Did Ofsted censure a school because it was ‘too white’?

Janet Downs's picture

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.

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Brian's picture
Thu, 20/11/2014 - 17:06

Interesting that the local MP, Sir Edward Leigh, joined in the press in the hysteria and commented that the school is by any standard 'Outstanding'. Presumably he hasn't bothered to read the report or maybe he is setting himself up as an arbiter of standards in a school he has possibly never even visited.

Of course one is used to biased reporting, bordering on lying, from the press. Pity it's backed up by politicians so readily. If Ofsted had graded the school as 'Good' rather than 'Outstanding' because of the multi cultural issue alone that would have been ridiculous. But they didn't. There were two other issues, one to do with pupil progress and one to do with quailty of teaching.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 20/11/2014 - 17:38

To get a more accurate sense of what was reported it is interesting to put the quoted statements back together and place them within the full context of the report:

Summary of key findings:

This is a good school

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.

It is not yet an outstanding school because

Pupils’ cultural development is limited by a lack of first-hand experience of the diverse make up of modern British society.

Full Report:

Information about this school

The school is smaller than most primary schools.

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.

What does the school need to do to improve further?

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 locality.

Behaviour and safety of pupils are good

Pupils’ cultural development is good. They learn about different people’s social and ethnic backgrounds, customs and beliefs. However, opportunities for them to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of modern British society by interacting at first hand with their counterparts from different cultural background beyond the immediate locality are underdeveloped.

Reading through this it strikes me that the inspection report and inspector is coherent, logical and constructive. It covers what the school does that makes it 'Good' and what is required to move forward toward 'Outstanding'. The inspector has gathered the evidence, evaluated it and come to judgements and in relation to SMSC the positive is highlighted and its contribution to being good and then the supportive and equally positive action is to identify next steps in moving forward and upward.

On that basis I cannot see the evidence for the inspector being contradictory and least of all any evidence for the Telegraph's position. The latter is all the more inexplicable when set against the fact that moving from grade 3 to 1 in a single step is somewhat difficult.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 20/11/2014 - 17:57

Andy - the inspectors made contradictory remarks about the school's teaching of cultural awareness. It praised it and then adding negative comments which said the school wasn't doing enough (after having said it had).

I'm not defending the DT - it's coverage (and that of other papers) was deplorable.

You're right about the school moving from RI to Good - that point's been lost. Anyone would think from the coverage it had been downgraded to Inadequate.

A side issue: if there were only two Ofsted judgements - effective and not effective - this hysteria over a school missing out on 'Outstanding' could be avoided.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 20/11/2014 - 18:03

Janet - Then I can only agree to disagree. When I read the inspector's comments (there was only one inspector) they hang together and make sense. The school's SMSC is good because ... and is not yet outstanding because ... For me that is not contradictory it is transparent and constructive: highlighting what the inspector judged to be the difference between Good and Outstanding SMSC at the school.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 08:48

Andy - you're right the inspector's recommendation to create opportunities for the children to have face-to-face interaction with BME pupils was transparent. But it was hardly constructive. Yes, this school now plans to make links with an urban school that has a large proportion of BME pupils (Scunthorpe, 25 miles away, has two such schools). But these two schools couldn't handle multiple requests for links - nor should they be expected to do so.

That would lead many rural schools without a partner - and this, according to this one inspector, could mean they're not Outstanding. Cue more headlines of the type printed by the Telegraph.

However, the media's position didn't focus on the impracticality of expecting all rural schools to have a link with an urban school with a large proportion of BME pupils. It misrepresented the whole report (including implying a factual statement was a criticism) as saying the school wasn't Outstanding because it was 'too White'.

That was shabby - a cynical misrepresentation to sell papers.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 09:16

Janet - My understanding of the revised statutory requirements is that it is embraces rather more than simply "interaction with BME pupils":

"152.Inspectors should consider how well leadership and management ensure that the curriculum:

is broad and balanced, complies with legislation and provides a wide range of subjects, preparing pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life in modern Britain; inspectors should not expect to see a particular range of subjects but should be alert to any unexplained narrowness in the breadth of curriculum being offered by the school
actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs
promotes tolerance of and respect for people of all faiths (or those of no faith), cultures and lifestyles through the effective spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, including through the extent to which schools engage their pupils in extra-curricular activity and volunteering within their local community"

Ofsted Section 5 Inspection Handbook (Sep 2014) p. 41

The onus is on Governing Bodies and HTs to find ways of meeting these requirements. I cannot agree therefore that either Ofsted or the particular inspector are not being constructive. If one feels that the requirements are too rigorous then the issue rests with the SoS Educ and DFE who were responsible for the post Trojan Horse consultation and subsequent statutory changes with which Ofsted and Schools have to comply.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 13:51

Andy - I wasn't discussing the revised statutory requirements but the inspector's comment that the school should give their pupils opportunities 'to have first-hand interaction with their counterparts from different backgrounds beyond the immediate vicinity.'

This, I said, could be impractical if all rural schools are expected to link with a smaller number of schools containing 'counterparts from different backgrounds beyond the immediate vicinity'.

I criticised Ofsted for making an unhelpful and ultimately impractical suggestion if expected in all rural schools. And I feel the inspector was nit-picking when he suggested this extra requirement. He had already praised the school for preparing pupils well for their future role as British citizens.

However, neither of my criticisms justify the hysterical and scurrilous media response.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 15:32

Janet - It is not possible to uncouple the inspectors carefully worded comments from the guidance in the handbook and therefore the statutory requirements placed upon schools and inspectors. I mentioned the revised handbook in relation to your perception that the focus was about "interaction with BME pupils", whereas my understanding of the handbook is that it is about rather more than that.

How a school addresses this type of topic will vary from profoundly easy to profoundly difficult (e.g inner city multicultural setting compared to rural settings such as Lincolnshire) but, and forgive the apparent triteness of what follows it isn't meant in that vein, the challenge is only limited by the innovative / outside the box thinking of school leaders and colleagues. What it isn't is impossible, which I fear is what you are suggesting.

Drawing on my experience as a senior leader what this report does is give the HT and Gov Body a mandate to move things forward; a mandate that the LA cannot ignore.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 11:17

Andy - I didn't say it was 'impossible' for rural schools to interact with, say, urban schools. Another Lincolnshire school, Bourne Westfield Primary Academy, was praised for just such links.

What I said was that it would be difficult for all rural schools to establish such links because the number of schools in different circumstances containing children of different backgrounds is smaller than the number of rural schools. If Ofsted is expecting such links to become the norm then it could result in the former being overstretched with multiple links.

You're right, however, that such isolated, rural schools can be innovative and succeed in raising pupils' awareness of the different cultures living in modern Britain. That was what Middle Rasen appeared to be doing.

Andy V's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 11:46

Janet - I know you use the word "If" but I cannot go along with the inference that Ofsted expects this type of link to become the norm. Rather I suspect that the inspector arrived at at his recommendation (a) in the full context of the inspection, (b) in relation to discussions with the HT and Governors and school team involved, and (c) the overall setting of the school. The inspectors recommendation was I am sure intended to be helpful, supportive and a foil to be used to facilitate moving from good provision of SMSC to outstanding.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 08:27

Andy - given the sensational coverage of this Ofsted report, I think it's possible that heads and governors reading the recommendation to provide opportunities for pupils 'to have first-hand interaction with their counterparts from different backgrounds beyond the immediate vicinity.' will interpret this as something inspectors look for. Cue - scrambling by rural schools to establish links so their pupils can be have 'first-hand interaction' (either via the internet or by busing pupils to the linked schools).

Andy V's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 09:45

In terms of sensationalism I perceive the signs of the ugly face of reverse racism in the stance adopted by the newspaper involved.

As to what the expectations are I can only suggest that people spend time acquainting themselves with the Inspection handbook. It might also be useful to dwell a little on the term 'outstanding' then move to how 'outstanding' might be compared to 'good'. This may highlight some potential insights as to what strategies/activities schools may wish to consider to move from 'good' to 'outstanding'.

Bill Bolloten's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 12:00

I don't think one should be too hasty to criticise Ofsted here and I agree with Andy's assessment that the recommendations are actually constructive. I think the key point they make, and which has been distorted in the press coverage, is that: 'opportunities for pupils to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of modern British society..are underdeveloped.'

School linking initiatives are, of course, only one way that this can be promoted. If the school had this aspect (deepening understanding od modern Britain) more firmly in place, through what is provided in the curriculum and elsewhere, then this may not have been recommended.

My feeling is that this report does provide evidence that may schools are simply not thinking through fully what is required in relation to SMSC and a broad, balanced curriculum. And furthermore, do not take seriously enough the need to develop knowledge of and positive skills towards difference and diversity in Britain. It is also useful as a pointer of what Outstanding SMSC should look like.

I would also commend Ofsted in this case for not making glib and unhelpful statements about 'British values', but for providing a constructive and useful suggestion on how the school might improve further.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 13:58

Bill - the inspector actually said the school did well in preparing its pupils for their future life in modern Britain. That's why I thought he was been contradictory when he said further work was needed so pupils could interact with children from different backgrounds.

You're right that some schools aren't thinking enough about what constitutes a broad, balanced curriculum. Sir Michael Wilshaw recommended clear guidance should be given. But this guidance shouldn't just be a knee-jerk reaction - it should be properly considered and consulted upon. And neither should it be an exhortation to promote 'British values' - that's too vague, open to misinterpretation, and, arguably, can't be 'taught' but can only be demonstrated (and a politician tweeting pictures of someone's house and van with a patronising comment doesn't really demonstrate tolerance and mutual respect).

Andy V's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 16:17

Janet - Purely for clarification, and aside of any perceived limitations involved/arising from it, there was a consultation during the summer conducted by the DFE. I saw it and participated. It lead to revisions to the appropriate legislation:

2014 No. 2374
The Education (Independent School Standards) (England)
(Amendment) Regulations 2014

and as already cited the Ofsted Handbook This drew the following comment from the Independent Schools Council because the amendments affect all schools:

"In ISC’s consultation response which schools can view by clicking here, we expressed concerns about how the requirements to ‘actively promote British values’ and ‘encourage respect for the basis on which the law is made in England’ would be inspected. These requirements remain in the published regulations."


I used to deliver Citizenship and the 'tweet' incident would have been bread butter for me in the classroom to initiate discussion on stereotyping, discrimination etc. What the tweet and originator is not is a reason not to 'actively' promote those fundamental British values referred to by the legislation and DFE. On the contrary it demonstrates the need for values of law and equality and being non-descrimatory.

Bill Bolloten's picture
Fri, 21/11/2014 - 14:51

Yes, the inspector did say the school did well in this respect but that aspects of their 'cultural development' were still 'limited'. I don't see that as contradictory to map out what might be improved and make a particular suggestion as to how it might be progressed. (Although the Schools Linking Network will I am sure be pleased with the suggestion!)

By knee-jerk reactions - I mean the growing trend for many schools to cut and paste some reductive and irrelevant stuff about how they promote 'British values' on their website because that's what they think Ofsted wants to see. Actually I don't believe Ofsted by and large want to see that - they want to see what arrangements and provision is made for pupils' SMSC development and its effect and impact on their learning and attitudes.

The whole 'British values' agenda is of course deeply flawed and its origins are in largely discredited 'anti-extremism' approaches that have been embedded into expectations for teacher standards and schools. This was driven by Gove and sadly, is also being used by Wilshaw, despite his claims to be independent and outside of political influence.

With few exceptions, schools and education leaders have been weak and slow at critiquing what is happening and the dangers in a such a divisive idea as 'British' values. Perhaps one of the best discussions of this is the recent Church of England contribution to the consultation on the new Independent School Standards:


They state, as you can see, that the proposed list of values are too narrowly focussed, and haven't been generated from a genuine public conversation.

Anyway, a school like Middle Rasen might explore a number of meaningful options for broadening children's awareness of diversity in modern Britain, including school linking initiatives. Lincolnshire, where the school is situated, has and is changing in terms of its population with new migrant communities from the EU accession states. To develop a relevant and broad and balanced curriculum, schools in areas such as this need to develop a much more focused commitment to support children's awareness of and attitudes towards difference. If Middle Rasen can do this and build on its already successful work, it can only be a good example of what can be achieved for other schools in the area.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 11:36

Bill - This is from your link.

"Proposed New Independent Schools Standards

Church of England Schools

1. The Church of England is the largest single provider of schools in the country, through its 40 dioceses. There are nearly 4500 Church of England Primary schools, and over 200 Church of England Secondary schools, between them educating over a million children.
2. Over 400 Church of England schools have become academies (either sponsored or through conversion), and fall under the remit of the Independent Schools Standards."

I apologise for my ignorance, but what are the 'Proposed New Independent Standards'?

Is this an attempt to remove Academies from the remit of OfSTED?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 11:37

Sorry, I meant 'What are the ‘Proposed New Independent School Standards’?

Andy V's picture
Sat, 22/11/2014 - 11:57


On the contrary it means that in relation to SMSC the expectations are the same for all schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 08:38

Andy - can you clarify if 'independent' also refers to academies and free schools as these are technically independent?

Although these standards relate to spiritual, moral, social and cultural development they don't appear to tackle the different regulations for RE which surely comes under the banner of 'spiritual'. I know we're straying a bit from the thread here, but the way RE is taught differs between types of school. Surely this is a loophole whereby pupils in a faith school could receive one-sided RE which might not encourage 'tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures'?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 10:11

Thanks Andy, your link explains.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 15:39

This how the changes translate into the respective inspection handbooks. To expedite matters I'm posting the Independent Schools first and Maintained Schools and Academies separately:


(p. 33 onward)

Bill Bolloten's picture
Mon, 24/11/2014 - 18:49

Janet - The SMSC requirement on pupils' 'spiritual' development is much wider than RE. Spiritual development, as you will see from the explanation from Ofsted in the updated Inspection Handbook involves:

- ability to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s faiths, feelings and values
- sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them
- use of imagination and creativity in their learning
- willingness to reflect on their experiences.

Whatever the way RE is taught, inspectors would rightly be looking for evidence of opportunities for spiritual development beyond the RE curriculum.

It's definitely not a loophole for schools. In fact, if SMSC opportunities were confined to RE teaching alone then the risk for the school would be that their overall provision for SMSC would be weak.

Of course, all areas of the curriculum will make an important contribution to encouraging ‘tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures’.

There is a very useful discussion of spiritual development here:

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 25/11/2014 - 09:26

Bill - you're right, of course, that spiritual development is not just found in RE. My concern is that some faith schools (and some parents who send their children to faith schools) might not welcome their pupils being encouraged to 'be reflective about their own beliefs'.

Without wanting to go completely off thread, the term 'spirituality' can be rather rather vague. It can come under the banner of 'religious' (as I said above) but can also cover feelings of awe, wonder and transcendence - those times when something, often unexpected, happens which jolts you out of the everyday. These can be found in religious worship (but not necessarily) and also in non-religious settings. The requirements you quoted seem to recognise this when they list a 'sense of enjoyment and fascination...'.

Thanks for the link which I read after writing the above but before posting this comment. It was a thoughtful piece and I, like the author, have grappled with the same subject. I liked the way the author described spiritual development as Windows, Mirrors and Doors - very perceptive.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 25/11/2014 - 14:37

Janet makes an important point that parents of pupils in faith schools and in some monocultural non-faith schools may be quite happy with practices that OfSTED rightly finds unacceptable.

Janet's next thread about 'slapping' in a faith school is a good example.

Where such conflict between religious parents and communities and secular authority is likely, then surely there is a requirement for much tighter regulation, as Janet suggests.

Janet is also right that 'spiritual' has a variety of quite different meanings for different people, ranging from contacting dead relatives, speaking in 'tongues', faith healing, through mainstream RE prescriptions of the sort mentioned here, to all sorts of beautiful 'spiritual' experiences including that of religious music that atheists like Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox (and me) are quite happy to recognise and be comfortable with.

For this reason I am not sure it is a term with sufficient shared meaning to be useful in terms of discussing and specifying school curriculum.

Andy V's picture
Sun, 23/11/2014 - 09:53

My understanding, as I have made clear earlier in the thread, is that the SMSC aspects are applicable to all schools. It is also my understanding that Ofsted inspect all non-association independent schools (i.e. fee paying).

With regard to RE I can only suggest that you read the appropriate section of the Inspection Handbook which makes clear the situation pertaining to maintained, VA, VC, academies (including free schools).

Andy V's picture
Tue, 25/11/2014 - 20:19

Page 8, paragraphs 12-15 of the Ofsted inspection handbook I gave the link for in my comment 23 Nov 14 @ 3.39 pm is relevant regarding what inspectors are required to do if they become aware of a safeguarding issue. Foot note 11 to paragraph 15 refers to www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/140143, which give further details of how such incidents should be dealt with.

On that basis I think it is entirely reasonable and rational to assume that the appropriate steps were taken and in the absence of anything to the contrary (i.e. nothing arose from any follow-up to child's comment such as parental/carer complaint, complaint by the pupil or any others who witnessed the alleged event or corroboration arising from any internal investigation) there are no grounds for further speculation.

Rather than read issues into the definition of SMSC - let alone superimpose a speculative personal interpretation on to it - I strongly suggest that contributors take the time to look-up and read the DFE/Ofsted definitions detailed in the appropriate inspection handbooks. For example:

141. The DfE has published non-statutory advice Improving the spiritual, moral,
social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils – Departmental advice for
independent schools and academies/free schools to help independent schools
understand their obligations under the standards relating to a school’s provision
for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.28 The advice sets
out the aims of each of the standards in part 2 of the independent school
standards (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of students).
142. In addition to checking compliance with part 2 of the independent school
standards, inspectors will take the following guidance into account.
143. The spiritual development of pupils is shown by their:
ability to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that
inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different
people’s faiths, feelings and values

Foot note: 28 Improving the spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development of pupils – Departmental advice for independent schools and academies/free schools, Department for Education; www.gov.uk/government/publications/improving-the-smsc-development-of-pup....


Andy V's picture
Thu, 27/11/2014 - 11:56

May I ask the moderator when my contribution submitted on 25 Nov 14 will appear?

Andy V's picture
Fri, 28/11/2014 - 16:23

To supplement the DFE/Ofsted guidance embedded in the earlier links some may find this helpful. Mind, one does have to read it rather than simply postulate against it :-)

"Schools in England must promote respect and tolerance in pupils for all faiths, races and cultures, says new government guidance on British values."


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