Extremism in schools: the Trojan Horse affair - Education Committee Contents

3  Role of Ofsted

Ofsted involvement

30. As the timeline in paragraph 12 indicates, Ofsted began inspecting schools in Birmingham in March 2014 as a result of concerns raised with them directly. Ofsted activity then intensified when the Secretary of State wrote to Sir Michael Wilshaw to request further investigations and later when Sir Michael took personal charge of the investigations.

31. The outcome of the Ofsted investigations has raised questions about the organisation itself, including how the inspections in Birmingham were conducted and the reliability of Ofsted inspections more generally.

Conduct of Ofsted inspections

32. Birmingham City Council questioned the way in which the Ofsted inspections in the city were conducted. The Chief Executive, Mr Rogers, expressed concerns to us about the speed at which the investigatory teams had been mobilised and whether they had sufficient depth and breadth of expertise to address the specific issues at stake. He also stated that because of the perception that the inspectorate needed to demonstrate independence of judgement, Ofsted had refused to share information with the Council. One result of this was that "their findings are somewhat the poorer, because they are not as deeply informed as they might be".[31] The lack of information-sharing also meant that the Council was not clear about the accusations levelled at its schools. Councillor Jones explained that "For some of those concerns [raised in HMCI's advice note on 21 Birmingham schools] we could find evidence maybe only in one school that was mentioned explicitly in that schools' corresponding Ofsted report, and, for some, we could not find evidence mentioned at all in the Ofsted report".[32]

33. Ofsted did share information with the DfE: the letters sent by Lord Nash to the four academies placed in special measures (Park View, Golden Hillock, Nansen and Oldknow) on 9 June 2014 went into great detail about each breach of the funding agreement or school standards, drawing upon evidence from the Ofsted inspections which was made available to DfE officials but not published.

34. Lee Donaghy, Assistant Principal of Park View Academy, told the Home Affairs Committee that the way his school had been depicted in the media affected the outcome of the inspections, arguing that "there is absolutely no way that Ofsted inspectors could have come into the school in that atmosphere and have made a judgement on a school in an impartial way".[33] He claimed that the Ofsted inspectors' "lines of questioning were not impartial. They followed very narrow agendas. Their use of evidence was very selective".[34]

Reliability and robustness of Ofsted judgements

35. In several cases the schools concerned had received previous Ofsted inspections with markedly different outcomes. For example, Oldknow Academy (the only academy to have received a full school inspection report since conversion prior to the Trojan Horse investigations) was inspected by Ofsted in January 2013 and judged to be outstanding in all aspects. Following the inspection in April 2014, it was placed in special measures. Sir Michael Wilshaw visited Park View himself in 2012 when it became the first school to be awarded an outstanding rating under the new tougher Ofsted framework. He declared "All schools should be like this and there's no reason why they shouldn't be".[35]

36. In a letter to the Guardian just before the publication of the Ofsted reports, Sir Tim Brighouse and a group of other leading educationalists and Muslim leaders argued that:

    It is beyond belief that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be outstanding are now widely reported as "inadequate", despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership team and the same governing body. [36]

37. These criticisms were picked up by the two independent reviewers. Ian Kershaw found that "In some schools and academies, Ofsted has failed to identify dysfunctional governance and instances of the manipulation of a balanced curriculum when conducting routine Ofsted inspections, prior to the most recent inspections".[37] Mr Clarke recommended that "Ofsted should consider whether the existing framework and associated guidance is capable of detecting indicators of extremism and ensuring that the character of a school is not changed substantively without following the proper process".[38]

38. Following the inquiry reports, Ofsted changed its framework to include checking that schools are actively promoting British values and that they are offering a broad and balanced curriculum that prepares pupils for life in modern Britain. The criteria for unannounced inspections have also been broadened.[39]

39. In his statement to the House on 9 June 2014, Michael Gove said: "There are critical questions about whether warning signs were missed […] the chief inspector has advised me that he will consider the lessons learned for Ofsted".[40] When asked about these lessons, Sir Michael Wilshaw told us that, during a normal Ofsted inspection, "when inspectors are in for two days, they are looking at progress, outcomes, teaching and a whole other range of issues; it is possible to miss [warning signs of problems with governors]".[41] He argued that "if we are going to do a good job, we need more time to do it and we need more inspectors".[42] In January this year he added:

    I think the lessons to be learned [...] is that schools can change very quickly; they can decline very quickly, and there needs to be careful monitoring by both the local authority and the Department through the regional commissioners on what is happening in these schools.[43]

40. He considered that "A lesson for Ofsted is that we need expertise".[44] He assured us that Ofsted had "built up expertise in this area: we have appointed people with expertise in radicalisation and extremism who liaise very well with the Department and the police" and that "our intelligence about what is happening on the ground is a lot better than it was".[45]


41. Ofsted's inability to identify problems at some Birmingham schools on first inspection when they were found shortly afterwards to be failing raises questions about the appropriateness of the framework and the reliability and robustness of Ofsted's judgements and how they are reached. Either Ofsted relied too heavily on raw data and did not dig deep enough on previous occasions or alternatively the schools deteriorated so quickly that Ofsted reports were rapidly out of date, or it could be that inspectors lost objectivity and came to some overly negative conclusions because of the surrounding political and media storm. Whichever of these options is closest to the truth, confidence in Ofsted has been undermined and efforts should be made by the inspectorate to restore it in Birmingham and beyond.

31   Q281 Back

32   Q281 Back

33   Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 17 June 2014, HC (2014-15) 352, Q31 Back

34   Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 17 June 2014, HC (2014-15) 352, Q32 Back

35   Quoted in "Ofsted inspectors make U-turn on 'Trojan Horse' school, leak shows", The Guardian, 30 May 2014, accessed 3 March 2015  Back

36   "Education experts voice fury over Ofsted's 'Trojan Horse' schools inquiry", The Guardian, 3 June 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

37   Kershaw report, p.14 Back

38   Clarke report, p.89 Back

39   Implementation of recommendations from "Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the 'Trojan Horse' letter", DfE, 29 January 2015, p.5 Back

40   HC Deb, 9 June 2014, col 265 Back

41   Q53 Back

42   Q56 Back

43   Oral evidence taken on 28 January 2015, HC (2014-15) 880 , Q65  Back

44   Ibid Back

45   Ibid Back

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Prepared 17 March 2015