Steiner free school vows to fight 'inadequate' Ofsted rating in court

Governors of a Steiner free school branded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted have vowed to fight the rating in the High Court.

Steiner Academy Bristol, one of two Steiner schools placed in special measures following unannounced inspections in November, was warned by inspectors over ineffective safeguarding policies, weak teaching and low expectations.

Now its governors are raising money to launch a judicial review against the judgment. It follows an admission from Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman that the watchdog has seen an increase in legal challenges against its judgments.

We do not consider that the decision to place us in special measures was fair

The school, one of four set up across England under the free schools programme to follow the teachings of the philosopher Rudolf Steiner, was rated ‘inadequate’ across the board in a report published this week and has been placed in special measures.

Inspectors noted “frequent” bullying incidents, insufficient progress among SEND pupils and a failure by leaders and governance to ensure an “acceptable standard of education” for pupils.

But now governors, who had their request for a re-inspection of the school refused by Ofsted, have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to take the watchdog to court.

Ofsted stands accused of having an approach to Steiner schools that has “impacted on the fairness and independence of the inspection process”.

“While we take the report very seriously and recognise that improvements need to be made, we do not consider that the decision to place us in special measures was fair,” said governor Ray Douglas.

“We have a number of concerns about the way the inspection process was conducted and the judgments made and wanted to work with Ofsted to resolve these.

“Unfortunately we feel that the position Ofsted has adopted throughout this process has left the board of governors with no other option to pursue a legal challenge.”

An Ofsted spokesperson insisted it that it “inspects without fear or favour”, and said the inspectorate stood by the judgment.

“We considered and responded to all the points made by the governors of Bristol Steiner Academy while the report and evidence went through our rigorous quality assurance procedures. The result of the inspection is well founded and fair, and we stand by it.”

It follows an admission Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of schools, that Ofsted has seen an increase in the number of legal challenges against its judgments.

Spielman told MPs on the parliamentary public accounts committee yesterday that the number of challenges has been “going up quite substantially”.

In a recent high-profile case, Durand Academy Trust succeeded in challenging its ‘inadequate’ Ofsted rating, only to have it reinstated after the watchdog won an appeal in the High Court.

Durand’s initial success in quashing its report prompted warnings from legal experts that schools receiving negative Ofsted reports were more likely to attempt to block them.

Last February, Schools Week also revealed how a Kent school that managed to suppress an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report for eight months by threatening legal action ended up rated ‘good’ across the board after the watchdog opted to reinspect rather than fight in court.

However, in both of these previous cases, schools challenged the reports before they were officially published.

Steiner Academy Bristol is one of three ‘inadequate’-rated Steiner free schools. Steiner Academy Frome was also rated ‘inadequate’ this week, and Steiner Academy Exeter was issued with a “minded to terminate” warning last October after receiving the lowest possible Ofsted grade.

The fourth Steiner free school, Steiner Academy Hereford, is rated ‘good’.