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.