No room at the inn: the exclusive approach of the CES to its schools knows no bounds

“Rather than defending this appalling record of disproportionately turning away poorer children at the gate, wouldn’t the Archbishop be better off doing something about it?”

This morning (2 May 2017), the Education Guardian published a probing (and excellent) interview by Peter Wilby with Malcolm McMahon, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool and chair of the Catholic Education Service (CES). The Archbishop’s views on the role and ethos of the CES’ schools should trouble us all. Some examples.

Wilby rightly notes that the CES’ model approach to teaching relationships and sex education to children contains no mention of ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’ at any stage, and when asked whether or not Catholic schools teach about gay relationships, the Archbishop limply replies that ‘Christian teaching “is at the centre of our schools”’. So far, so worrying. And it doesn’t get any better.

Asked if some pupils at Catholic schools have same-sex parents, the Archbishop gives the quite remarkable response: ‘Why would same-sex parents want to send their children to a Catholic school?’ Well, if the views of the Archbishop are the same as those espoused by his schools, why indeed.

This response may not be that surprising, but it is no less scandalous for it. This is a man responsible for overseeing the education of more than 800,000 children, and he is openly admitting that the 2,000 publicly funded schools in his charge are not necessarily appropriate for same-sex parents and their children. The Archbishop claims that Catholic schools would nonetheless treat ‘them’ with respect, but one wonders how much respect these schools can really be showing to people whose existence is ignored in everyday teaching or whose sexuality is described as sinful.

Moving on, the Archbishop appeared more than a little defensive when asked about the record of Catholic schools on serving the most needy in their communities. After McMahon misleadingly claimed that ‘the proportion of pupils in Catholic schools from deprived areas…[is] above average’, Wilby puts it to him that given the location of many Catholic schools in poor urban areas, they should actually be admitting far more poorer pupils than they do. The Archbishop responds: ‘You do this for a living, do you? You ask questions based on inaccurate information?’ A nerve struck.

Far from being ‘based on inaccurate information’, Wilby’s questioning is precisely right. The evidence consistently reveals that Catholic schools admit far fewer poor children than they should given their areas. For instance, research conducted by the Fair Admissions Campaign using official government data found that Catholic schools admit a staggering 28% fewer children eligible for Free School Meals than they should given their local areas, while the Sutton Trust reported earlier this year that ‘faith’ schools (with Catholic schools among the worst offenders) are ‘three times as socially selective compared to their catchment area than non-faith schools’.

And we must be careful not to get sucked in by the CES’ consistently misleading language on this. As Wilby suggests, whilst Catholic schools are more likely to be situated in more deprived areas, this is not the same thing as being more likely to admit deprived pupils. In fact, analysis clearly shows that Catholic schools are even more likely to be in deprived areas than their pupils are. Situated in deprived areas they may be, but welcoming of deprived families they are not.

Rather than defending this appalling record of disproportionately turning away poorer children at the gate, not to mention children from certain ethnic minorities, wouldn’t the Archbishop be better off doing something about it? He doesn’t seem to think so.

Nor, indeed, is he ready to give up on the transparently false assertion that ‘by canon law, schools are forbidden to turn away Catholic parents in favour of non-Catholics’. This was the claim that ultimately led the Government to announce that it will be dropping the 50% cap on religious selection and no longer requiring new religious schools to keep at least half of their places open to all local children, irrespective of religion or belief. No matter that the CES’ canon-law claim has absolutely no basis in fact (see the British Humanist Association’s excellent briefing on this for details). And no matter that the 50% cap was a demonstrable success, significantly boosting both integration and the access of local families to their local schools, contrary to the Government’s own false assertions. 

Wilby’s parting advice in his article is that if one is to find themselves speaking with the Archbishop, ‘it’s perhaps best to avoid the subject of who is allowed to go to Catholic schools, or what goes on behind their walls.’  Unfortunately, this is advice that the Government already seem to be acting upon.

FSA team

‘One of the biggest scandals in Ofsted’s history’

“If inspectors are not independent from the schools they are inspecting, the welfare and education of children will always be at significant risk.”

A year and a half ago the British Humanist Association published an exposé revealing that since 2007 two Ofsted inspectors from the strictly Orthodox Charedi Jewish community had consistently given favourable reports to the Charedi schools they were inspecting, leading to doubts over their impartiality and independence. The two inspectors were subsequently dropped by Ofsted.

Since then, more or less all of the schools involved have been re-inspected by Ofsted, and the reports from those inspections reveal both the enormity of the scandal and the scale of the impact that it is likely to have had on the pupils whose education went without the oversight it so badly needed.

In 2009, one of the two inspectors, Chanan Tomlin, rated Gateshead Jewish Boarding School as ‘good’ in almost all areas – apart from in pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, for which he graded the school ‘outstanding’. In July 2016, however, when the school was re-inspected, inspectors found that ‘leaders and managers do not ensure that pupils are effectively prepared for life in British society’, that there was not sufficient ‘time during the school day to learn secular subjects’, and that pupils proficiency in English was under-developed. The school was deemed ‘inadequate’.

‘There were no formal mathematics or English lessons timetabled beyond year 9.’

In 2010, Chanan Tomlin also inspected Beis Hatalmud School in Manchester, rating it in exactly the same way as he had Gateshead Jewish Boarding School. However, when the school was re-inspected in 2015 it was deemed to ‘require improvement’, and a year after that the school was told that it hadn’t met the independent school standards. The reports note that ‘there were no formal mathematics or English lessons timetabled beyond year 9.’

In 2011, Talmud Torah Toldos Yakov Yosef was inspected by Chanan Tomlin too. It was awarded the same (and seemingly trademark) ‘good’ rating. The school has had four inspections since then, each of which has found that the school is failing to meet a variety of independent school standards.

A similar story is true of Talmud Torah Bobov Primary School, but in this case, both of the two inspectors involved in the scandal had previously inspected the school. In 2008, Chanan Tomlin rated the school as ‘good’, and in 2011 Jonathan Yodaiken (the other inspector) did the same. Fast forward to 2015 and the school is rated as ‘inadequate’ in every area. This included a failure to actively promote principles ‘which further tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions by enabling pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures’ and a failure to effectively prepare ‘pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life in British society.’

In 2012 Wiznitz Cheder School in Hackney was inspected by Jonathan Yodaiken who rated it as ‘good’ in most areas, ‘outstanding’ in some. In 2016, inspectors identified ‘unmet independent school standards’. Safeguarding was inadequate, health and safety was inadequate, and the school leaders were found to be failing to fulfil all their responsibilities effectively.

In 2013 Chanan Tomlin rated Talmud Torah D’Chasidei Gur ‘outstanding’ overall. The ‘teaching is outstanding’, the ‘curriculum is outstanding’, the ‘leadership and management are outstanding’, he noted. However, at its next inspection in late 2015, the school was rated ‘inadequate’ across the board. ‘Outcomes for pupils are inadequate’, ‘the arrangements for safeguarding are ineffective’, and ‘the curriculum does not provide pupils with a sufficient breadth or depth of learning’, the report noted. In June 2016, after a follow-up inspection, the independent school standards were still not met.

“Leaders are aware that this disregards the protected characteristic of sexual orientation within the 2010 Equality Act.”

In 2014, Jonathan Yodaiken inspected Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School in Clapton Common, London. He gave the school a ‘good’ rating, though it only narrowly missed out on an ‘outstanding’. Eight months later, in July 2015, the school received an emergency, no-notice inspection. The report stated that ‘the school does not promote pupils’ safety and well-being well enough’, that school leaders asserted that ‘English tuition beyond Key Stage 3 is provided at home’, and that ‘the school’s ethos identifies its founding principle as “unconditional adherence to the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish law)”. Leaders are aware that this disregards the protected characteristic of sexual orientation within the 2010 Equality Act.’ The school has had two further inspections since then, the most recent just two months ago. It is still failing to meet all the necessary independent school standards.

Finally – you’ve probably got the message by now – Talmud Torah Yetev Lev in Salford was inspected by Jonathan Yodaiken in July 2013 and given ‘good’ ratings across the board. Unlike the schools above, however, it hasn’t been re-inspected since the BHA exposé. And this isn’t just despite all we know about the other schools. It’s also despite the fact that its sister school in Hackney, which shares the same name and the same proprietor, has been judged ‘inadequate’ and failed to meet the independent school standards on each of the last four occasions it has been inspected. Surely that’s cause for concern.

Unfortunately, Yetev Lev isn’t the only school that’s been neglected in this way. Tashbar of Manchester was rated good by Chanan Tomlin in 2012, but hasn’t been re-inspected since either. And there may well be others we don’t know about.

The relatively small amount of media attention that this story received when it broke 18 months ago – covered only in the education paper Schools Week – should not disguise the fact that this is one of the biggest scandals in Ofsted’s recent history. Ofsted is criticised constantly, of course, and a lot of that criticism fails to acknowledge how difficult a job it does. But if its inspectors are not independent from the schools they are inspecting, children are placed at significant risk. Its reaction to the BHA’s exposé has been largely positive, and they must be commended for that. But as our follow-up research demonstrates, they’ve still got work to do.

FSA team

Faith schools and gender segregation: a worrying trend

“It is not just gender segregation policies that can foster a hostile environment for female pupils. Ofsted has also been vocal about widespread sexism and misogyny within ‘faith’ schools.”

Last week, an Islamic school in Birmingham was caught advertising for a male-only science teacher. The advert, since removed from their Twitter page, made it clear that the school would only be hiring for a male teacher.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has since stated that gender specific job adverts are ‘discriminatory and unlawful, unless an occupational requirement applies’.  In other words, in order to justify this discrimination, the school would have needed to prove that there was a clear link between the specific job and the need for the teacher to be male. It is hard to see how this could be applied for the role as a science teacher. The headmaster of the Salafi Independent School has claimed that the decision was made because of ‘religious observance reasons’.

The event can be seen as part of a wider issue of gender inequalities faced by both teachers and students in ‘faith’ schools across the UK. And this is not confined merely to the initial hiring of teachers. Once hired, male and female staff members may continue to face unequal treatment in a variety of ways.

“The sexist policies of these ‘faith’ schools do nothing to challenge these damaging stereotypes.”

For instance, in 2015 Ofsted reported that the Rabia School in Luton was segregating male and female members of staff during training programs, and expecting the women to watch the broadcasted sessions from a separate room. A dividing screen was even erected during an initial meeting with Ofsted.

Pupils are also frequent targets of these gender segregating policies. Ofsted has found cases of segregation in Islamic, Jewish, and Christian ‘faith’ schools. FSA has previously reported on a madrassa where girls were taught by a male teacher from an adjacent room. Books were passed through a hole in the wall to ensure there was no contact.

The Rabia School was also condemned in the same Ofsted report for practising ‘unequal treatment of girls and boys’. For example, as part of the design and technology curriculum, girls were denied access to the boy’s laboratory, and limited to ‘knitting and sewing’. These actions not only signal a lack of respect for gender equality and tolerance, but are also clearly unlawful. Ofsted has argued in a number of cases that gender segregation policies of ‘faith’ schools can be considered discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010 as the policies tend to place women at an inferior level to men.

“One mother reported her daughter being told that her knee length dress was ‘disgusting’.”

It is not just gender segregation policies that can foster a hostile environment for female pupils. Ofsted has also been vocal about widespread sexism and misogyny within ‘faith’ schools. Grindon Hall Christian School and Durham Free School were both criticised by inspectors for not discouraging a sexist and homophobic culture. Accelerated Christian Education schools have been reported as teaching that women are to be subservient to their husbands, their pastor, and other male figures. And other Christian ‘faith’ schools have also been criticised for not teaching pupils a full Relationships and Sex Education curriculum, avoiding topics related to women’s reproductive rights and sexuality.

Gender segregation policies often go hand in hand with strict uniform policies for female pupils. FSA has previously reported on a Modern Orthodox Jewish School, with split campuses for boys and girls, where girls faced teachers who had an ‘obsession with dress code and skirt length’. One mother reported her daughter being told that her knee length dress was ‘disgusting’. Another Jewish school was banned from admitting new pupils in 2016 in part because it was teaching pupil that ‘women showing bare arms and legs are impure.’

Numerous other ‘faith’ schools have been accused of not promoting British values, too. A Jewish Independent school was failed by Ofsted in 2016 in part for inadequately preparing pupils for ‘life in modern Britain’ – including reporting that pupils demonstrated ‘stereotypical views on the roles of men and women, with men “going to work” and women “cooking and cleaning”.’ In January last year, a Muslim school in Tower Hamlets was found to have books in its library that promoted the inequality of men and women, and which also included details about punishments such as ‘stoning to death’.

The opportunity for children to learn and socialise together is part of their preparation for life after school. Schools are also places where children pick up a huge amount of the information on gender roles and gender stereotypes. Tragically, a recent study found that by the age of six, girls already believe that being smart, and being brilliant, are male traits. The sexist policies of these ‘faith’ schools do nothing to challenge these damaging stereotypes.

FSA team