An amendment seeking to retain Ofsted’s duty to assess the contribution that schools make to community cohesion was rejected by the Government this evening, despite widespread support from both Government and Opposition benches, and was only narrowly defeated by 181 votes to 141.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, said ‘The Government’s rejection of continued inspection of how schools promote community cohesion is particularly unwise given that state funded schools are currently being given far more freedom and autonomy; many are being inspected less frequently; new and untested education providers are coming into the state sector through the Free Schools programme, while at the same time society is also becoming increasingly diverse.
‘Removing Ofsted’s community cohesion duty also goes against the Government’s commitment to confront extremism and promote a greater sense of citizenship, the importance of which the Prime Minister set out in his widely covered speech that he gave in Munich at the start of February on these topics.
‘This move sends a devastating message to those who value an inclusive and tolerant Britain and risks empowering those who would mitigate against social cohesion in our schools.’
The amendment was tabled and moved by Accord Coalition supporter and cross bench Peeress, Baroness Flather of Windsor and Maidenhead during the third sitting of the Education Bill’s House of Lords Report Stage and attracted support from a range of Peers.
It included the cross bench Peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, the Conservative Peer Lord Lucus of Crudwell and Dingwall, the Opposition Spokesperson for Education Baroness Jones of Whitchurch and Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, The Rt Revd John Packer.
The 2006 Education and Inspections Act introduced a duty upon all maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion, and on Ofsted to report on the contributions made in this area when undertaking a Section 5 school inspection. Clause 40 of the Education Bill proposes to remove Ofsted’s duty to inspect community cohesion in schools entirely, while Baroness Flather’s amendment proposed to simply reinsert it.
Schools that are inclusive of others help to create more trusting communities that are at ease with themselves. ‘The Cantle Report’ was commissioned by the Home Office and published in 2001 after race riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley that year. The report noted how riots had not arisen in diverse areas, such as Southall and Leicester, where pupils learnt about different religions and cultures in local schools.
Some state schools advocate a narrow or obscurant agenda. The report ‘Faith Schools We Can Believe In’ from the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange released last November maintained that schools were increasingly vulnerable to extremist influences that promoted a divisive and exclusivist ideology.
The promotion of better community cohesion in schools is widely supported among the teaching profession. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers do not want the Education Bill to downgrade the promotion of community cohesion in schools, the NASUWT warned in their submission to the House of Commons Education Bill Committee that the ‘removal of the duty to inspect community cohesion will mean that this important duty will be ignored’, while the National Union of Teachers openly supported Baroness Flather’s amendment.