in common is a particular threshold %age of Muslim students or a Muslim majority?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 12:20

Barry - the last full Ofsted inspections for the ten schools for which the DfE received no complaints show that nine had a majority of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds. Minority ethnic background, of course, doesn't necessarily mean Muslim. In three cases, Marlborough, Alston and Montgomery, inspectors said the majority of pupils came from a Pakistani background.

The exception was Ninestiles. Ofsted made no comment on the ethnicity of the pupils but school performance tables show 36.4% of pupils did not have English as their first language. The Birmingham average is 37.4%.

I think Gove would have been on dodgy ground if he had ordered inspections solely because the majority of pupils might have been Muslim.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 08:55

An unknown factor is the 200+ letters of complaint to BCC (e.g. which schools were cited and at what stage were the letters disclosed to DFE and/or Ofsted). Additionally, and I admit this is highly speculative, did any colleagues contact their union and did this trigger any contact with DFE/Ofsted? The incidence of 21 compromise agreements involving senior leaders would in all probability have necessitated the involvement of unions and perhaps this led to concerns being raised with DFE/Ofsted.

It is then possible that the alleged 'hoax' Trojan Horse letter was the final straw ...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 11:40

Andy - 15 of the inspections were triggered by Michael Gove, then education secretary. He acted on either complaints OR 'internal investigations' (unspecified). I think it likely that if Gove had been made aware of specific complaints re particular schools from complaints to BCC then these would have been disclosed in the FoI response. Similarly, if unions had referred concerns about specific schools to the DfE then these would be been disclosed in the FoI response.

Any complaints to Ofsted would have caused Ofsted to order an inspection. That happened in 6 of the cases.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 11:51

Janet, I know that 15 were by order of the SoS and that even after an FoI the trigger for 10 of them has not yet been ascertained. To that extent we are all groping around in the dark and hence my speculative suggestions. I am unconvinced that an FoI will reveal the reasons for directing inspections (least of all in this scenario).

Likewise with Ofsted and complaints. Prior to Sep 13 and the introduction of no notice inspections following complaints about behaviour, pastoral and curriculum issues, it was my understanding that Ofsted would only conduct an early inspection as a consequence of either a serious single complaint or several complaints related to a particular school. In the case of the 6 Trojan schools the inspections resulted from concerns about safeguarding issues.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 12:42

Andy - Ofsted said:

'All of the schools were inspected under section 8 of the Education Act 2005. Fifteen of these schools were inspected at the request of the Secretary of State. Six were inspected because of Ofsted’s concerns about the effectiveness of safeguarding and leadership and management in these schools.'

It should be hoped that the SoS's request to inspect the 15 schools was made based on evidence but that doesn't appear to be the case for 8 of the 15 where Gove had no evidence in the form of complaints or previous Ofsted judgements.

It was right and proper for inspections to take place at schools where complaints had been made or were named in Trojan Horse letter or if Ofsted had raised concerns earlier. But a question hangs over why 8 schools were subjected to high-profile, gruelling inspections when there appears to have been no evidence to justify these. It may well be that Gove had further intelligence but all the DfE had to say in response to the FoI request was that they had truthfully received complaints (the intelligence had to come from somewhere).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:12

Janet - Presumably there were no complaints from parents because they agreed with the unacceptable practices in the schools. As I stated previously the presence or absence of complaints from parents can be very misleading. As Andy has pointed out we really do not know about complaints or whistleblowing from other sources.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:14

As I covered on an earlier thread covering this topic all the inspections were S8 but as a result of what was found 5 of them were increased to full S5 inspections.

I fear we will never unearth the rational behind the SoS decision to call for the 15.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:28

Roger - I wasn't just referring to complaints from parents but complaints from whistleblowers, governors, teachers, anyone who had a genuine complaint about a school.

The point is that the DfE say they received no complaints from any source about 14 of the schools. However, four were named in Trojan Horse letter and Ofsted had been concerned about the effect of staff changes on improvement in another. One had had historical problems. I can see that inspections of 6 of the 14 schools were justified.

That left 8.

I am sure you're not advocating inspecting schools on a hunch that there might be a problem, or because the intake fits a particular profile (Barry hinted at this above), or just because they're in a particular area, or because the chair of governors (or the head) happens to be of a particular faith. Isn't this what we call prejudice?

Yes, schools raising concern (whether from parents, whistleblowers, staff, governors, pupils, LAs...) should be investigated. But throw the net too wide without good reason and you can scoop up (and alienate) the innocent.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:38

Andy - that's what I said. I quoted Ofsted's words: 'All of the schools were inspected under section 8 of the Education Act 2005.'

My concern is that eight of the schools appear to have been inspected for no apparent reason. I repeat: no complaints (from any source); no earlier concerns in Ofsted reports. The SoS has power to order inspections. But that power brings responsibility not to order inspections without good reason backed up with evidence.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 14:45

Janet, Apologies for missing that in your earlier comments.

I am minded that irrespective of the reputation of the former SoS and misgivings about Ofsted, it is highly unlikely that the S8s were directed on a whim and/or fancy and ultimately we may never know what the triggers were.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 15:33

Andy - I wish I were as confident as you about the motivation of Gove in directing these inspections. As SoS, he had a lawful right to do so but, as I said, this right should be exercised with care. Were the schools chosen solely because of their 'profile'? In which case he would have been making judgements based on prejudice.

But other schools with the same profile were not inspected. In any case, one school, Ninestiles, did not fit the profile. And Ninestiles had been judged Outstanding just a few months before; Gove had visited Ninestiles and publicly praised its head; it offers highly-rated teacher training; no complaints had been received.

So why send in Ofsted? It almost seems perverse.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 21/08/2014 - 15:36

Your guess/speculation is as good as mine ...

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