You can’t have missed the articles accusing Ofsted of censuring a tiny Lincolnshire school because it was ‘too white’. The Telegraph’s headline was typical: “School marked down by Ofsted for being 'too white'” “Parents angered after Lincolnshire primary school marked down by inspectors for not having enough black or Asian children”
The Telegraph seized on this paragraph from the report to ‘prove’ its allegation: "The large majority of pupils are white British. Very few are from other ethnic groups, and currently no pupils speak English as an additional language.” But that was a statement describing the school’s background. It was not a criticism.
Descriptions of a school’s ethnic make-up appear alongside other facts, such as the proportion of special needs children, in every Ofsted report. If these statements are criticisms then, by the same logic, the Telegraph should complain Ofsted is damning the school because it’s smaller than average. The Telegraph eventually admitted there were other reasons why Middle Rasen school wasn’t rated Outstanding. But readers had to reach paragraph thirteen or thereabouts to discover these.
According to the Telegraph these two reasons didn’t count: the ‘key move’ resulting in the school being ‘marked down’ was this one: "The school needs to extend pupils' understanding of the cultural diversity of modern British Society by creating opportunities for them to have first-hand interaction with their counterparts from different backgrounds beyond the immediate vicinity.”
However, this sentence was preceded by: “Pupils’ cultural development is good. They learn about different people’s social and ethnic backgrounds, customs and beliefs.” This is where Ofsted can be criticised – for giving contradictory statements. Earlier, inspectors wrote: “Provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is good. They become more mature and responsible in preparation for their role as adult citizens in British democratic society.”
But this was immediately followed by: “Pupils’ cultural development is limited by a lack of first-hand experience of the diverse make up of modern British society.” Ofsted was contradictory, then, and should be criticised for that. But it didn’t say the school was ‘too White’. That said, the critical articles raised a pertinent point. How far can a rural school in a predominantly white area be reasonably expected to foster ‘first-hand interaction’ with children from a different background when the distance between their schools is very long? First-hand interaction doesn’t necessarily mean face-to-face, of course. Such links can be fostered via the internet.
But is it reasonable to expect a small number of urban schools with a sufficient proportion of minority ethnic children to link electronically with a large number of rural schools? An Ofsted spokesperson told the Telegraph: “All schools must teach pupils about fundamental British values including mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. That way they will be prepared for the future wherever they go.”
But that’s what Middle Rasen had done – prepared their pupils for the future as British citizens. The inspector said so. Adding a requirement for children to have face-to-face interaction in such circumstances is perhaps a step too far. But measured criticism of this extra requirement, the vague nature of ‘British values’ and contradictory statements by an inspector is drowned by hysterical and misleading articles about schools being downgraded for being ‘too English’. The Ofsted report can be downloaded here.
AFTERTHOUGHT 23 November 2014 09.30 Andy (see below) has argued persuasively that the comments I claimed as contradictory were in fact constructive recommendations about how Middle Rasen could move from Good from Outstanding. The inspector had made three recommendations: 1Two regarding teaching which were downplayed or ignored by the media. 2One, which I said contradicted previous statements, suggested the school should create opportunities for pupils to have first-hand interaction with pupils from a different background outside the school’s locality. This was misrepresented in the media as condemning the school because it was ‘too White’.
The second suggestion does not, as the papers implied, mean the school needed to ensure the school contained non-white children because it's intake was 'too white'. CORRECTION 23 November 2014 09.32 The article has been changed to make it clear only one inspector visited the school. I had referred to 'inspectors'. Thanks, Andy, for pointing that out. However, I have kept 'inspectors' when it appeared in a newspaper quote.