Birmingham City Council Response to the Ofsted Inspections of Birmingham Schools and Trojan Horse
- We are reassured that Ofsted has presented no evidence of a plot or conspiracy but there have been unacceptable actions by a few people in a few schools
- We are here to ensure that our children and young people get the very best education possible
- We take Ofsted’s reports seriously and will act where we need to
- It is clear that some governors and governors bodies have failed in their duties
- There are areas in which the council’s support needs to be reviewed and strengthened
- We have a clear set of measures, many of which are already in hand
- We will work hard with our communities to restore any lost confidence in their governors, as well as ourselves and Ofsted and DfE
- Analysis of Ofsted inspection reports
1.1 It is clear from Ofsted’s inspection findings and Sir Michael Wilshaw’s report that:
- some governors do not fulfil their roles and responsibilities and have interfered improperly in the ethos, policies and day-to-day running of certain schools
- evidence of a plot has not been presented, but Ofsted presents evidence there has been concerted action to change the character, curriculum and staffing of non-denominational schools to reflect a narrow faith-based ideology. There are instances cited of inappropriate uses of funding, narrowing of the curriculum and manipulation of staff appointments
- some governors are influential across more than one school
- safeguarding in all schools needs to have an appropriate and sustained focus on tackling the risk to children of extremism and radicalisation and, for some schools, this needs to be better supported by the local authority through training for Head teachers, governors and staff in schools
- Local Authority school improvement support related directly to attainment is proportionate to the OFSTED grading of the schools and in many cases is good
1.2 In terms of behaviour and safety:
- behaviour in most schools is good with pupils treating each other with respect
- bullying is dealt with appropriately and children and young people know what to do if they experience bullying
- improvements in attendance and exclusions were noted in many schools
- requests for prolonged holidays if reported on are declined by schools
1.3 Outstanding leadership and management practice was seen in three secondary schools, one of which is an Academy and two are community schools. All primary schools inspected required some improvement in leadership and management. Six schools require special measures (in one case this is a continuation of that judgement – Alston).
1.4 Where governance concerns were noted, these included in some schools:
- governors not following due process with changes to the curriculum and staff appointments
- not learning about all faiths and not preparing children sufficiently for life in modern Britain
- an increasingly narrow focus to the curriculum offer
- not enough steps being taken to safeguard children from the risk of radicalisation and extremism
- weak safer recruitment practice
- inappropriate use of school money (in a minority of instances)
- ineffective monitoring of pupil premium money to improve outcomes for children and young people
1.5 In terms of support:
- as a Local Authority we provide good advice on safeguarding but Ofsted has reported that some heads have not been sufficiently supported by the council in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of extremism. We will need to consider carefully this statement given the council’s strong reputation for Prevent, a view which is supported by the Home Office
- the support and brokerage we provide for more vulnerable schools is recognised as good but Ofsted suggest that we could do more in the way of monitoring schools designated as being good or outstanding (although in recent years local authorities have been encouraged to adopt a light touch approach to 'successful' schools)
- there would be benefit for schools in the strengthening of our process for allocating local authority governors. We, of course, fully accept the need to take firm and clear action where LA appointed governors are found wanting
- further training would be of benefit to schools around certain areas, in particular the risk of forced marriage and female genital mutilation
- schools would also benefit from further training of designated safeguarding persons (DSP) relating to Prevent
- we need to do more to help schools with best practice to share their good and outstanding practice around risk of extremism and radicalisation
- Our initial response
We are reassured that Ofsted has presented no evidence of a plot or conspiracy but there have been unacceptable actions by a few people in a few schools.
2.1 There is nothing substantive in the various reports of which we had not already become aware. What follows are our immediate responses to the specific findings of the Ofsted inspections. We will build on these actions, and our understanding of the facts around the wider allegations, as necessary and appropriate, once we have the July reports from the Chief Advisor and the Education Commissioner.
2.2 The Council takes all these matters very seriously as our first and foremost responsibility is to ensure an excellent education for all children across the City. You will know that a ‘Quartet’ consisting of the Leader, Lead Member, Chief Executive and Director has already received the support and confidence of Lord Warner to take the children’s safeguarding agenda forward. We will also be applying ourselves to schools.
We also recognise that there is a shared responsibility to respond to these findings. First and foremost the responsibility for good governance rests with schools themselves – and individual governors should be looking to themselves when it comes to accountability for the issues raised by Ofsted. However, we recognise that in addition to this the Council, the DfE and Ofsted have an obligation to ensure a robust assurance system exists to support and challenge – including intervening in – schools to ensure they fulfil their responsibilities. We will consider very seriously Ofsted's comments that a number of school leaders had not been supported by the local authority in their efforts to keep pupils safe.
Many of the issues arising from these inspections can only be addressed through a collaborative leadership response across the whole system.
It is also clear from these inspection findings that all those responsible for good governance can retrospectively derive insight from past events and have also missed opportunities to detect and understand issues as they presented themselves.
2.3 The inspection findings illustrate a collection of challenges that are shared by the schools, the Council, the DfE, Ofsted and Academy Sponsors. We agree with the shared responsibility that implies and we intend to play our full part in addressing the issues for the school community: Birmingham's pupils, parents, teachers, school staff and governors.
2.4 In terms of any wider conspiracy affecting Birmingham and other parts of the country, Ofsted has presented no evidence of a plot or conspiracy. However, in respect of school governance, it does appear from Ofsted's reports that in a number of schools have fallen well below acceptable standards. We unequivocally condemn that.
2.5 With respect to safeguarding failures in certain schools our principal concern is with the findings that more could be done to avoid the risk of exposure to radical or extremist influences. It is important to note that whilst this element of safeguarding is already addressed in the Ofsted framework for school inspections, it has only very recently in this context assumed the significance that Ofsted has now given to it. Up to this point, the Council was unaware of any other inspections that have reported specifically on a school's need to take certain or greater precautions against radicalism and extremism.
2.6 Whilst it is clear from these inspection findings that the principal set of concerns relate to breakdowns of governance, nonetheless we do recognise that for all schools it is important to continue to use the well regarded Prevent programme in order to build resilience in children and young people that allows them to understand and, thereby protect themselves, from the risk of radicalisation.
We recognise the importance and value of the Prevent programme in tackling radicalisation and violent extremism, and will continue to work to promote the programme and to provide support and advice to schools, ensuring that robust safeguarding mechanisms remain in place.
We welcome the role of the local authority in providing support and guidance via training and awareness of the Prevent agenda and expect that we will continue to deliver this in partnership with the Home Office, working closely other local partners and national departments such as DfE.
Specific actions to be taken by Birmingham City Council
3.1 In relation to governance of schools:
- individual action plans will be drawn up with each community school that has been inspected
- in respect of Saltley school, which has been designated as requiring special measures, the necessary statementof action will be produced and it is also the Council's intention to work with the school and the DfE to secure an Interim Executive Board (IEB) as fast as due process allows.
- we will continue to work jointly with DfE to complete the process of ‘Academisation’ for Alston. This should be achieved by July
- the greatest concerns expressed have been about Park View and Oldknow. We are very concerned about what Ofsted has reported and, whilst both are academies, will work closely with the Department for Education on any plans it brings forward to redress the situation
- we recognise that both Ofsted and the DfE have serious concerns about the Chair and overall governance of Park View and, in the light of this, we will need to review his involvement in the governing body at Highfield School, along with any other role undertaken on behalf of the local authority in accordance with due process
In addition to these key actions, we will be:
- continuing suspension of recruitment to local authority governor posts for the immediate future whilst we work to introduce a new policy from September
- revising the process for the recruitment, appointment and training of governors using the expertise of the National Governors Association with whom we are already engaged. This review is close to completion and we expect to publish the findings shortly. The new procedures will become 'live' in September 2014
- using the best practice seen in some of our secondary schools to support other schools across the city. Where there is further outstanding practice in the school community we will ensure that is available to all by building this into the training provided by the council and signposting schools to it
- publishing a good governance guide for all schools which includes a defined process for quality assurance including regular external review of governance (via the National College for Teaching and Leadership)
- publishing a revised whistleblowing arrangement (consideration is being given to establishing a dedicated confidential point of contact) for schools to raise awareness and to strengthen the management and security of the process. This work is nearly completed and has been carried out in consultation with all the professional associations, the National Governors Association and the City Council HR team. It will be notified to the school community and come into practice from September 2014
- producing regular six monthly reports to the Safeguarding Board and Birmingham Education Partnership (BEP) and other relevant bodies (eg academy chains and free schools) with regard to the effectiveness of training relating to the prevention of radicalisation and extremism in all settings
- making sure that all senior managers in the Directorate for People will regularly refresh their understanding of the prevent agenda and their role and responsibilities in relation to it
- consulting with the Home Office on rolling out of further Prevent training. To ensure adequate capacity is available, the Council will appoint in readiness for the new academic year a dedicated school Prevent co-ordinator to be jointly funded by the Home Office and the Council
- ensuring that the previously mentioned good governance guide will set out clearly the responsibilities of governors, heads and principals, define their training needs and agree a city wide programme to ensure appropriate participation
3.2 In relation to local authority school improvement functions:
- we will ensure all schools are allocated a school improvement link officer whatever the designation of the school
- we will continue to work with Teaching schools and National Leaders in Education to provide challenge and support to those schools with the greatest need
- we will work with all City Academy and Free Schools sponsors through a twice yearly meeting with the Strategic Director to make sure that Academies are aware of, and able to access, training and support
- we will direct schools to where there is outstanding practice both locally and nationally
- we will reinforce regular reporting and monitoring to the Education and Vulnerable Children Overview and Scrutiny Committee on school improvement practice, with the next report scheduled for October 2014
- we will reintroduce the local authority led induction programme for headteachers, making sure it is available to all heads and principals irrespective of school type
- we will improve the record keeping monitoring and scrutiny of significant changes in staffing and governors, through each school's school improvement link officer
- we will review and agree expectations for schools in Birmingham in relation to spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and set that into a context that celebrates the values of diversity, fairness, multi-culturalism and democracy.
Actions requested from DfE
The Council strongly recommends that the relevant government departments, in consultation with the regulator, produce new guidance setting out both requirements and broader expectations of all educational institutions in relation to best practice for good governance. In addition, we also strongly recommend that this guidance is complemented by refreshed advice on best practice in relation to the deployment of Prevent in educational settings.