Concerns have been raised about the impartiality of Ofsted’s review into safeguarding in schools and colleges.
The government asked Ofsted to review safeguarding policies in schools and colleges after thousands of children and young people posted anonymously on the Everyone’s Invited website about sexual abuse in schools – including some posts from children as young as nine years old.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Sexual abuse in any form is abhorrent and it is vital that these allegations are dealt with properly. While the majority of schools take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously, I am determined to make sure the right resources and processes are in place across the education system to support any victims of abuse to come forward.”
However, Speaking to BBC’s Newsnight, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of The National Education Union questioned whether Ofsted could carry out a fair and impartial inspection.
“The shocking thing about Everyone’s Invited has been to uncover the reality that sexism and misogyny is alive and well in the independent sector and amongst leading public schools in the same way that it is alive and well in state schools,” said Dr Bousted.
“The Department for Education want an inquiry it can control. It only uses Ofsted for a whole manner of inquiries because it has a close relationship with Ofsted and can control the inquiry and the recommendations,” added Dr Bousted.
Ofsted currently inspects most schools but the Independent Schools Inspectorate inspects private schools.
Dr Bousted continued: “What is being asked of them [Ofsted] is something they have failed to do over decades. Why the government thinks they are the correct body to do this investigation and make recommendations – I simply don’t understand.”
Labour MP Jess Phillips, who has campaigned on safeguarding issues, added: “The reason the DfE has commissioned this reviewis because it was in the public eye and it was in the peak of public interest in response to various issues. The government was pressed to collect this data and do similar reviews five years ago.”
The inquiry is expected to explore whether Ofsted and ISI have been robust enough in their monitoring of schools. Ms Philips is concerned that the chair has strong links with both organisations due to be scrutisinised. “That is an enormous conflict of interest and it is another example of marking your own homework. The DfE need to admit that something has gone wrong here and that they had a responsibility that they didn’t act on.”
Ofsted has said the review will look at whether schools and colleges need further support in teaching about sex and relationships, and whether current inspection regimes in state and private schools are robust enough around the issue of sexual abuse. It will also consider how well schools and colleges are working with local multi-agency safeguarding partners.
Ofsted will work with representatives from social care, police and victim support groups, as well as school and college leaders.
The review is aimed to conclude by the end of May 2021.