‘Whitehall zealots are waging war on Christian schools,’ says Mail as furore round two free schools judged Inadequate reaches fever pitch.

Janet Downs's picture
You can’t have missed the furore after two free schools, Grindon Hall Christian School and Durham Free School, were put into special measures. The schools retaliated by claiming pupils were asked inappropriate questions about sex, homosexuality and faith. These allegations prompted the Daily Mail to claim Ofsted inspectors were deliberately undermining Christian schools. The paper was so incensed it did a ‘Special Report’ featuring six schools which it alleges have been downgraded because of Ofsted prejudice.

But the Mail’s claims need investigation.

Grindon Hall and Durham Free School have problems beyond alleged inappropriate questioning which Ofsted has in any case denied. As well as the negative inspection judgements, both schools were given Financial Notices to Improve. And the Financial Statements of Grindon Hall (y/e 31 August 2013)* contained a remark by the independent auditor which showed money had not been used 'as intended by Parliament'.

Trinity Christian School was allegedly told by Inspectors in October it faced closure because it hadn't asked imams to take assembly. It is impossible to verify the school's allegations because no recent Ofsted report has been published. The school, which is registered for eight children aged 4-8, was judged Good in November 2013 when it had just two pupils. It now has three.

The Mail claimed an ‘initial report’ for St Benedict's Catholic School said younger pupils showed a lack of awareness about ‘the dangers of extremism and radicalisation’. It appears the 'initial report' was an unfinalised report which the school published on its website. The only report that matters is the final version published on Ofsted's website. Inspectors downgraded the school (from Good to Requires Improvement) but this was nothing to do with lack of awareness about extremism. The final report actually said the school's promotion of 'respect for and tolerance of others' was a strength.

Market Rasen Primary School was ‘marked down’ because it didn't give pupils 'first-hand experience' of children from other backgrounds. But the school wasn’t ‘marked down’. It was upgraded from Requires Improvement to Good. It missed out on Outstanding for three reasons: one is the much publicised reason above. The other two criticisms related to teaching.

Beis Yaakov High School complained to Ofsted that pupils were asked questions about homosexuality, wrote the Mail. But inspectors found more things wrong than failing to adequately raise 'awareness and tolerance’ of other communities. Failings included recruitment procedures which were too informal, low attendance, insufficient careers information, restricted option choices and opaque financial records.

It appears, then, the Mail’s evidence for a witch hunt against Christian schools is based on allegations from two free schools judged Inadequate for a variety of reasons, a Roman Catholic school praised for promoting respect and tolerance, a tiny independent school whose Ofsted report hasn’t yet been published, a secular school upgraded to Good and a Jewish school with several weaknesses.

I’m no fan of Ofsted as regular readers will know. However, the present uproar about Ofsted's agenda is overblown, out of proportion and hysterical.


*I can’t provide a direct link but if an online search will find it.

All inspection reports can be found on Gov.UK.

UPDATE 15.27 The qualifying statement on Grindon Hall's Financial Statements for the year ending 31 August 2013 says (P15):

'£38,271 of general annual grant was used to settle liabilities of the old independent school...While it is accepted that this was intended as a temporary arrangement...those funds were considered for a period of time, not to have been applied for the purposes intended by parliament'

The auditor's assurance report was signed by the Senior Statutory Auditor of an independent firm of auditors.
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FJM's picture
Sun, 01/02/2015 - 19:35

I have some advice for the school in Market Rasen. Short of kidnapping a few black children to be exhibited as specimens in assembly, it could organise a residential visit. The first day (or night) could be patrolling the streets of Rotherham to witness community relations developing between Pakistani men and white girls. Next stop, Birmingham, to attend assemblies in any number of schools and hear imams expatiating on Islam. The final stop could be Tower Hamlets, to examine Bangladeshi electoral practices in a modern British context.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 08:29

FJM - the Tower Hamlets case reaches the High Court today. Until then, however cynical you might be, there's supposedly a 'British Value' of 'innocent until proven guilty'. The case has been thoroughly aired in the media , most of which has assumed guilt. Trouble is, if Tower Hamlet's mayor is found guilty, he could claim he was unable to get a fair trial because of the extensive media coverage (note how the DT stokes up prejudice against him by describing him as 'extremist-linked'.)

Your 'any number of schools' in Birmingham was, if you remember, whittled down to five. And the problems in these five were far more serious than just imams in assemblies. (Just as a matter of interest, does your school include Islam in RE? If it does, could it be accused of 'expatiating on Islam'?)

The appalling Rotherham case went on for so long because police regarded the girls as 'slags'. This doesn't excuse the vile perpetrators but the police (mostly white men) are not squeaky clean.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 13:20

The issue started at a very small independent non-association school near Reading and was followed by complaints from an orthodox Jewish school, again in the non-association independent sector. It was picked up and pushed by a Christian lobby groups and thence the CoE.

The main media focus for the trojan schools was trimmed back to 5 but even in recent months it has become apparent that there were rather more involved. Indeed, a most recent twist has been the BCC investigation into a Muslim FS allegedly channelling taxpayer funding into setting up a school in Pakistan. With regard to the latter I seem to recall that we (you and I) engaged on that issue on a different LSN thread.

I receive daily Ofsted updates on reports and have noticed that a sizeable number of non-association Independent Muslim and Jewish schools are being graded inadequate and amongst the reasons given a common theme is the failure of their SMSC provision.

"Just as a matter of interest, does your school include Islam in RE? If it does, could it be accused of ‘expatiating on Islam’?", for what it is worth, every school I have been employed in - Bursar, teacher, AST, SLT, interim, and supply, state and private - covered the 6 major world religions in KS3. This does not make any of them subversive of or toward British Values. On the contrary it reflects an open and fair handed approach to learning about British society and its diversity.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 15:28

Andy - I agree that teaching about the major world religions doesn't make the school subversive. In fact, I think schools should do more about spreading knowledge of these religions. I was replying to FJM's remark about 'expatiating about Islam' - a rather vague phrase which could be directed at schools doing RE. It was meant tongue-in-cheek.

That said, this thread was about the hysteria around allegations of inappropriate questions to children by inspectors. These have been denied by Ofsted. But much of the media take the allegations at face value. The media didn't consider how parents or teachers came to know about the alleged questions. If inspectors could be accused of inappropriate or leading questions, then could this accusation also be levelled at other adults. Is it really conceivable that a child would voluntarily tell a teacher or parent, 'That man asked me questions about sex,' or 'He wanted to know what lesbians did.' Were words put into children's mouths?

We don't know, of course. But would there have been this furore if both schools hadn't been declared Inadequate? Emmanuel College and Bede Academy, run by the Emmanuel Schools Foundation which encourages ‘personal, moral and spiritual development within a Christian framework’, also received monitoring inspections around the same time as Grindon Hall and DFS. Inspectors found pupils at both academies were ‘adequately prepared for life in modern Britain.’ They retained their previous Ofsted ratings: Outstanding and Good respectively. Presumably inspectors asked the same questions as were asked at Grindon Hall and DFS but neither of these academies has complained to Ofsted about 'inappropriate' questioning.

I wonder how many more Christian ethos schools will accuse Ofsted of inappropriate questioning if they're judged RI or Inadequate. And how many will complain if they're judged Good or better?

FJM's picture
Mon, 02/02/2015 - 17:46

I am afraid I just couldn't resist a rather flippant and cynical comment.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 11:32

The Catholic Herald is claiming that St Benedict's Catholic College is one of the best-performing schools in England and this proves the only reason it was downgraded from Good to Requires Improvement was because 'younger pupils were unaware of the dangers of radicalisation and extremism'.

But there's no mention of radicalisation or extremism in the final report. And, as I said above, inspectors praised the school for its promotion of respect and tolerance for others. The only 'danger' mentioned is a positive comment about the school making pupils aware of the dangers of electronic communication.

What the Herald didn't say was that the 2014 GCSE cohort was skewed. There were twice as many previously high-attaining pupils (31%) as previously low-attainers (15%). A school with such an intake would be expected to gain higher results than schools with a more balanced intake.

Inspectors criticised St Benedict's for the low progress of the previously low-attainers. Performance tables confirm 45% made the expected progress in English (national average 48.5%) and 25% in Maths (national average 26.4%). This was one of the reasons (along with insufficient progress of all pupils in Key Stage 3 and the feeling among some staff that they weren't well led) for the school's downgrading.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 11:41


This report seems to suggest the radicalisation business was in the final report, but that report was withdrawn.Either that or the school put up a draft on its website, which seems unlikely if contested.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 13:34

Barry - according to the Guardian, an interim report was temporarily posted on St Benedict's website and quickly withdrawn. This could have been the draft which is sent to schools for checking and which is not supposed to be made public because it's not been finalised. It's alleged the 'interim' report contained the bit about radicalisation etc. However, this was not in the final report which is the only one that counts. And, as I said, inspectors praised St Benedict's for promoting respect and tolerance.

UPDATE 13.44. To avoid confusion, the Guardian's words were:

'Ofsted said on Friday morning that the report was on hold for review by its east of England regional director, Sean Harford, after St Benedict’s released what appeared to be the final version of the document on its website.'

The inspection took place on 11 September 2014. The Guardian's article was dated 3 October 2014 after the appearance on the school's website of a report which 'appeared' to be the final one. The final report was published 14 November 2014.

It may well be the case that the report published on the school's website contained the disputed words. If so, it's clear Ofsted removed them. Having removed them, it seems perverse of the Catholic Herald to keep pursuing the issue especially as the final report praised the school's promotion of respect and tolerance.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 17:05

The issue would seem to be though Ofsted's (or, more accurately, some inspectors') poor judgment in thinking that the same considerations that apply in an inner city Birmingham school with a large proportion of Muslim students also apply in rural East Anglia. The fact they even mentioned the dangers of radicalization in a Catholic school in a town with so few Muslims that it doesn't even have a mosque, is laughable.

Of course schools in that kind of setting still need to promote British values, but surely Ofsted has to come at it a different way.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 04/02/2015 - 17:40

Barry - the final report didn't have anything about radicalization or extremism in it. If one inspector made such a remark then it was removed.

The dangers of extremism aren't confined to just one group. This was the problem with the earlier Prevent programme - it seemed to be targeting only Muslims and ignoring, say, extreme right wingers (who can appear even in 'rural East Anglia')

However, as I've pointed out here, the promotion of British Values is problematic. But that isn't the issue on this thread which is concerned with the hysterical accusation that Christian schools were in Ofsted's sights as part of a plot by 'lefties', the 'Blob' etc.

But these accusations seem to come only from schools downgraded by Ofsted. Other schools, such as the two Emmanuel Schools Foundation academies who retained their Good and Outstanding judgements, didn't complain about questioning. Well, they wouldn't, would they? you might say. But if inspectors were asking allegedly inappropriate questions in all Christian schools as part of a nationwide conspiracy then surely the heads should complain irrespective of Ofsted's judgement?

As it was, the evidence which the Mail produced to justify its claim that there was a witch hunt against Christian schools didn't stand up to scrutiny and made their hysteria (and others who took the Mail's article as gospel truth) look rather silly.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 15:04

The sticking point for the Trinity Christian school was that in 2013 the Ofsted inspection report unequivocally stated:

"The provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is excellent ... Pupils are well prepared for life in modern, multicultural, democratic ... Pupils
gain a practical understanding of public institutions and democracy though educational visits, for example to Windsor and through visits from the local fire brigade and local community nurses. They are making good progress in their personal development and in their behaviour."

This contrasted sharply with the 2014 inspection that criticised them for weak coverage of SMSC/British Values.

With regard to the Jewish schools joining the debate their case - as I recall - was rooted in them being affronted that the children inspectors met with at a formal meeting were asked about issues regarding equality and legal right, which embraced gender orientation and human relationships. The latter cause ire with regard to their strict religious beliefs.

From that perspective I do not see a link; they are two very different issues. Not that our media sees it that way. There again should one be surprised by what the Daily Mail publishes and least of all give it credence.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 15:45

Unfortunately, Andy, the Daily Mail's two page 'special report' was cited as 'evidence' by the website Conservative Woman to support their claim that Christianity was being undermined by Ofsted. This story and similar DM ones were used by several Christian websites to whip up anti-Ofsted hysteria. And it popped up on a right-wing website alongside an announcement about an 'anti-Jewish march' and a racist article about Australian aborigines being 'worse' than black.

Some people just love to give the Mail credence.

Matthew Parrish, writing in the Times, said when he worked on a tabloid he was told he should write articles which left the readers feeling a bit more scared or a bit more angry every day. But fear and anger are a toxic mix. Someone can get hurt. But it sells papers.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 15:55

Andy - the most recent Ofsted report for Trinity Christian School has not yet been published. As you say, the 2013 report judged the school, which only had two pupils at the time, Good. But we have no published evidence about 'weak coverage of SMSC/British Values'.

There seems to be a growing trend for head facing a possibly negative Ofsted to get in first before inspection reports have been published.

I'm no fan of Ofsted, as many of my threads and comments over the years show. But I'm also no fan of unproven allegations being taken as truth or inspectors being judged guilty before being proved innocent.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 15:20

The following link may be useful in relation to the Jewish school issue:



"An association of Orthodox schools has said Ofsted inspectors left young girls “traumatised” after asking them if they had a boyfriend, how babies are made and whether they knew that two men could marry."

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 15:49

And the article also said (right at the bottom):

'Criticism of Ofsted was not universal. Yesodeh Hatorah Senior Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, which was downgraded in a recent unannounced inspection, paid tribute to the sensitivity of the visiting Ofsted inspectors.'

'Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, principal of Yesodey Hatorah, said: “They were very professional and very sensitive to the school’s ethos. There were no incidents of improper questioning. Throughout, we were treated with the greatest respect.”'

Could it be that the complaints come only from schools downgraded?

I can't answer that but as I said above if inappropriate questions which left children 'traumatised' were widespread, then surely all schools where this took place would be complaining.

FJM's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 20:26

Nothing in recent reports regarding Rotherham and Tower Hamlets makes me regret what I have written.

Brian's picture
Thu, 05/02/2015 - 23:48

We have today heard of a paedophile ring, seemingly similar to that in Rotherham, operating in a city near where I live. A number of arrests have been made. Not once have I seen, or heard, the media refer to this as a 'white British paedophile ring.' Yet the Rotherham criminals are continually identified by their ethnic background ... giving people like you an opportunity to imply there is a link between paedophile activity and ethnic origin.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 06/02/2015 - 08:56

Sir Michael Wilshaw has countered criticisms in the Independent. He wrote that 600 schools with a religious character had been inspected by Ofsted since the start of the academic year - many of them had 'drawn praise from inspectors for quietly getting on with the task of ensuring all their children are being prepared for life in the complex, diverse society in which we now live.'

But the press had honed in a tiny number of these 600 which have made allegations about 'inappropriate' questions and has claimed these are evidence of a nationwide plot to undermine faith schools.

Sir Michael ends:

'I can’t help feeling that some of the criticism is being used as a smokescreen for the palpable weaknesses of leadership and management that inspectors sometimes observe.'

agov's picture
Fri, 06/02/2015 - 11:34

"Could it be that the complaints come only from schools downgraded?"

Possibly. So what? Doesn't prove the others have confidence in Ofsted.

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