The mother of a ten year old girl who was left in tears by school inspectors after they quizzed her about lesbianism and whether she felt trapped in her own body has spoken out. Lena Wilkinson, whose daughter Ariella attends Grindon Hall Free School, has slammed the questioning as “completely inappropriate”.
Breitbart London reported this week on the plight of two Christian schools: Durham Free School and nearby Grindon Hall Free School, both of which have levelled accusations of persecution at school inspection group Ofsted over their religious basis. Durham Free School may be forced to close at the end of this term as the Department for Education is planning to withdraw funding after one boy referenced terrorism when asked what a Muslim was.
Both schools were subject to snap Ofsted inspections at the end of 2014, and in the reports prepared for each, both were deemed to be “failing to prepare students for life in modern Britain.” The reports add: “Some students hold discriminatory views of other people who have different faiths, values or beliefs from themselves.”
However, it appears that the inspection of Grindon Hall may have been a part of some sort of vendetta against the Christian establishments by none other than the education secretary. In a letter of complaint penned by Christopher Gray, the head of Grindon Hall, and sent to Ofsted, Gray wrote: “At the start of the inspection on 26 November, Mr Owston [the lead inspector] told me that the inspection had been personally authorized by the Secretary of State because of Grindon Hall’s links with another school. However, I was never told which school, what the link was or the relevance of any link.”
It is clear that that school is Durham Free School, as within the Ofsted report, inspectors noted “Grindon Hall provides the financial services of their Bursar for one day a week to Durham Free School.”
Mr Gray continued: “The tenor of the inspection was negative and hostile at every stage, as if the data collected had to fit a pre-determined outcome… the primary focus of the inspection was the school’s commitment to ‘British values’.”
The inspectors spoke to a number of children, including Ariella. Many of their parents later contacted Mr Gray to complain about the nature of the questioning, including Lena Wilkinson.
Recounting the episode, Mrs Wilkinson told the Daily Mail “The questioning was completely inappropriate. They asked her what lesbians were, and whether she felt trapped in someone else’s body. She said she didn’t want to talk about it, because she was embarrassed. She didn’t know why they were asking and she wasn’t prepared for it.
“She’s been crying a lot over it. She thinks the bad Ofsted report is her fault.
“The silly thing is, Ariella knows about same sex relationships because one of our best family friends is gay. There’s no way she’s homophobic – she just didn’t realise they would be asking that kind of thing. They put her on the spot.”
Other pupils at the school reported similar questioning, with three members of the sixth form writing to the head to give testimonies on the inspection. One wrote: “Regarding the OFSTED inspector who questioned us, I felt she was directing the conversation towards racism, homophobia and extremist views.
“When we answered that these were obviously not tolerated in our school, she rephrased the questions and went on to ask whether we felt at a disadvantage because of only being taught about Christianity. The direct tone of her questioning made it feel slightly interrogative, and as though she was manipulating the conversation to make us say something to discredit the manner of teaching in school.”
Another said: “The inspector seemed very negative and did not seem happy with many responses we gave. Most of the questions that were asked were related to bullying/homophobia/racism/extremism… She seemed to have the view that since we are a Christian school we don’t respect other religions and views.”
On 27th November, days after the Ofsted inspection of Grindon Hall, the Department for Education published guidance on inspections of free schools making it clear that “It is not necessary for schools or individuals to ‘promote’ teachings, beliefs or opinions that conflict with their own.”
Commenting on the guideline, Mr Gray said “Under the ‘British values’ requirements, our school is under a duty to promote respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. However, I am alarmed that the questions asked of pupils sought to test the pupils’ religious knowledge.
“I am also concerned by the suggestion in the questions that Grindon Hall should be promoting other faiths. As a school with a Christian foundation, it is not a matter for Ofsted whether the school celebrates other faiths.”
Mrs Wilkinson agreed, saying: “We don’t think it’s fair to be asking children these questions. They’re highly personal and they’re also irrelevant. Ofsted should be assessing the school on the quality of the education. This is beyond its remit.
“It’s true that it’s a Christian school, but the ethos is not discriminatory. My children know all about other faiths. A lot of the other schools around here are dire, but this school is truly wonderful. It would be devastating if it closed down.”