Ofsted: headteacher 'surprised' as school's extremist links lead to special measures

21st November 2014 at 11:32

The headteacher of a high-performing Church of England secondary has spoken of his “surprise” after his school came under fire from Ofsted for alleged links to Islamic extremism.

Along with six independent Muslim faith schools in Tower Hamlets, the Sir John Cass Foundation and Red Coat Church of England Secondary School was criticised in a report published today by the watchdog.

After a series of no-notice inspections, the watchdog concluded that pupils at the Muslim schools were at risk from “extremist influences and radicalisation”. These were the first snap inspections triggered by such issues since the investigation into the alleged Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham earlier this year.

The Sir John Cass school has been downgraded from outstanding to inadequate, owing to concerns over behaviour, safety, leadership and management, as well as its sixth form. It has been placed in special measures.

“Central to inspectors’ findings was the school leadership’s failure to respond appropriately to serious concerns raised about social media sites relating to the sixth form Islamic Society,” Ofsted claims in its report. The sites included links to extremist material.

Concerns are also raised about separate entrances and social areas for girls and boys. “The consequence is the limiting of opportunities for boys and girls to interact socially and develop skills for life in modern Britain,” the report says.

Headteacher Haydn Evans said: “We are surprised by the outcome of the Ofsted inspection, as we have always taken safeguarding very seriously.

“The teaching and results of this school remain good, which they have been since 1999, and my priority now is to address the issues that have been identified and to work closely with the local authority and the diocese to return the school as quickly as possible to an outstanding school."

Ofsted also raises serious concerns around the Muslim schools it inspected. Significant weaknesses include safeguarding and welfare of pupils, a narrow curriculum “focused intensively on developing Islamic knowledge and understanding”, inadequate teaching and achievement, and weak leadership and management.

Four of the schools – Al-Mizan school, Ebrahim Academy, Jamiatul Ummah school and London East Academy – were rated inadequate. At the two others – East London Islamic school and Mazahirul Uloom school – Ofsted identified standards that were not being met.

In a letter to education secretary Nicky Morgan published today, Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says he is “extremely concerned about the large number of failings in each of the six independent schools inspected”, particularly that pupils “may be vulnerable to extremist influences and radicalisation”.

“I am not convinced that the leaders of these schools have sufficient capacity to bring about the necessary improvements to safeguarding, the curriculum and the quality of teaching and learning. I believe that, in all six schools, pupils’ physical and educational welfare is at serious risk,” he added.

Sir Michael says it is his “strong recommendation” that the Department for Education should take “urgent action”, using its powers under the Education Act 2002. This could include effectively forcing the schools to close if “there is a risk of serious harm to the welfare of pupils at the school”.

“I am not convinced that the leaders of these schools have sufficient capacity to bring about the necessary improvements to safeguarding, the curriculum and the quality of teaching and learning. I believe that, in all six schools, pupils’ physical and educational welfare is at serious risk,” he added.

With regard to Sir John Cass, Sir Michael has asked the school and the local authority to submit action plans on how they intend to raise standards. Inspectors will carry out a special measures monitoring visit within six weeks.

Robert McCulloch-Graham, Tower Hamlets Council’s corporate director of education, social care and well-being, said the authority had “responsibility for safeguarding all children in the borough and have always exercised our safeguarding duties to the full”. The council would work with Ofsted and the DfE to resolve any issues, he added.

Related stories:

Ofsted: 'Trojan Horse schools have failed to improve' – October 2014

Trojan Horse: New school standards branded ‘unlawful’ by Christian charity – August 2014

Trojan Horse: Report finds ‘clear evidence’ of ‘extremism views’ – July 2014

Emergency powers announced to close schools with links to extremism – June 2014

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