Ofsted is ill-equipped to monitor schools’ attempts to prevent pupils being radicalised by extremist groups, according to the Church of England’s chief education officer.
Reverend Nigel Genders believes that expecting school inspectors to become counter-terrorism experts in a “schoolroom security service” is “a step too far”, and that Ofsted should instead stick to its core role of monitoring the breadth and quality of education provision.
This week the government published its Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which includes a statutory duty on schools and colleges to prevent students from being drawn into extremism.
But although Mr Genders acknowledges the need to take the threat of radicalisation seriously – and says that Church of England schools are committed to being part of the solution – he says that using Ofsted to police this risks undermining its authority.
In a blog published on the Church of England website, he writes that inspectors are increasingly required to make nuanced judgements about issues when there is little or no guidance.
“This is an unreasonable expectation to place on the inspectors, and is ultimately unfair on the schools and their pupils if we haven’t beforehand made clear what they are looking for,” he says. “Without a major rethink, the credibility of Ofsted’s judgements will be quickly undermined.”
Last week, the Sir John Cass's Foundation and Red Coat School, a Church of England school in East London, was downgraded by Ofsted from outstanding to inadequate after inspectors raised concerns about sixth-formers linking to extremist material on Facebook and segregation between the sexes.
But Mr Genders says there are “serious questions” over who decides that material is extreme and where schools’ responsibility ends.
He writes that making material on Facebook pages a reason to downgrade a school is like using "a sledgehammer to crack a nut and risks turning Ofsted into a blunt instrument whose report risks undermining all the fantastic work a school is doing to educationally transform its community".
Tackling extremism requires a “sense of scale and perspective", he says, and more consistency and transparency is needed on Ofsted’s role and what schools are expected to do.
“As a country we have access to both counter-terrorism experts and educational professionals. Suggesting these groups swap roles in an attempt to build a safer society needs more thought,” he writes.