Serious concerns have today been raised about pupil safeguarding and Islamic education at seven Tower Hamlets faith schools after a series of emergency inspections in the borough.
A report from Ofsted was released this morning, documenting the lack of safeguarding for children, a narrowing curriculum, lack of sufficient facilities in schools and strong concerns over extremism in seven Tower Hamlets schools.
The advice note, written by Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, claims that in the six independent schools inspected there were “serious concerns over the safeguarding and welfare of pupils”.
The unannounced inspections, led by Ofsted, took place between October 8 and 17 2014. Six of the schools inspected were independent Muslim faith schools, four of which were secondary and two primary. Five of these schools are located in Whitechapel. The seventh school was a state-funded, voluntary-aided Church of England secondary school in Stepney Green.
Tower Hamlet’s director of education Robert McCulloch said: “We have no jurisdiction whatsoever over teaching and standards at independent faith schools…. We do, however, have responsibility for safeguarding all children in the borough and have always exercised our safeguarding duties to the full.”
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, said: “The council has an international reputation for the quality of its schools and an excellent track record of helping turn around maintained schools when issues occur. I know the council will work with Sir John Cass’s leadership to help it return to being Outstanding. I encourage the independent schools to accept the safeguarding advice and guidance being offered by the council.”
The advice note, written to the secretary state for education Nicky Morgan, says: “I am extremely concerned about the large number of failings in each of the six independent schools. 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, pupil’s physical and educational welfare is at serious risk”.
Winshaw said in all of the schools, pupils’ physical and educational welfare is “at serious risk”. None of the schools provided suitable changing facilities for physical education and some had no showers. All schools lacked proper facilities for the sick and injured too.
At all of the schools, “pupils were not provided with an appropriately broad and balanced curriculum” and failed to promote pupil’s understanding of other faiths and cultures. In one case, pupils at one private school were unable to tell the difference between Sharia law and English law, Ofsted found.
“Music, drama and art were rarely taught and pupils were not given adequate opportunities to develop their creativity”, wrote Ofsted. Wilshaw found that a student in Year 1 thought participating in music or dance was wrong.
Morgan said: “We asked Ofsted to carry out these independent school inspections and the findings are very concerning. While there is no suggestion of a co-ordinated plot, it is clear that these schools are failing children and this is unacceptable. All schools must prepare children for life in modern Britain.”
“We will now be demanding urgent action plans from the independent schools and expect to see improvements within weeks. If changes are not made then we reserve the right to force the closures of the schools involved.”
The report found that leaders of one school had organised separate boys’ and girls’ entrances and exits, and there were segregated outdoor and indoor spaces at break time and lunchtime.
Wilshaw said: “In all three [schools sited within mosques], access to the school was insecure because it was shared with the mosque. In another, the school shared an entrance with a café, giving members of the public open access to the school.”
All of the schools involved were given the opportunity to comment on the Ofsted report. Only three schools commented which were Jamiatul Ummah School, London East academy and Al-Mizan who all said they were already working on improving.
East London Islamic School, a selective Islamic independent secondary school for boys, had an emergency inspection and failed to meet the independent school standards.
Ebrahim Academy Boys’ School was judged as being “satisfactory” in its last inspection, but since the recent unannounced visit, has now been rated as “inadequate”.
Jamiatul Ummah School’s emergency inspection has meant the rating of the school has changed from outstanding in all aspects of its 2011 inspection, bar the welfare, health and safety of pupils which was “good”, to overall unmet independent school standards. The school says it is “committed to achieving excellence and to continuous improvements. JU accept the report’s conclusions and will be working hard together to make the required improvements raised by Ofsted”.
In response, the school says it is “committed to achieving excellence and to continuous improvements. JU accept the report’s conclusions and will be working hard together to make the required improvements raised by Ofsted”.
London East Academy dropped from being rated as a “good” school in 2011 to “inadequate”. A statement on behalf of the London East Academy, and the Al-Mizan School, a selective Islamic independent primary school for boys, who was ranked as “good”, said both schools are “already working hard to address weaknesses identified in Ofsted’s recent reports”.
In reply to Ofsted’s report, London East Academy and the Al-Mizan School, a selective Islamic independent primary school for boys ranked as “good”, said both schools are “already working hard to address weaknesses identified in Ofsted’s recent reports”.
The emergency inspection of Mazahirul Uloom school boys’ school found that students were being taught a narrow curriculum which often focused only on Islamic faith and culture.
Sir John Cass’s Foundation and Red Coat Church of England Secondary School is the voluntary aided Church of England school and was previously rated by Ofsted as “outstanding”. It has been judge as being “inadequate overall and requires special measures”. Behaviour and safety, leadership and management and the sixth form were all judged “inadequate”, while the quality of teaching and achievement of pupils were both rated as “good”.
The advice note also warned that, as ELL had previously reported, the Sir John Cass’s Federation School had failed to respond properly to concerns raised by police about a social media website bearing the name of a school sixth-form society which had links to individuals associated with extremism.
Wilshaw said: “I draw your attention to the fact that a significant proportion of students join the sixth form at Sir Cass’s School from other local state-funded and independent schools.”
Sarah Baker, chair of the Tower Hamlets Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: “We will support the council and other agencies in bringing about the necessary improvements to ensure children are safeguarded.”
“The Board does have some concerns about whether existing legislation gives sufficient authority for the council to take an active role in independent schools. The Board requests that Ofsted and the Department for Education consider this element carefully as part of their action plan to improve these independent schools.”
There is no evidence that the schools are collaborating together. The council stressed that there is no evidence or suggestion of an attempted Trojan Horse-style takeover plot in the borough.
According to Morgan, the Department for Education is in discussion with the local council about Sir John Cass and will be monitoring the school “very closely” to ensure that issues are tackled quickly.