‘Can I fail Ofsted if a child I teach goes to fight in Syria?’

Despite Ofsted’s changes to the framework, we are already doing what we can – and how is this new duty imposed on us any different to what went before?

This week I received more than 50 emails trying to sell me things for our school – 15 of them related to radicalisation, extremism or the new Prevent strategy.

This isn’t new. Whenever the Ofsted framework changes, we get the same thing. Likewise with special needs changes, new pedagogical fads, finance issues.

It’s okay, though. One of the emails today for radicalisation training gives me 50 per cent off. Hurray!

They’re late, though. I’ve already done the Prevent training and I’ve delivered it on to all my staff. The problem is it didn’t make clear why, or how, (or if) I will be held responsible for the actions of pupils who I only see for six hours a day.

Can I really expect to fail an Ofsted inspection if a child of ours leaves to fight in Syria? Or worse, having watched the “Trojan horse” investigations unfold, and seen how headteachers lost their jobs after being allegedly pushed by hardline governors, but also hearing from people at the school that the portrayals were not always accurate, it’s hard to know what really happened and what really is at stake.

It’s not
entirely clear why this new duty on teachers is different to
what went before

If I don’t stop children, or governors, from extremism am I culpable? We’ve put filters on our websites, and we are all being vigilant in case of radicalisation, but we have no Muslim pupils and it’s not clear to what extent the duties extend beyond Islamic radicalisation and into other territory.

In fact, it’s not entirely clear why this new duty on teachers is different to before. If a child didn’t turn up, that was a safeguarding concern anyway. If a child was vulnerable and at risk of harm, we already referred it.

These new issues seem to have become a blur, with particularly harsh consequences for anyone caught not doing the right thing, and a lot of people making money out of it.

Which leads back to the emails. One received today is offering an off-the-peg policy for the knock-down price of just £219. Thankfully, we don’t need it. As we are a maintained school, East Sussex local authority has already given us a policy and, as it subscribes to The Key (a schools information service) on our behalf, we are able to get guidance from them too.

Not everyone is in this position, though, and judging by the number of emails we are getting schools worrying about radicalisation is turning out to be a pretty lucrative industry.

Then there’s the headache of “British values”. Among the emails you’ll find offers of audits, templates, lessons plans. The only problem is, it’s not entirely clear what anyone means by British values.

To people of my generation, British values mean things like curry, and reggae, and dance music. Being polite and democracy are more a reflection of liberal western culture. In fact it’s a bit odd to consider democracy as a British value, given that it’s a Greek concept.

In our school, we don’t talk about British values, we talk about Uplands values. It’s a concern as to whether or not this is enough. The problem of Ofsted is that we can explain this – we can say that Uplands values are British values – but if an inspector leaves our classroom to check, we find ourselves in a Sliding Doors situation.

Do you remember that film? It’s the one where Gwyneth Paltrow’s character splits in two, showing how her life could be different if she’d taken a different path. It’s possible our inspector could turn left down a corridor and ask five kids what democracy is, and would get five great answers.

However, he or she might turn right and run into a kid who is having a bad day and tells her to get lost. There’s always the hope that if an inspector didn’t find the evidence, they might give you the opportunity to find them the route that had all the hundreds of knowledgeable kids on it who do know about democracy, but with only a few hours for inspections that might not be possible.

So where does that leave a headteacher?

What we need is greater clarity on the level of accountability heads should expect for the radicalisation agenda. An answer that doesn’t cost £200 or more would be helpful.

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