Inspections

Today five schools in Birmingham have been placed in “special measures” as a result of findings from an investigation into religious extremism. At least one of the schools had been judged “outstanding” in a previous inspection, but has now been found along with others, to have serious flaws.

Altogether twelve of the schools investigated have been found to require improvements.

The head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw said “Some of our findings are deeply worrying and, in some ways, quite shocking,”

There has been a question mark for some time over the ability of inspectors to make an accurate assessment of a school given the limited time and resources at their disposal.

Two working days notice is usually given before an inspection, which of course allows time for alterations to be made to the usual running of the school prior to the date.

This story reminds me of Gregoire Perra’s account of how children are indoctrinated at Steiner schools without the knowledge of the authorities or their parents.

He wrote about how Waldorf Steiner teachers dealt with inspections in his experience;

Children were expected by their teachers to “play the game” on inspection days. For example, he remembered that when a teacher is scheduled to be inspected in class, he or she will commonly be replaced by another teacher who has the necessary skills or qualifications. Then in front of the inspector the students are asked to act as if the teacher who takes their class on this day is their normal teacher.

In one instance described in the article, the replacement teacher was so unfamiliar with the students and the classroom that the lesson became farcical and ultimately a bad report led to the end of his teaching career.

On inspection days the school canteen, habitually unused, would be prepared for several sittings; Health and hygiene standards require that children eat in the canteen. Normally the children would eat their lunch in their classrooms with the teacher, and be made to say a prayer at the beginning and the end of the meal.

Another technique was to throw unauthorised materials out of the window – Archangel Michael’s wooden sword, for example was considered to be something that would be difficult to explain to the inspector, so this was hidden in the quickest way possible.

Steiner schools can present a picture-perfect image of education that few visitors are able to distinguish as in any way substandard or deviant. The schools know what the authorities want to see and they provide it for visitors.

Recently after a local Steiner college was downgraded to “inadequate” after previously being judged “outstanding” someone remarked “that’s quite an achievement”. Indeed, and it suggests a problem with monitoring.

The schools in Birmingham will now be subjected to inspection at short notice – sometimes only 15 minutes.

An example of how the schools had been duping inspectors was the hastily organised lessons on Christianity in a school where the norm was an entirely Islam-based education with no reference whatsoever to other faiths.

The attempt to cover up unacceptable practices was uncovered due to a letter written by a whistleblower. There remains the question of how long the practices described in the report published today have been going on, and how long they would have continued if it were not for the letter.

This sad story demonstrates how it has been possible to deceive Ofsted, and in my view goes some way to explaining how Steiner schools have managed to convince the Department for Education that they are worthy of state funding.

Some of the possible solutions to the current problems are listed on the BBC website today;

  • “Professional governors” where existing governors are weak
  • Mandatory training and register of interests for governors
  • Examine how the governance of free schools and academies is monitored
  • Review the current exemption from routine inspections for outstanding schools
  • Review whistleblowing procedures

Another possible solution would be for more random inspections to be held at short notice – a more accurate picture of what really goes on in schools would be easier to obtain.

 

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8 comments

  1. Helen

    Even inspections conducted at short notice would not uncover many of the ways Steiner schools deviate from what is normally acceptable in state-funded education – the way science is disparaged, the way anthroposophy is included in lessons and the use of temperaments for example would all be easily concealed.
    A kind of mask is used to cover the true face of Steiner education, one that is not easy to perceive or to remove.

  2. mah74

    Another interesting parallel: it’s alleged that the DfE was warned about these schools in Birmingham in 2010 but did nothing about it. Tomorrow, the British Humanist Association and the DfE are due to appear at a Freedom of Information tribunal where it will be argued that it’s in the public interest to release an internal DfE report from 2010 which, the BHA have reason to believe, recommended against Free School funding for Steiner schools. We don’t yet know exactly what’s in this report, but it’s not at all far fetched to think that there are questions to be answered in Parliament about Steiner schools.

    • we escaped!

      From experience this is the case. OFSTED have advised us that it isn’t their responsibility to conduct an independent (free of a steiner advisor or conductor) investigation on independent schools, however they are happy to publish their reports on the school website. Is what they dont tell you is that these reports do not follow the same rules that all other school have to abide by, they are given special guidelines, that unsuspecting non anthro parents aren’t aware of. Lets not forget those conducting the reports are Steiner associates! No other schools are granted such a privilege, and therefore the OFSTED reports do not offer an unbiased view. DfE have told us that its up to them if they choose to investigate and will not provide us with any more details with regard to how far, if at all, they will take our complaint! We dont actually know if they have filed our complaint in the bin or if they are looking into it, and they do not think it necessary to advise us either way, it truly is unbelievable. At least we know we have raised serious concerns with regard to the safe guarding of children in the particular school we have complained about (amongst many other things). Im sure that this will come back to haunt them, exactly like it is doing regarding the Trojan horse, sad fact is, that the poor child/children and their family are being so damaged while we wait for them to step up and get it sorted. We understand now why this particular school are so arrogant and irresponsible in dealing with issues and complaints -they know they can get away with it, no questions asked. Very shocking and very scary! You would think that you would be able to trust Ofsted and DfE, its apparent that this isnt the case.

      • Helen

        Oh no! Are you saying your case may not even get to be investigated? It seems so wrong.
        You are right, parents do assume they can trust Ofsted and the DfE, but I think we are quickly finding out that is not the case.
        On PM today the inspection service was described as “unfit for purpose”. I hope changes will be made as a priority, but goodness knows how long it will take.

        • we escaped!

          Hi Helen
          We know numerous parents that have complained to OFSTED regarding the school we have complained about and OFSTED haven’t even had the courtesy to acknowledge receipt of their complaint, let alone respond, even after chasing them for a response! Words fail me to be honest. We are left wondering where to go and who to turn to for help. I think steiner institutions are fully aware of this fact, hence why they get away with it. Time will tell, im a true believer that everyone gets caught, eventually. Just such a pity that people suffer in the meantime. If this hadn’t happened to us, I would never have believed it! Unfit for purpose is an understatement, ultimately they will be held accountable, by that time, who knows what damage will have been caused.
          We are just so thankful we escaped. We have tried our very best to do what is right, but the powers that be do not seem to listen or care.

          • Helen

            Something we can do is to get this out in the open as much as possible, and when the time is right, I, and I am sure some others of like mind will do all we can to help with that.
            There is now a facebook page for Waldorf Review with a lot of information, I don’t know if you have found it.

  3. Helen

    I need to clarify part of this post; out of the 21 schools investigated as part of Trojan Horse, 3 are doing well, 6 are inadequate (5 of those are now in special measures) and 12 are in need of improvement.

Any thoughts?

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