Sexism, segregation, squalor: Religious schools are undermining British values, says regulator
The Ofsted Annual Report 2016/17 has shone a light on the dank, squalid conditions experienced at some of Britain’s independent religious schools. “There has been a sharp decline in inspection outcomes for other independent schools and in particular schools with a faith. Almost half of faith schools (49 percent) were judged less than good at their most recent inspection and over a quarter (26 percent) were inadequate,” the report states.
“The most basic checks, such as whether staff were suitable to work with children, were not in place,” it revealed. “Perhaps more significantly, in a handful of schools inspectors found instances of sexist and sectarian literature.”
The report also shows that a rising number of religious schools are actively undermining British values in their teachings. Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman told the Daily Mail that in some parts of the country “shared values and tolerance clash with community expectations.”
Of the 977 independent schools inspected, 315 do not meet government standards and nearly half of the below-average schools - 147 of them - are faith-based education facilities.
Some 33 percent of the UK’s Christian schools, 54 percent of Jewish schools, and 58 percent of Muslim schools make up the 147 facilities that fail to meet minimum targets.
Spielman told the Evening Standard that, in some extreme cases, students are being taught oppressive and sexist values at the expense of a traditional education. “When I see books in schools entitled ‘Women Who Deserve To Go To Hell,’ children being educated in dank, squalid conditions, children being taught solely religious texts at the expense of learning basic English and mathematics, I cannot let it be ignored,” she said.
“We have a proud tradition in this country of respecting religious freedom. But there are occasions when multiculturalism can and does comes into tension with the expectation that students should be prepared for life in modern Britain.”
The annual report reveals that one of the schools deemed “unacceptable” is the Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham. “The recent case of Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham showed that an ethos that completely segregates children in school and that spreads discriminatory views about women is unacceptable. The fact that this reflects a cultural norm in that community does not mean that children can be disadvantaged in their education,” it states.
Not only is Ofsted targeting schools deviating from a traditional basic education or teaching repressive values, the education watchdog is taking on “illegal schools” - but Spielman says that greater legislative powers are needed to take on the issue.
“Current legislation is inadequate to tackle unregistered schools,” Spielman said. “It limits our powers to tackle them and allows institutions to exploit loopholes about definitions of education.”
Since January 2016, Ofsted has identified 291 potential facilities which may be unregistered. Approximately 125 inspections have taken place, 38 warning notices were issued, and 34 illegal schools have been closed or have stopped operating illegally. The report says that the remaining cases remain under investigation.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said laws have been changed to prevent extremism in schools, promoting mutual respect and tolerance of those with opposing beliefs.
“We changed the law and the requirements on schools so that they have to actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs,” they said.
“It is absolutely right that Ofsted reports on schools that fail to protect children or fail in any other way to meet the standards we expect, so that we can take action to ensure they adhere to the law. Any independent school that does not comply with the independent school standards must either improve or we will close it down.
“We always support Ofsted, local authorities and the police in tackling unregistered schools, which are illegal and unsafe.”