Monday, 3 November 2014

Inspecting RE in Faith Schools

The Guardian reports that Tristram Hunt has said, "there is a case for Ofsted to be allowed to inspect religious education in faith schools, saying schools may be exacerbating religious and ethnic segregation in English cities." (see <here> for full article)

This seems like a logical and natural reaction to the Trojan Horse scandal. However to look at Hunt's comments appears to show an accusation against faith schools:

"We have particular concerns that Ofsted is not allowed to inspect religious teaching in faith schools – that seems to me to be a slightly curious situation. It is a worrying trend in terms of cultural and ethnic identification through schooling."

OFSTED can currently go into RE lessons in faith schools to observe teaching and learning, and they do! I got observed during our last visit in November 2013 (see <here>). I don't see how there is a great need to inspect the content of religious teaching, especially given a sometimes limited understanding of the topics; I only got a Good rating as I gave Y7 students a theologically sound definition of the Messiah instead of letting students "work it out for themselves in pairs". This was a new topic to them, and none of them speak Hebrew.

Faith Schools have a separate Section 48 which checks their RE content. Ours was far more intense for the RE department than the Section 5! I had three full lesson observations (see <here>). There was thorough book checking, schemes of works were read, a whole separate SEF. Now, if Hunt is claiming we need to have examined exactly how the Qu'ran is being interpreted, or if Catholic teaching is being promoted in a liberal or conservative way, we may well need experts on the topics; that won't be OFSTED. 

Hunt went on to say, "Our answer is making sure Ofsted inspects schools on the basis of a broad and balanced curriculum.”.

For me this is a clear suggestion that he does not believe that faith schools provide this. St Benedict's in Suffolk was a RC faith school which suffered from this agenda which has already begun. It's initial OFSTED report said:

“It is not made clear how all students are prepared for life and work in modern Britain... Leadership and management could be made more effective by “making clearer the contribution to students’ preparation for life and work in modern Britain and the dangers of extremism

A statement from Ofsted said inspectors were now paying greater attention to ensuring that schools provided a broad and balanced curriculum. This faith school seemingly didn't fit the bill.

It is interesting, and a fact seemingly forgotten, is that the Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham were not indeed faith schools. They were community schools, who OFSTED had inspected and failed to notice things going wrong as they focused purely on numeracy and literacy. Why then are faith schools now being targeted?

The feel from many, especially those working in faith schools, is that all of a sudden, to be Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or even maybe CoE is to not hold British Values. And we're going to be targeted and made an example of by politicians on both sides who do not understand the unique and special place that faith schools hold in our British society.

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