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Humanists UK expresses alarm that inspections in some private schools are not being adequately monitored

Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman

Humanists UK has expressed concern that the education regulator still lacks the relevant powers to properly monitor inspections in some private schools. These include Waldorf and Steiner schools, which have recently been reported for serious safeguarding problems.

This week Ofsted’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, wrote to the Secretary of State for Education to request additional powers to monitor the way some private schools are inspected.

Every year, Ofsted is required to produce reports on the ongoing suitability of the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and the School Inspection Service (SIS). However, in the letter, Spielman claims that, for three consecutive years, the DfE has given Ofsted insufficient access to the activities of these private inspectorates. This means Ofsted simply does not have the evidence or information to ‘provide an objective assessment of the quality or standards’ of inspections by either body.

The Independent Schools Inspectorate is responsible for the inspection of approximately 1200 institutions with membership of the Independent Schools Council, this includes elite private schools such as Harrow, Eton, and Cheltenham Ladies College. The School Inspection Service is responsible for inspecting a smaller range of schools, including those which are part of the Focus Learning Trust, run by a Christian sect called the Plymouth Brethren, and members of the Steiner Waldorf Fellowship.

Last year, the Daily Telegraph reported that, in the four years leading up to 2017, inspectors had raised safeguarding concerns at nearly half of all Steiner schools in the country. Additionally, last month, it was announced that The Rudolf Steiner School Kings Langley (RSSKL) would shut permanently as the result of a slew of inadequate Ofsted reports relating to safeguarding issues.

Nevertheless, Spielman asserts that, over the past three years, the DfE has only commissioned Ofsted to monitor a total of four of these independent inspections (two by SIS and two by ISI). All other information on the activities of the inspectorates has been gathered by reviewing inspection reports without ‘access to the evidence bases gathered during these inspections’. She goes on to recommend that Ofsted be granted additional monitoring powers — including ‘unannounced on-site monitoring visits‘, ‘evidence base reviews’, and ‘termly safeguarding focused checks’ in schools where issues have been flagged — to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children.

Humanists UK has a long history of campaigning against poorly regulated Steiner schools. Alongside increasing evidence of serious safeguarding problems, these schools are subject to longstanding concerns about the inclusion of pseudoscience on the curriculum. In the past, civil service briefings have also raised concerns about racism, systemic bullying, and a lack of academic rigour at Steiner institutions.

Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented: ‘It is unacceptable that the Department for Education has not responded to Ofsted’s concerns about the suitability of the SIS and ISI for three years in a row. The recent failings in Steiner schools represent one example of how serious safeguarding problems can arise in the private sector. But, without proper oversight, it is impossible to tackle such issues or even to know how prevalent they are. In order to protect the most basic interests of children, Ofsted must be granted the power to fully monitor the efficacy of private school inspections as a matter of urgency.’

NOTES:

For more information, contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

For more information about our educations campaigns work, visit  https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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