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Ofsted rewrites report to take out religious school’s failings over sexual orientation

Photo: Ludovic Bertron

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Fresh concerns about teaching about the equality of LGBT people and tolerance have been raised today as it has come to light that Ofsted has rewritten a 2017 inspection report into a Charedi Jewish school in Stamford Hill to remove repeated criticisms of the school’s failure to teach about LGBT people. Humanists UK has expressed serious alarm about the changes and whether this means Ofsted is failing to hold the school to the standards required in these areas, following religious pressure.

In 2017, Vishnitz Girls’ School was found to be inadequate by Ofsted because, amongst other things:

‘Pupils are not taught explicitly about issues such as sexual orientation. This restricts pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles. As a result, pupils are not able to gain a full understanding of fundamental British values.

Leaders and proprietors recognise the requirement to teach about the protected characteristics as set out in the Equality Act 2010. However, they acknowledge that they do not teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender re-assignment and sexual orientation. This means that pupils have a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society.’ These were two of four findings related to sexual orientation, and they were widely reported on at the time.

However, in the last few weeks the school passed a new Ofsted inspection in which sexual orientation, protected characteristics, the Equality Act, and British values are not mentioned at all.

Alarm about this change led Humanists UK to consult the 2017 report, only to discover that it has been retrospectively amended to have all four mentions of sexual orientation expunged, alongside one of three findings related to British values – leaving just generic mentions of ‘protected characteristics’.

Humanists UK contacted Ofsted about the matter and was told:

‘We amended some lines in the inspection report on Vishnitz Girls School to clarify which standards the school met, and did not meet, with regard to British values and the Equalities Act. The previous version of the report merged two of these standards by incorrectly stating that the school did not pay due regard to the protected characteristics and was therefore undermining fundamental British values. However, these two standards are not inherently connected, so the report now states that the school met the standard regarding British values, but not the standard regarding equalities.

‘The standards do not expect schools to teach pupils in detail about different lifestyles, gender re-assignment or sexual orientation. Only that they encourage respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the Equalities Act. The report also now clearly states this.’

Clearly this does not explain or justify why references to sexual orientation were expunged from the 2017 report entirely – or how it can be right that the 2019 report doesn’t mention any of these issues at all.

The discovery comes at the same time as a growing number of primary schools in Birmingham have been pulling teaching about LGBT acceptance from the curriculum, in response to parent protests, with pressure growing on Manchester schools to do likewise. The Government has been disappointingly unhelpful in supporting the schools carrying on the teaching, with Education Secretary Damian Hinds writing in The Times, ‘We have said that LGBT issues should be taught in secondary school but it is left to the judgment of primary school leaders whether it is right to discuss some aspects, such as different types of families, before then.’ Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom similarly told LBC ‘I agree that it is right that parents should be able to choose the moment at which their children become exposed to that information.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘It is seriously concerning that Ofsted has rolled back its inspection findings on Vishnitz. In a context where bullying of LGBT young people is still rampant and over a quarter have tried to take their own lives, current backsliding by first the Government and now by Ofsted threatens hard-won progress.

‘Ofsted saw the failures of this school in relation to equality as serious enough in the first instance to rate the school inadequate, but has rolled back on this issue to such an extent that it doesn’t mention these issues in its new report at all. The Government now needs to get a grip on these issues as a matter of urgency. Our equality law is a fundamental part of modern British values and merits full investigation.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07815589636.

Read the original Vishnitz report from May 2017: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/138516__4.pdf

Read the revised May 2017 report, with changes highlighted: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Compare-Report-138516__5.pdf

Read the February 2019 report: https://files.api.ofsted.gov.uk/v1/file/50064075

Read our previous news item on Damian Hinds’ and Andrea Leadsom’s comments: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/21/mps-defend-faith-based-carve-outs-for-relationships-and-sex-education/

Read our previous news item Birmingham schools: https://humanism.org.uk/2019/03/19/alarming-birmingham-trust-with-five-schools-also-suspends-lgbt-lessons/

Read more about our work on relationships and sex education: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-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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