Ofsted

Gender row school: Badenoch ‘grandstanding’ over inspection demand

Minister's intervention in gender controversy branded 'unnecessary and unhelpful' by union

Minister's intervention in gender controversy branded 'unnecessary and unhelpful' by union

23 Jun 2023, 15:35

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Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has been accused of “grandstanding” after demanding Ofsted carries out a “snap inspection” at a school at the centre of a gender row.

Rye College in East Sussex has been under national scrutiny a recording went viral of a teacher branding a pupil “despicable” during an argument over identity.

The Department for Education launched an investigation into the secondary this week amid disputed reports the spat erupted after the 13-year-old rejected a classmate’s request to be identified as a cat.

However this is not clear from the recording. And in a statement to Schools Week yesterday, the trust said it wanted to “clarify that no children at Rye College identifies as a cat or any other animal”.

School ‘breached political impartiality’

In a letter sent to chief inspector Amanda Spielman this morning, Badenoch claimed the teacher in the tape “was in breach of political impartiality requirements” set out in the Education Act 1996.

The senior Conservative argued the member of staff had acted “inappropriately regarding her pupils’ beliefs” about sex and gender, “which in my view raises issues about safeguarding at the school”.

During the recording of the Rye College argument, the teacher can be heard saying “gender is not linked to the parts you were born with – [it’s] about how you identify”.

They added “if you’re talking about the fact that cisgender is the norm, that you identify with the sexual organ you are born with… that’s basically what you’re saying, which is really despicable”.

The member of staff tells the pupil “if you don’t like it you need to go to a different school”, before the child says “how can you identify as a cat when you’re a girl?” at the end of the row.

‘This smacks of grandstanding’

South-east regional director Dame Kate Dethridge was sent into the secondary yesterday by the government to investigate, prior to Badenoch’s intervention.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, has since hit out at the politician, as he stressed “there is a need for a sense of proportion here”.

Geoff Barton

“This involves an incident at one school in which the trust has already met with the DfE to share an update on the events that took place, and the school has said that no pupils identify as a cat or any other animal.

“Now we have politicians, including the minister for women and equalities, weighing in over this matter in a manner that is unnecessary, unhelpful and smacks of grandstanding.”

Barton added that the union has “never heard of any issues arising at any schools over children identifying as animals” but noted “all sorts of discussions are bound to crop up in classrooms”.

The boss of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), Paul Whiteman, also criticised Badenoch, stating the “very last thing that school leaders need is ministers from other departments interfering in the work of schools”.

“Due process and the principles of good government are the very least that the sector should expect – not inappropriate interventions fuelled by reports that have now been significantly discredited.”

‘Gender critical beliefs are protected’

But Badenoch wrote in her letter: “Gender critical beliefs – the belief that sex is biological and immutable, that people cannot change their sex and that sex is distinct from gender-identity – are classed as philosophical beliefs worthy of respect in a democratic society and are therefore a protected characteristic under section 10 of the equality act 2010.

“Through her behaviour, including her assertion that the pupils’ beliefs were ‘despicable’, my view is the teacher was not acting in a way consistent with the act’s requirements upon schools.”

Amanda Spielman
Amanda Spielman

Badenoch added that she hopes Spielman will “carefully consider my request for an inspection, and trust that you will see the importance, both for this school and the integrity of the school system, in carrying one out.”

The Department for Education is preparing to publish its long-awaited guidance on gender identity in schools.

The Rye College spokesperson welcomed the release of the advice and said she hopes it will help “all teachers and schools” address the topic in the classroom.

“This will be particularly useful in developing future training to ensure staff feel confident, well-equipped and well-prepared to address these issues.”

Badenoch also said the guidance would help teachers and school leaders “dealing with difficult cases”.

‘Schools have wanted help for past five years’

However, Barton stressed his union has “spent the past five years constantly asking the government to provide a sensible and practical” set of guidelines “about how they should navigate this sensitive territory”.

“Now, we have the government giving the impression they are riding to the rescue over this matter, when the truth is that they have done absolutely nothing until this point in time.”

When asked about Badenoch’s demands for an inspection, a spokesperson for Rye College said the school “would of course, as always, fully support and engage with the process” if it does get visited. 

Ofsted was approach for comment.

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