In the news today is the announcement that Ed Balls has asked the official education watchdog Ofsted to survey a selection of independent Muslim schools and rate them for their promotion of British moral values. This move is in response to concerns raised by Civitas in a survey they carried out reported in an online book: Music, Chess And Other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain. However it is clear that none of the journalists reporting this news have bothered to check the findings of the Civitas report and it is this issue I will address here.
In the Guardian's Balls orders Ofsted survey of faith schools' moral values, Anthea Lipsett reports that
In the BBC's report Ofsted checks on school extremism it notes that-
David Lyscom, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: "ISC is not aware of concerns being raised about the practices in any of its member schools. All ISC schools foster tolerance, openness and social engagement throughout their activities."
The report from think tank Civitas, called Music, Chess and other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain, claimed that some Muslim schools were allowing extremist views to be promoted.
The Association of Muslim Schools had attacked that report as "divisive and dishonest".
In 2005 the then chief inspector of schools, David Bell, sparked a row when he said that independent Muslim schools must make greater efforts to show pupils a "common heritage".
In the Times' Inquiry to check faith schools are teaching right from wrong it says:
There are hundreds of independent faith schools. The Association of Muslim Schools has 127 members, although a few are state schools.
Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: “I’ve yet to see any surveys or Ofsted reports that show big concerns about Muslim schools. While we welcome the survey to see how best practice can be spread, we are confident that most of our Muslim schools are doing an excellent job in preparing children and young adults for life in modern British society.” He added: “I’m not naive enough to say that every single faith school is [like this]. There must be some schools that have just come on board, that lack resources and expertise, and these schools must be helped.”
Last year a former teacher at an Islamic school who alleged that it taught an offensive and racist view of nonMuslims won his case for unfair dismissal.
Colin Cook told a tribunal that children at the King Fahad Academy, which is funded and run by the Saudi Arabian Government, were taught from Arabic books that likened Jews and Christians to monkeys and pigs.
Now these are all interesting and relevant to the news item but all miss a fundamental point directly pertinent to this story - that one of the key findings of the Civitas report was the inadequacy and inability of Ofsted to carry out this type of research!
As an earlier Civitas study argued, Ofsted has proved to be unsuited to its role, a conclusion reinforced by its failure to discover the failings in Haringey’s social services that led to the tragedy of ‘Baby P’.
We realized from the outset that we would not be able to obtain textbooks of our choice or spend time as observers in classrooms. First, there was the sheer scale of what observation would entail, secondly the fact that, as with Ofsted inspections, schools would be on their best behaviour during visits. That was not, we believed, the best methodology for getting more in‐depth information, including information on the schools’ connections.
Now some of the methods used by Civitas to avoid the "best behaviour" issues is why the Association of Muslim Schools called this report dishonest- because Civitas obtained data in an underhand way without the schools being aware of it and so were unable to not carefully prepare it as they do for Ofsted.
We have drawn attention, without criticism, to the shortcomings of some Ofsted reports. This is done in a spirit of cooperation, and in recognition of the difficulties schools like these present for the uninitiated inspector.
They devote a whole chapter - out of six chapter in this book - to the relation between Ofsted and Muslim schools. And apparently none of this criticism is in dispute or at least is not reported as such by any of the journalists wring today's news item. Some of Civitas' recommendations are:
2. A sufficient number of Ofsted inspectors, non‐Muslims and identifiably moderate Muslims, must be trained properly in all relevant aspects of Islam, so they can identify suspect lessons or connections.
3. Ofsted must consider how to tackle the problem of how to inspect Urdu‐speaking, Arabic‐speaking, or Bengali‐speaking schools without depending
exclusively on Muslim inspectors. Transparency is vital.
Civitas deals with some of the limitations of Ofsted's methods by recommending that:
Under the wise chairmanship of Barry Sheerman, the House of Commons Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families has proved to be an effective organisation and an investigation carried out under its auspices would have the necessary independence.
Now Civitas may be correct or mistaken in its analysis of Ofsted, but this surely is the real story today that any decent journalist would have uncovered. They should be asking: Why is Ed Balls response to this report from Civitas - especially granted the argued the shortcomings of Ofsted reporting on independent Muslim Schools - to authorise Ofsted to do exactly what Civitas argues its cannot do effectively!?