As the scope of Ofsted work has changed since its inception in 1993, contents of its annual reports have changed too and now include inspection evaluation of many education and care settings, including Children’s Services and Skills – but what has interested me most in the report (out on 13/12/2017) are the sections about the schools and the coded references to people and the education providers from a certain community.
I tend to agree with Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, that this is one of the well balanced Ofsted reports we have seen in that it shows the awareness of the ‘cause and effect’ relationship.
The report, therefore, acknowledges schools in challenging circumstances and some of the consequences of government’s socio-welfare policies like those pointed out by Ruth Duncan, national executive member of the teachers union NASUWT.
However, the report and some of its specific coded references, give a sense that the judgments are not only based on the inspection experiences and data but are also influenced by the political premise of the discredited Prevent duty, Birmingham school scenario and Casey review. Not only this, but the report indicates that the HMCI Amanda Spielman’s ‘hijab politics’ has not developed in a vacuum.
All this could be well seen from the following sections of the report and what Ms Spielman has said:
Shared values: “……, there are also those who seek to isolate young people from the mainstream, do not prepare them for life in Britain or, worse, actively undermine fundamental British values” – p15 of the report.
“Within state education, there are schools spreading beliefs that are widely shared within the community that the school serves but that clash with British values or equalities law. The recent case of Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham showed that an ethos that completely segregates children in school and that spreads discriminatory views about women is unacceptable. The fact that this reflects a cultural norm in that community does not mean that children can be disadvantaged in their education” – ibid.
Therefore, a prime concern: “An increasing number of conservative religious schools deliberately flouting British values and equalities law. Illegal ‘schools’ are also being created in order to avoid teaching fundamental values of democracy, mutual tolerance and respect”.
Should Ms Spielman be from the education profession, she could have recognised that what she is expecting is an assimilationist model of education in the school which was discredited by educational professionals as early as in 1960s because school can’t afford to be a potent interrupter in the socio-cultural life of a child.
“Tensions between belief systems and British values create a motivation for some communities to try avoiding the educational and safeguarding standards that are expected of schools. While this manifests itself in different ways, the root cause is the same. This matters, because the British values of democracy, tolerance, individual liberty, mutual respect and the rule of law are the principles that keep society free from the radical and extreme views that can often lead to violence.” – p 16 of the report.
Ms Spielman warned of an ongoing problem with unregistered religious schools which were operating illegally and which could be teaching extremist views and seeking to “isolate young people from the mainstream” – description suggests these being madrasas?
She warned of some schools promoting sexist or homophobic views and called for stronger rights for inspectors to intervene and seize evidence, such as books or documentation.
While Ms Spielman prescribes the ‘values’ that some schools should promote but are not promoting, these don’t include more burning social ills like domestic violence and sexual harassment – what an omission.
Similarly, it is odd that the report emphasises on ‘equality’ but seems to be less conscious that for achieving real equality, it is crucial to accept that different norms and values are equally important.
But then Ms Spielman rhetoric about ‘values’, ‘extremism’ etc could be tracked back in what has been happening in the last few years:
An anonymous and unverified letter sent to Birmingham City Council (now regarded as a forgery or a hoax) claimed that there was a “Trojan Horse” conspiracy to take over governing bodies and create a school culture more sympathetic to hard-line Muslim religious ethos.
The ‘Trojan Horse’ scaremongering recycled by far right, resulted in the public argument between the then education secretary Michael Gove and home secretary Theresa May as to who is not doing enough to combat the perceived ‘Islamist extremism’ in schools. Theresa May gave in and enforced the Prevent Duty on schools.
Continuing the theme of ‘values’ and linking it with the ‘integration’, government-backed Casey review highlighted a variety of socio-cultural negativities, more noticed in some Muslims, and recommended a major new strategy to help bridge divides in UK towns and villages, with an “integration oath” to encourage immigrants to embrace British values, more focus on promoting the English language, encouraging social mixing among young people, and securing “women’s emancipation in communities where they are being held back by regressive cultural practices”.
It is sad that Ofsted now seems to be reinforcing government politics of stirring up nationalistic emotions/ values to deflect from its failures like Brexit.