Ofsted should show ‘greater flexibility’ in assessing how religious schools prepare children for life in modern Britain and avoid questioning primary-aged children about ‘subjects that are sensitive’ within some faith groups, a leading think tank has said. A new report, published by Policy Exchange, argues that the school inspectorate has lost the trust of faith groups by displaying a ‘secularist bias’, and should seek to win back their support by being more open to ‘a greater variety of means of promoting tolerance and understanding’ which should include those which come from faith-based worldviews.
Humanists UK – which has long campaigned for a fully inclusive school system that is suitable for all children regardless of background – has expressed concern that the report appears to suggest inspectors turn a blind-eye when faith schools fail to meet their duties to teach about important matters such as LGBT issues on religious grounds.
The report says that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim schools have all claimed that ‘Ofsted is treating them unfairly’ and that the ‘greatest tensions’ have arisen around relationships and sex education (RSE). It notes that, since November 2019, all seven Charedi Jewish schools inspected under Ofsted’s new inspection framework failed their most recent inspection for failing to teach about LGBT issues. In truth, such schools started failing in 2015, after Ofsted dismissed two Charedi inspectors who had been consistently rating them higher than everyone else.
It goes on to cite the inspectorate’s use of the term ‘muscular liberalism’ as ‘evidence that Ofsted is actively pursuing a secularist agenda’ in the eyes of faith groups – in spite of the fact that this term was regularly used by David Cameron during his time as Prime Minister, and this use has widely been considered to have inspired Ofsted’s own. It conflates the right of parents to bring up their children in line with their religion or belief with a right for schools to behave in certain discriminatory ways. And it suggests that Ofsted wanted in the past to regulate Sunday schools when this was never proposed and it has wanted to do no such thing.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Ruth Wareham commented: ‘We are extremely concerned that the authors of this report appear to think it appropriate for Ofsted inspectors to hold faith schools to lower standards than other schools, particularly on important issues like LGBT inclusivity.
‘Ofsted has a responsibility to ensure that all pupils receive the broad and balanced education to which they are entitled and this is essential both to their ability to participate in British society and their own health and wellbeing. This type of education should include RE which covers a range of religions and humanism and relationships and sex education which should include LGBT equality.
‘We strongly urge Policy Exchange to rethink these recommendations and support Ofsted’s work to ensure that all children, regardless of religious background, receive a well-rounded education that keeps them happy, healthy, and safe.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Press Manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07393 344293.
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