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Government 'not supporting Ofsted on equalities'

Director says inspectorate feels that it is acting alone when it tries to hold schools to account for discrimination

Luke Tryl of Ofsted addressing the Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee.

Director says inspectorate feels that it is acting alone when it tries to hold schools to account for discrimination

Ofsted does not get the support it needs from government to tackle discrimination in schools, its head of corporate strategy has warned.

Luke Tryl raised concerns at a hearing of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee this morning.

He highlighted cases where Ofsted had reported equalities failings during the inspection of independent schools which had not been followed up by the Department for Education.

Mr Tryl also said that Ofsted had detected a lack of interest in its work from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

He highlighted the case of the Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham, which was found by a Court of Appeal to be discriminating against pupils in contravention of the Equalities Act 2010.

"It was us who took the decision to take this to the Court of Appeal, so we were pleased with the judgment but disappointed that the school hasn’t yet desegregated," Mr Tryl told MPs.

He said the school was enforcing strict gender segregation, denying girls the chance to have lunch until the boys had had theirs, and used “very discriminatory texts encouraging violence against women".

'Tough' decisions on discrimination

He said: “We do very much see this as part of our core role because we do not think you can be providing an excellent quality of education or care if you are doing so in a way which doesn’t comply with equalities legislation or in a way that is discriminatory.

“The downside of that is that we do occasionally feel quite isolated in that. Our inspectors are having to go out and make some quite tricky judgements when there are those potential clashes [with schools] with protected characteristics.

“We don’t feel like we get the support we need from the rest of government in pushing that forward.”

Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, said to Mr Tryl that if Al-Hijrah is not currently desegregating then what teeth does Ofsted have to ensure "the law, in this case the Equalities Act, is being followed?"

He replied: "I completely agree with you. I think that is where the real weakness is. The Court of Appeal ruling was in mid-2017.

"The Court of Appeal rightly said that schools needed a transition period where they were segregating and yet still we have not just Al-Hijrah but we have countless other schools, mixed schools, which are segregating on the basis of sex.

"Similarly other schools who have refused to teach about sexual orientation issues. We have commented on reports but we haven't seen a change there.

"This is where I talk about the isolation. We go out there. We make these tough decisions and we often take quite a lot of criticism for the stance we take but we don't always see the enforcement action we would like to see."

He told MPs that it would be for the Department for Education to take regulatory action. 

Mr Tryl said there were a number of independent schools that had repeatedly failed the independent school standards on equalities and education issues.

"We really do think that quicker action needs to be taken against schools who we have persistently identified as being 'inadequate'."

He also said that Ofsted had not heard back from the EHRC other than to receive an initial response when it referred a case of a school to it.

He said the inspectorate had detected a lack of interest in its work from the commission.

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