Ofsted has claimed that its work to protect children is being undermined by local authorities’ poor records of keeping track of students who leave mainstream education.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief of Ofsted, brought his concerns to light in a letter to Secretary of Education Nicky Morgan. In the letter he claims that three councils — those of Bradford, Birmingham and Luton — are not doing enough to keep track of students who go missing from mainstream education.
In his letter he says that these failings leave students vulnerable to “harm, exploitation or the risk of falling under the influence of extremist views,” and that local authorities should be doing more to “fully understand the risks posed to certain groups of children.”
Moreover, the letter calls the issue an “urgent and escalating problem” as some head teachers face “intimidation from some elements within the local community” over school policy. Ofsted’s work will also be seen as a “waste of time” if local authorities do not improve the issue.
In his letter, Sir Michael Wilshaw goes on to claim that:
“I have previously remarked that this long and shocking track record of inadequate provision represents a failure of corporate governance on a grand scale.”
This news comes two years after the Trojan Horse allegations in which a number of schools in Birmingham were investigated for reportedly being influenced by a plot orchestrated by Muslim groups to install governors at schools.
Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that “the situation remains fragile.” However, things have improved overall and children are much safer. Despite this, according to Wilshaw, recent meetings with head teachers have revealed “a minority of people in the community who are still intent on destabilising these schools.” Moreover, a group of heads spoke in meetings of feeling “isolated and vulnerable” without co-ordinated support, says the letter.
Trevor Holden, Luton’s chief executive, has “contacted the chief inspector to clarify his concerns,” saying that the letter was both “inaccurate and ill-advised.” He cites Ofsted’s most recent inspection report, which did not highlight any issues with safeguarding or children missing from school or in homeschooling.
Sir Michael Wilshaw has been known to make controversial remarks in the past and has apologised before for comments he has made, saying in a keynote speech at the Festival of Education at Wellington College in June that “if I have stirred up emotions from time to time then I apologise.”
According to Schools Week, he has previously angered education professionals by claiming that leaders know they are doing something right if their staff are unhappy and that being a headteacher is “easier now” than ever.
However, Sir Michael maintains his strong stance on these three city councils, having said as recently as March that Bradford Council staff are being “naive” in their approach to unregistered schools.
As reported by the Guardian, Wilshaw’s term will finish at the end of this year. Nicky Morgan has nominated Amanda Spielman as a replacement despite concerns raised about her from Parliament’s education committee, who say that she lacks passion and leadership ability.
In a letter to the committee, Morgan stood firm with her nomination decision and included a nod to Wilshaw’s blunt leadership style, saying that:
“I am sure that Amanda will generate fewer headlines than her predecessor, but I also know that she will not shy away from challenging government”.