Inspectors have labelled pupils at a Christian school bigots and forced it to close after a young boy gave the wrong answer when asked what a Muslim was. Teachers at the school say he referenced terrorism in his answer, but argued that one child’s throwaway answer was no ground for closing the whole school.
Durham Free School, which currently educates 94 pupils aged between 11 and 13, was praised by former education secretary Michael Gove when it opened in September 2013, the Daily Mail has reported.
But inspectors visiting the school last November, after the new guidelines encouraging inspectors to rate schools on how they promote ‘British values’, deemed the school to have failed on a wide range of factors. “Standards are low and progress is inadequate. Students’ achievement is weak”, inspectors wrote.
The school will now close at Easter as the current education secretary, Nicky Morgan has withdrawn funding. But teachers say that they were unfairly penalized for placing a Christian ethos at the heart of the school by inspectors who wanted to demonstrate that they were promoting the Government’s diversity agenda.
In their report, the schools inspectors concluded: “Leaders are failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain. Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.”
But teachers say that this view was based solely on the words of one 12 year old boy who, whilst taking part in a group discussion, was asked about Muslims. His answer made reference to terrorism.
“It feels like the school has been made a scapegoat. Durham is primarily white British so knowledge of other cultures is not as prevalent. But I don’t think the children are bigoted,” said Petrina Douglas, a parent governor.
The school’s acting headmaster Julian Eisner said: “The pupil’s reply displayed a very disappointing level of ignorance but, in the context, did not provide evidence of a discriminatory attitude.”
In a statement on the school’s website, John Denning, the Chair of Governors said he believed that there were “a number of irregularities” in the government’s decision to withdraw funding, adding that the school is “taking professional advice”. He thanked parents who had “rallied round”, and urged them to tweet and email Nicky Morgan urging her to keep the school open.
Meanwhile, nearby Grindon Hall, another Christian school, has been placed in special measures despite achieving the best school leaving exam results in the area. The school’s head, Chris Gray, made an official complaint to inspection group Ofsted following their most recent inspection, in which pupils were asked whether they knew what lesbians did, and whether their friends felt trapped in the wrong body.
The line of questioning angered parents, with one mother reporting that her daughter was “disturbed” and “upset” by the “wholly inappropriate” manner of questions asked.
Mr Gray also drew attention to a paragraph present in the draft report, which was subsequently omitted from the final report issued, which read: “The Christian ethos of the school permeates much of the school’s provision. This has restricted the development of a broad and balanced approach to the curriculum.”
He said the statement revealed “unwarrented skepticism on the part of the inspection team” regarding the Christian ethos of the school.
In a statement posted on the school’s website, Mr Gray slammed Ofsted and the Department of Education for “playing politics” with “British values”, which he said was damaging his schools and others like it.
He wrote: “Pupils, parents and staff are deeply concerned that, because of the widely reported breakdown of trust between the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted, schools like Grindon Hall are being caught in the crossfire.
“Playing politics with the new regulations on ‘British values’ is not acceptable and does little to help our children prepare for life or achieve good exam results.”
And added that Ofsted’s approach to the school was “negative at every stage, as if the data collected had to fit a predetermined outcome.”
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, responded to Mr Gray’s statement saying: “For Ofsted to give the best performing state school in the area its worst possible rating defies common sense. Removing a statement slamming the school’s Christian ethos from their final report tells us all we need to know about what is really behind the downgrading of the school.”
His colleague Simon Calvert added: “The Government’s British values regime is twisting Ofsted’s priorities out of all proportion. Inspectors are asking all kinds of invasive questions and then issuing reports that the parents whose children attend the school don’t recognise.”
Prebendary Rod Thomas of the Reform Council said the plight of the two schools was disturbing.
“When the future of entire schools can be prejudiced on the basis of what appear to be a few conversations with individual pupils, it raises very serious concerns. These two cases highlight important issues about how Ofsted are interpreting the guidance they have been given.”