A Birmingham Islamic school has mounted a legal challenge against education watchdog Ofsted after it was failed following the discovery in the library of a 25-year-old leaflet about an Islamic conference promoting Khilafa.
Ofsted rated Birchfield Independent Girls’ School in Aston as “inadequate” after inspectors found the leaflet about the 1994 conference which was organised by Islamic political group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
The school had been predicted to get a rating of “good” until the discovery during the second day of the inspection.
Khilafa (Islamic state) is a normative concept in mainstream Islam but has been fiercely attacked by the government and mainstream media.
Birchfield said it had been a victim of Ofsted’s “draconian and inconsistent inspection practices” against faith-based independent schools.
In a statement, the school said: “We are deeply disappointed with the judgements in our recent Ofsted report. They in no way reflect the paramount importance that we place on safeguarding, nor the evidence base collected by inspectors. Our pupils are safe, well cared for and our school has robust systems in place to safeguard our pupils.
“The leaflet identified has no place in our teachings, curriculum or ethos. We work hard to promote fundamental British values and the rule of law at our school. Our pupils are well equipped to combat radicalisation and inspectors were able to verify this as part of the inspection process.
“Our library has been vetted to ensure all materials are appropriate and in line with fundamental British values. Any newly added material is vetted before it is included in the library and senior staff and the librarian on a regular basis make checks.
“Additionally, pupils’ access to the library is always supervised and the room is under lock and key when not used. The room was given to the inspectors as a base during the inspection period. Subsequently we were unable to carry out our regular due diligence on the days of the inspection and the leaflet highlighted was found on day 2 of the inspection.
“Sadly, we are not the only faith based independent school to fall victim to Ofsted’s draconian and inconsistent inspection practices. It remains a growing and dissatisfactory issue which must be addressed. It is simply unacceptable for Ofsted to undermine all of the hard work put in by staff and pupils when coming to wholly inaccurate judgements of schools. We continue to challenge the decision making which led to our inspection judgements and await Ofsted’s legal response.”
“Seriously inflammatory leaflet”
Following the inspection in November inspectors rated the quality of education as “good” but said the leadership and management were “inadequate.” It added that the school does not meet independent school standards.
Inspectors said: “A seriously inflammatory leaflet that encourages radicalisation was found on the bookshelf in the school library during the inspection. Leaders have not made sure that pupils are protected from this type of material. This means that pupils are not safe. None of the school leaders could explain how the leaflet got there.”
Regarding the leaflet, Ofsted said: “It states, for example: ‘Today we find that the sons and daughters of Islam are under continuous attack by the forces of non-Islam’. It promotes the Khaleefah which is defined as: ‘The total rulership of Muslims over the world.’
“The leaflet is an advertisement for a meeting held in Wembley stadium that advertised the Islamic State in 1994. A web-based search of the meeting could lead pupils to views promoting the proposed supremacy of Muslims in the world. Leaders could not explain how the leaflet came to be there or why it was not spotted and removed by school staff.”
However, the inspection team also found that these sentiments did not reflect the views of pupils and that they are encouraged to accept differences and to value diversity.
“Pupils are happy in this school,” Ofsted said. “Pupils and staff work well together and there is a good level of mutual respect. Despite the unacceptable literature found, pupils are taught to accept everyone, whoever they are…
“Every pupil does her best. The teachers help all the pupils to make progress. The broad curriculum is often delivered in fun and interesting ways. This promotes pupils’ learning. They do well as a result. Pupils behave well because that is what staff expect. Any bullying incidents are dealt with quickly and effectively…
“Leaders have improved the delivery of the curriculum since the previous inspection. Consequently, the school is now providing a good quality of education.”
A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “Our inspection handbook makes it clear that a setting will be rated inadequate if it is considered that safeguarding is ineffective.”