Research commentary: teaching about sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment

Chris Jones, Ofsted’s Director, Corporate Strategy, discusses research on teaching about the protected characteristics of sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment in England’s schools.

The Equality Act 2010 was the culmination of a decade-long uplift in equality legislation. The uplift began in 2001 with changes to race discrimination law following the recommendations of the Macpherson report. It continued through into disability discrimination law in 2006 and gender discrimination in 2007. The 2010 Act consolidated these and also brought in other characteristics, most of which already had some protection under previous legislation: age, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sex, sexual orientation, religion and belief and (for the first time) gender reassignment status.

This legislation set a new role for public authorities through the concept of ‘duties’. The 2010 act created a ‘public sector equality duty’ (PSED). This requires every public authority to have due regard to the following:

  • the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • advancing equality of opportunity between people who shared a protected characteristic and those who do not
  • fostering good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not

In practice, the Act gives all public authorities a degree of responsibility for encouraging and promoting equality in relation to protected characteristics. The PSED guidance from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) states:

” … the general equality duty therefore requires organisations to consider how they could positively contribute to the advancement of equality and good relations. It requires equality considerations to be reflected into the design of policies and the delivery of services, including internal policies, and for these issues to be kept under review.”

‘Public authorities’ includes state-funded schools and other education providers, as well as Ofsted. Therefore, our inspectors assess the extent to which settings take steps to promote equality and diversity as well as to prevent any form of discrimination against those with protected characteristics.

The Act was contentious from the outset for certain groups, particularly in relation to characteristics relating to sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. The increasing political sensitivities in these areas have made it harder for schools to handle equalities well. For example, school staff can occasionally confuse the legal, the moral and the political, and so (often inadvertently) bring overtly political materials into their curriculum and teaching without acknowledging it as such, despite the statutory requirement of political neutrality. We have also seen recent examples of schools and parents being unable to see eye-to-eye on the content and age-appropriateness of curriculum materials used to teach primary school pupils about same-sex relationships.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) statutory guidance on relationships, health and sex education deals with schools’ responsibilities in this area. It came into force in September 2020.

Ofsted has carried out research that aimed to identify good practice in teaching some of these more contentious issues. This commentary summarises our findings in a way that we hope will be beneficial to schools as they implement the DfE’s guidance. It builds on the findings of our review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges, which highlighted the importance of strong teaching of relationships, health and sex education.

Research context

There is some guidance, from the DfE and the EHRC, to help schools with the PSED. There is also some research into the effectiveness of specific support initiatives, for example from NatCen, the Institute of Physics and Lifting Limits.

However, there is a significant lack of research into how schools promote respect and build understanding in pupils around sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment issues.

Therefore, the purpose of our research was to show how respect is promoted and how discrimination and harassment are challenged and minimised in state-funded primary and secondary schools that do this successfully.

Our guiding research question was: ‘What characterises good practice in promoting respect on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment?’


At each school, we had group discussions with:

  • staff (senior leaders, middle leaders and teachers with teaching assistants, respectively)
  • pupils (secondary school pupils as well as Year 5 and Year 6 primary school pupils)

Questionnaires for secondary school pupils complemented the group discussions. Given that we have relied on discussions with school staff and pupils, we cannot be sure whether each school’s approach was supported by parents, which is an important limitation.

The sample is purposive. It consists of 24 state-funded schools that were deemed by informants (Her Majesty’s Inspectors (HMI) across the Ofsted regions and external organisations or associations) to be the most successful at promoting respect across the protected characteristics of sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. We visited:

  • 8 primary schools
  • 14 secondary schools
  • 1 special school
  • 1 all through school

Eleven of the schools had a religious character: 4 Roman Catholic, 3 Church of England, 1 Jewish, 1 Muslim and 1 Sikh.

Given that the findings are based on schools chosen as examples of good practice, they are not likely to be reflective of schools more generally but may provide helpful examples to others. Even within the specially chosen sample, alongside the good practice, we have identified here some areas for improvement.

School culture

Despite the legal underpinning of the Equality Act, we found that staff promoted a culture of respect across the protected characteristics mainly for what they described as moral rather than legal reasons. They intended to improve pupils’ mental health, well-being, safety, academic outcomes and breadth of future career choices, as well as to prepare them for diversity in wider society. They described an inclusive and accepting school culture as a necessary condition for this, with school ethos and/or religious ethos to underpin shared values. The religious schools in our sample gave faith as a reason for promoting respect for pupils and others with different protected characteristics, including sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

The message of acceptance came out strongly in school culture, teaching, extra-curricular activities and pastoral support.

“School culture is everything. With the right culture, you will be able to navigate sensitive subject areas. Culture is supported by policies, procedures and systems. Our staff sign up to a value statement, which commits them to the values but also gets them to agree to behaviours that we expect and those we wouldn’t tolerate.” (Senior leaders in a secondary school)

Even though an accepting ethos provides a solid grounding for successfully promoting respect, it may not be enough to ensure continuing success. Therefore, staff in several schools said they had a culture of continuous improvement to help them meet the evolving needs of pupils and society. In these schools, self-critique was enabled by listening to staff, pupils and parents.

“There is no sense of complacency. We have staff meetings where we challenge ourselves and it isn’t always comfortable. When you look at everyday sexism, everyone thinks it’s done and dusted – and it isn’t. It is a systematic self-challenge. To be an inclusive school is something we hope to be, but never say we are.” (Senior leaders in a primary school)

Teaching across the curriculum

Teaching about matters related to sex and gender stereotypes, sexual orientations and sometimes gender reassignment was often planned and integrated across the curriculum. It was part of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education, religious education (RE), relationships and sex education (RSE), English, languages, science, history, music, art, technology and so on. In schools with a religious character in our sample, teaching about sexual orientation and gender reassignment was often done alongside teaching about faith perspectives.

Different teaching methods were used, such as direct instruction, discussion and debate, research, books, stories and documentaries, workshops, making posters and displays, visiting speakers and role models. Staff and pupils highlighted the importance of learning through discussion and openly asking and responding to questions. Being aware that some pupils were unlikely to do this at home, staff enabled pupils to ask questions. They also saw this as a way of promoting independent thought. Staff were open to honest or difficult conversations with their pupils.

The selection of topics and how they were approached were generally well tailored to pupils’ age and maturity. Research has shown that children become aware of gender stereotypes from a very young age. In view of this, it is positive that some schools began challenging gender stereotypes early. This was done through stories like ‘Prince Cinders’ or ‘Dogs Don’t Do Ballet’, and through using puppets or similar activities. Some schools also felt it was appropriate to introduce the concept of different types of family from the same early age. For example, in a primary school farm, children sometimes had Mr and Mrs Farmer, but also Mr and Mr Farmer or Mrs and Mrs Farmer.

Many pupils and staff commented on the impacts of teaching about these issues. These impacts included:

  • pupils gaining more knowledge – in many schools, later primary school (Years 5 and 6) and secondary school pupils are able to explain the basic terms (straight, gay, bisexual or trans)
  • pupils having broadened views – as a result of knowing more, pupils said they had become more accepting
  • pupils using appropriate and sensitive language
  • pupils having improved behaviour – staff said they very rarely saw incidents of homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying

When pupils were not exposed to these topics, they frequently resorted to learning from social media and the internet, and in some cases from friends and family. Even though the internet holds a range of good-quality resources, it also contains content that is not of a sufficient quality or accuracy, and parents are often unable to control the age-appropriateness of what children are viewing. Therefore, there are inherent risks when pupils use online content or non-expert friends and family as the main sources of information about, for example, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT).

Some pupils who struggled with finding or accepting their identity, or who were not accepted by other pupils, told us that insufficient knowledge had contributed to their low well-being and mental ill-health.

As a result of not learning enough at school, some pupils expressed concern that they ‘would not know how to help someone who came out to feel comfortable in a friendship group’ or admitted that they would struggle with accepting someone with a different sexual orientation or someone who is trans:

“I would definitely need to have a better understanding in order to accept them properly.” (Pupil in a secondary school)

As well as thinking about carefully planning their RSE curriculum, staff in the schools we visited used the established pastoral support systems to provide individual support:

“If you are encouraging pupils to be open and giving the opportunity to ask questions, you need to ensure the appropriate networks are in place. We have created a culture of it being an open school. Various levels of support. All teachers and SLT try to be very approachable and know that the pupils can talk to them.” (Senior leaders in a middle school)

From conversations with pupils in schools, 3 main features emerge as important for individual support:

  • Relationships with teachers should be based on trust:
    • “Most students have a good relationship with the teachers. They can trust them.”
    • “We feel comfortable with heads of year or form tutors. It has to do with the relationship you have with the teacher rather than about their knowledge of sexuality and gender.”
  • Pupils value having a safe or informal space to talk:
    • “We have a personal teacher to talk to and a safe space.”
    • Some pupils also like form time as an outlet for more comfortable group discussions.
  • Having a clear pastoral system in place is important:
    • “… knowing there is someone you can talk to in school.”

Teaching about sex and gender stereotypes

Many schools in our sample worked hard on minimising sex and gender stereotypes through their teaching. Staff saw breaking entrenched and negative social stereotypes as a way of broadening horizons and teaching children that ‘gender should not be an obstacle to anything you can achieve in your life’.

School staff reported that their focus on sex and gender stereotypes is important because of:

  • visible differences in the representation of women and men in organisational leadership and in different academic disciplines or professions
  • an early divergence between boys’ and girls’ career aspirations
  • the acknowledged harmfulness of some sex and gender stereotypes

Schools’ work on sex and gender stereotypes could also help pupils who do not conform to those stereotypes, including some LGBT pupils. For example, it may contribute to reducing homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying if bullying originates from stereotypical notions of boys and girls.

Teachers in most schools reported covering a range of topics in class, such as:

  • male and female roles across societies and time
  • changing sex and gender roles, for example parents choosing to take shared parental leave
  • women’s rights and the women’s suffrage movement
  • important women across academic disciplines and professions
  • domestic violence
  • healthy relationships
  • sexist language

In some schools, pupils were also taught about specifically male mental health problems and peer pressure. This addresses misconceptions, such as that ‘boys don’t cry’, or helps boys avoid harmful stereotypical behaviours dictated by their peer groups.

A middle leader from a primary school described how they challenged stereotypes through a task involving a phone call with a female scientist:

“We asked the children to draw a scientist and it was exactly as you’d expect: an old person with glasses on. So, I questioned them: why did you think that? When you start questioning them, they realise perhaps what they put down is not what they do think. That may be the first image in the head, but when you ask, pennies drop. So, I told them: we are going to have a phone call with a scientist now. Who do you think is going to call us? [And on the other end of the line is…] my cousin, a scientist, a biochemist, a girl.”

The impact on pupils’ knowledge was apparent to teachers and pupils. Interviews with pupils revealed that they were aware of different aspects of past and present inequalities and that they had open-minded attitudes about sex and gender. Staff were aware of what their pupils knew and noticed that they picked up on stereotypes in texts or exercises.

Teaching about different sexual orientations and gender reassignment

Most schools we spoke to taught about LGBT equality in group or whole-school exercises, including lessons, assemblies and guest speakers. Pupils were taught about the importance of respecting all, and not judging people because of sexual orientation or gender reassignment.

In many primary schools in our sample, pupils were introduced to LGBT role models, such as historical or present influential LGBT people. They were taught, in an age-appropriate way, about:

  • different types of family, for example with a mum and dad, 2 mums or 2 dads
  • appropriate language to use to refer to LGBT people
  • bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying

In some primary schools we visited, they were also taught about same-sex marriage and how the law protects people with different characteristics. This was also covered in many secondary schools but with more nuance and detail, in view of pupils’ age.

Secondary school pupils in many of the sampled schools were taught about:

  • the rights of LGBT people across time and societies
  • current national and international issues
  • the Equality Act and EHRC
  • how to accept themselves for who they are
  • how to support and have empathy for pupils with different protected characteristics

Successfully engaging with parents

Following the introduction of mandatory relationships education at primary, and relationships and sex education at secondary, schools are legally required to consult parents in developing and reviewing their policy for these subjects. Through consultation, most schools and parents can work together to build broad consensus and to ensure that the policy meets the need of pupils and parents and reflects the community the school serves.

However, while there are many parents who happily support curriculum choices like the ones described above, and reinforce at home what children learn in school, some do not. Parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit and it is a family’s right to have conservative faith or cultural values. Though, when parents choose to send their children to a state school, and home and school are not aligned on values, pupils sometimes grapple with mixed messages. This can result in confusion, and potential upset.

Staff navigated these issues in different ways, but what linked them all was communication – proactive and reactive. For example, if parents individually expressed dissatisfaction at their child being taught about LGBT matters, staff reported talking to them about exactly what it is they teach at school. This helped dispel misconceptions that parents may have had, although it may not have solved the fundamental disagreement.

To pre-empt misunderstandings, staff in some schools proactively communicated with parents. This is especially important in view of social media, where misinformation can spread quickly. Proactive communication took different forms, such as:

  • transparently presenting the curriculum and school values on the protected characteristics. This may include:
    • sharing policies and the curriculum on the website
    • providing information in booklets
    • signing a home–school agreement to uphold the shared values
  • promoting the values of the school through community events at school or through workshops and drop-ins for parents to inform about the curriculum on LGBT matters

Rather than just inform parents, staff should also engage with them on the changes they plan to implement or – in the words of senior leaders from a secondary school – ‘about values, what they mean and how these feed into the curriculum’.

Faith schools

In all the schools we spoke to, staff said they promoted a respectful and inclusive culture for moral reasons. In addition, staff in the schools with a religious ethos said that their ethos was the reason for acceptance and respect of pupils with different protected characteristics, including sex, sexual orientation and gender reassignment:

“The faith background gives us a common ethos. As a Catholic school, we know what the vision is. There is the outside challenge: family, society, confusion about sexuality and gender. We are made in God’s image and nothing should be stopping any child from getting as far as they possibly can. The ambition for them is there. Any bad behaviour is not accepted. Sexist attitudes – all stamped out.” (Senior leaders in a Roman Catholic school)

“[We] promote the British, school and faith values and monitor closely. Faith-based school is all about being respectful and tolerant. We have an Islamic saying of the week which is all about the holistic view of a child. That helps them to understand whoever is homosexual/trans, it is absolutely fine.” (Teachers in a Muslim school)

The message of acceptance came out strongly through school culture, teaching, extra-curricular activities and pastoral support.

Previous research also suggests that some schools with a religious character have stronger pastoral care systems in place for pupils and place equality at the centre of their ethos because of their religious beliefs. Most of the schools we spoke to used guidance published by their respective religious authorities, for example from the Church of England Education OfficeThe Office of the Chief Rabbi and the Catholic Education Service. In those documents, teaching about and supporting LGBT-related matters are seen as compatible with religious belief and a duty to LGBT inclusion is acknowledged because of religious values, such as acceptance or respect for others.

However, we must acknowledge that there can be tension between the protected characteristics of sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, and religion and belief, and that is a challenge for some schools and/or parents. We visited schools in the state sector for this research, and we are aware that these issues can play out very differently in the relatively small number of independent faith schools we inspect.

Guidance and support for schools and teachers

Most schools we spoke to would like clearer guidance from the DfE and other agencies on how to approach what can be sensitive and difficult subjects. A small number of staff were positive, to an extent, about the freedom they have under the current RSE guidance. They appreciated being ‘given space’ to:

  • ‘choose how to deliver the agenda’
  • teach what they think is age appropriate
  • adapt what they teach

However, the overwhelming majority of schools were asking for much more specific guidance about sexual orientations and gender reassignment, both for schools and for parents:

“Guidance is too woolly – take it out or give us better guidance – [we need] greater clarity over what should be taught by when.” (Middle leaders in a primary school)

There was a lot of confusion around schools’ teaching obligations. This stemmed from:

  • the lack of a detailed central curriculum
  • the grey areas (awareness that primary schools can opt not to teach LGBT issues if they do not deem this age-appropriate and after consultation with parents)
  • perceived contradictions in the information published by the DfE

Leaders were mostly asking for information on what should or should not be taught at each age. Headteachers were left to decide when something should be taught, but some perceived this as a lack of support from DfE.

There was confusion among schools about what the various pieces of guidance required teachers to teach in relation to LGBT matters in particular. Guidance identifies a minimum requirement, but does not contemplate any ceiling on what can be taught at what age, so there can be pressure to go further, potentially causing conflict with some parents.

There is also a scarcity of research that could inform teaching or pastoral support:

“It would be useful to have more research. There is so little out there.” (Middle leader in a primary school)

This was also why staff wanted the DfE and Ofsted to share good practice. They wanted to learn from other schools, similar or different to their own, and would like opportunities for learning discussions.

There is a lot of choice among external training and resource providers, but school leaders are often unsure of their quality or alignment with the law. A headteacher in a secondary school explains that they are:

“… very nervous of other providers. Would love someone to filter this for us instead of finding out the hard way. Someone comes in with completely inappropriate tone. I like the idea of having a national standard… These people crop up and get funding from wherever… emailing schools the whole time. There is a place for people with specific skills who can deliver better than the teachers. Would be nice to have a bank that we can dip into that’s already been vetted.”

Similar issues exist with the wealth of available teaching resources. Given the lack of expertise and training, staff needed help with the selection or adaption of resources for different year groups and would like ‘a pool of quality resources for schools’. A similar message came through in a large-scale study from the DfE.

Many of the above issues were also identified in a National Education Union (NEU) and National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) survey. This showed that the main barriers to teaching compulsory RSE lessons were:

  • lack of teacher confidence in the subject
  • competing workloads
  • the cost of training
  • difficulty in finding high-quality training and quality approved resources
  • lack of clearer guidance


As we have shown in this commentary, many schools we visited were successful in this area and were doing well in fulfilling their legal duties and what they saw as their moral obligation. For those schools that need a bit more support, we hope this report has been a useful starting point.

Source: GOV.UK

New provider hits out at validity of Ofsted inspection done ‘on limited contact time’

A new apprenticeship provider has expressed its “frustrations” with the validity of an Ofsted report that now threatens its ability to recruit.

A new apprenticeship provider has expressed its “frustrations” with the validity of an Ofsted report that now threatens its ability to recruit.

MRG Services UK Limited’s 76 apprentices were found to “not develop substantial new knowledge, skills and behaviours” among a litany of criticisms, in a monitoring report published on Tuesday that resulted in ‘insufficient progress’ judgments in every area.

Inspectors discovered “too many cases” where the apprentices, studying the level 5 operations/departmental manager, level 2 fenestration (glass-fitting), or level 3 and 4 business and teaching standards were “simply deepening their understanding of topics and consolidating existing skills”.

Read more in FEWEEK,

WATCH: High-stakes Ofsted visits ‘have ruined careers’

New NAHT president and former primary head Tim Bowen warns that schools watchdog Ofsted is not ‘fit for purpose’

The new president of a major school leaders’ union has called for an “overhaul” of the current “high-stakes” school inspection system, which he believes has “ruined careers”.

Speaking to Tes shortly after taking up his new role at the NAHT union, former primary headteacher Tim Bowen also warned that Ofsted is not “fit for purpose”, arguing that the watchdog has been unsuccessful in “desperately” seeking a role during the pandemic.

Asked about the best and worst aspects of the existing schools’ system, Mr Bowen, who was previously headteacher of Maple Primary School in St Albans for two decades, said a culture of “high-stakes” accountability has had a “huge” impact on staff wellbeing.

Read more on TES.

Watch NAHT president Tim Bowen answer Tes‘ 10 questions, including his opinions on the best and worst aspects of the current schools’ system, here:

Source: TES

Ofsted’s Chief Inspector at the Festival of Education, 2021

Amanda Spielman gave a speech at the annual Festival of Education conference.

Good afternoon everyone. It’s great to be speaking at the Festival again, if in a rather different format this year. I really do hope this is the first and last time we do this online – not least because I’m missing the sunshine and the lovely setting that we’ve been so spoiled by in recent years.

I first spoke as Chief Inspector at the 2017 Festival. I think I’ve spoken at every one since. I’ve spoken several times in my Ofqual capacity before that so I really welcome and value the forum it gives. But when I spoke in 2017, I’d only recently started in the role, and it was really this speech at Wellington that gave me the chance to set out my stall. So I have only 15 minutes or so to talk to you today, before what I hope will be a gentle grilling by John, so I thought I’d start by looking back at what I said then.

The centrepiece of my 2017 speech was ‘the substance of education’ – the curriculum. It marked the start of a period of reform at Ofsted. We spent the following 2 years working towards a new inspection framework, which we began in 2019.

And of course, as you know, this framework puts a clear focus on the curriculum. It was developed with considerable input from the teaching profession; and I think it’s fair to say it’s been generally well-received.

We know from the feedback we’ve had from inspections and from many other conversations that the profession has welcomed the chance to think about the curriculum afresh.

And you also welcomed the move away from data-focused inspection to a framework that puts less emphasis on exam performance alone.

I would never argue against the life-changing impact of good exam results – and of course all schools and colleges should aim to make the most of every student’s potential. But grades aren’t education in themselves; they should be a mirror of good education – and it’s the education that we want to look at.

I was also determined that inspection should not be predicated on a narrowly utilitarian view of education. We do children a great disservice if we see them only as economic units, with education as the path to work-readiness, important as that is.

Back in 2017, I said that education should be about broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation; about leaving the world a better place than we found it. That’s what I believed then – and that’s what I believe today. It is a formulation that encompasses preparing children for adult life and work, without limiting them.

That core statement about the several purposes of education has been a useful anchor for me. And we all know anchors are most valuable in choppy waters.

In a few weeks’ time, schools and colleges will close their gates for the summer, ending the most wretched year and a half for education in living memory. School and college staff will be regrouping over the summer and preparing for a challenging year ahead.

So much has been said about catch-up – or education recovery, to use the language that sits more comfortably with the sector. Plans were hatched and then scaled back. New ideas are still being floated ahead of the next spending review. But as I’ve consistently said, for most children, most catching up will happen in their usual classroom with their usual teachers.

The magic of teaching – imparting knowledge, developing skills and building confidence – will mostly happen where it always happens. We should not let the pressure to fill learning gaps bend what schools and colleges do out of shape.

Broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation is still exactly what’s needed from our schools.

So when I’m asked how we will inspect in September, I keep those purposes in mind. There are technical answers about methodology, and appropriate answers about meeting schools where they are. But there is also the central truth: we still believe in the substance of education, and that’s what we want to see in action. So the education inspection framework, the EIF, focused on the curriculum, is here to stay.

There are always those who follow the adage: never waste a good crisis. There’s been no shortage of ideas from the clean-slaters and flag-fliers of the education world. The pandemic has opened up discussion about the role of schools in promoting pupil well-being; about how catch-up should be measured and sometimes about the wholesale reinvention of education.

For reformers and would-be reformers, Ofsted is the carrot or the stick (depending on your point of view) that can drive changes in schools. Should we put more weight on well-being and inspect through that lens? Should we judge schools on how well they address disadvantage and seek to effect social change through the inspection process? Should the pressing issue of the day be made a limiting judgement, so that schools have no choice but to give it top priority?

I try hard to avoid reshaping inspection to address each issue as it comes along. The inspection process is already vigorous and robust. Safeguarding is a non-negotiable; personal development is a clear area of focus; behaviour is given the prominence it deserves and leadership and management is of critical importance.

In fact, when it comes to the debate about how Ofsted assesses schools that operate in areas of significant disadvantage, I’m always at pains to stress the importance of the leadership and management judgement.

Where a school struggles with issues that are out of its control – recruitment challenges for instance – it is the leadership and management judgement that marks a school out as having real capacity to improve. Leadership that has the right ideas, demonstrates the right approach and has the courage of its convictions will always be recognised.

So I want to maintain our course, prioritising the substance of education. This approach has real value in many areas needing particular attention at the moment. Like teacher education and development, which are going to be absolutely critical as the sector meets the challenges of this recovery period. Or the education of children with special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND), or of children in alternative provision.

I do firmly believe that the EIF has the flexibility to adjust to current circumstances. And that’s because of its focus on education substance and on the journey, not just the end results. It makes it easier to allow for the struggles that children are having after missing so much. And it also encourages proper thinking about how to reshape the curriculum, rather than just rushing through at breakneck speed to cover everything that was missed but at a superficial level.

I hope too that stability in the EIF gives schools and teachers more certainty at a time when so much has changed.

Schools adapted with speed and resourcefulness to the pandemic. To remote education of course, but also to offering wider community support where it’s been needed. It’s understandable that some people think it’s time to look harder at the part schools play in pupils’ health and happiness.

My view is that for most children, a good school contributes much to their well-being. Good education in orderly classrooms; developing wider interests through sport, music and other extra-curricular activities; building friendships; good pastoral care, with that watchful teacher eye for problems. Well-being isn’t an activity, it’s an outcome. It’s so important that schools return to what they do best, and don’t get knocked off course by the pressure for them to solve every social ill.

And I’m very aware of the irony of my saying this right now. We’ve just published our review of sexual harassment and violence in schools and colleges. That highlighted, once again, the role of schools in setting a culture that will stretch far beyond their gates. But I hope our review also made it abundantly clear that schools and colleges are part of a bigger picture. Schools must be places where abuse and harassment are not tolerated – but the social shift needed to address a problem as widespread and ingrained as this one, cannot be left to schools alone.

So when I talk about schools being knocked off course and being under pressure to resolve societal matters, it’s often not a clear-cut issue, although when the matter directly relates to pupil safety, the relevance and role of schools is clearer.

But there is a newer phenomenon that I think is problematic for schools. And that is activism – or rather a particularly confrontational brand of activism.

Because of course activism has a long and noble history. Activists have shaped society and play a major role in changing the world for the better – most obviously in promoting civil rights and pushing for the kinds of legislation that dramatically improves the lives of whole sections of society.

I’ve just mentioned our sexual abuse review – commissioned by the government in response to the outpouring of personal testimonies on the Everyone’s Invited website. That was activism in action – and nobody can argue about its merits.

What I’m concerned about is not the activism that broadens debate and brings about long-term change but the militant kind of activism that demands immediate adherence to a position. We are seeing these confrontational approaches both outside and inside schools. It’s affecting staff, parents and children and can have a limiting effect on education.

This matters because education does lie at the heart of social change. Education builds understanding and acceptance. The reason section 28 remains powerfully symbolic is that it was perceived as an attempt to remove discussion of homosexuality from the classroom. It looked like an attempt to enforce a moral orthodoxy on education through legislation. And it failed.

The Equality Act is in a way the polar opposite of section 28. Rather than restrict discussion, the Act tells schools what they must teach. On the face of it, this should ensure that children grow up with a diverse and rounded understanding of society.

But moral orthodoxies haven’t gone away. The protected characteristics enshrined in the Equality Act don’t always exist in harmony. And the conflict between them cannot be entirely neutered by legislation. Which brings us back to schools.

It cannot be right for children to have to cross what amount to picket lines outside their school because one group’s religious beliefs – protected by law – sit uncomfortably with teaching about another group’s sexuality – also protected by law.

It cannot be right that the curriculum can be filleted by pressure groups.

And the militant defence of orthodoxies is not confined to adult protests or to the protected characteristics.

We are also seeing more pupil activism in schools, on many fronts. Some of this is about racism, or anti-racism; some is about climate change; some is about issues that are quite remote for most British children, such as the charged and complicated politics of the Middle East.

But in some cases, children and teachers are suffering abuse or even violence simply for being who they are: for being the wrong religion, or race or ethnicity. This is completely unacceptable. And nor should children be all but forced to support a fellow student’s campaign, no matter how compellingly presented, nor feel that they will be ostracised if they do not.

This is a difficult problem for schools. So much effort goes into encouraging young people to understand and think about their democratic rights, which of course include the right to protest and to campaign for what they believe in. But education must come first. And no child should ever feel targeted or marginalised because intolerance has replaced reasoned debate. Schools must continue to be places for all children to be welcomed, to learn and to grow in every sense.

However high feelings run on an issue, the correct response of a school should surely be educational. For some issues, the right approach may be to help children learn about the historical background, so they can understand the tensions at play today. Let’s expose young people to alternative perspectives on complex problems. Let’s give them the tools to make their own political choices, including decisions about the rights and wrongs of world events.

Let’s not have teachers policed by self-appointed ‘moral guardians’ who refuse to tolerate an alternative viewpoint. Or harried on social media into apologising for what they’ve said, or into changing the way they teach, in the face of militant activism.

Social media can enable great humanity, when it rallies around charity or disaster. And it’s a mechanism through which ideas can be shared and debated.

But sadly, it can also be a place of groupthink, intolerance and bullying. It fosters and then feeds off tribalism – whether in politics or in social attitudes. It encourages people to run with their herd, feeling at home in the company of like-minded types.

Education should never fall into the same trap. Campaigners often aim to convince us that in a complex world full of difficult challenges and multi-faceted problems, there are simple solutions. But to educate our children properly, we shouldn’t pretend this is true.

To return to where I started, that’s why substance matters. It’s why teaching a rich and stimulating curriculum matters. And it’s why broadening minds remains our best hope of leaving the world a better place than we found it.

Source: GOV.UK

Tory MP accuses Ofsted of ‘massive failure’ over sexual abuse in schools

Maria Miller issues strong criticism after publication of findings five years on from landmark report on scale of problem in England

The Conservative MP Maria Miller has accused Ofsted of a “massive safeguarding failure” after a report by the schools inspectorate showed that sexual harassment and abuse in schools is so commonplace that pupils don’t bother to report it.

Miller was chair of the Commons women and equalities select committee five years ago when it published a landmark report that exposed for the first time the scale of sexual harassment, abuse and violence, endured primarily by girls, in England’s schools.

“This is not new news,” she said on Twitter, later telling the Guardian that Ofsted should have done more in the interim to ensure that children and young people were listened to and protected from the sexual misconduct revealed so comprehensively in 2016.

Read more in The Guardian


Ofsted’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills Amanda Spielman has had her position confirmed for a further two years.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that Spielman, who first took up the post in 2017, will continue her term until at least 31 December 2023.
Spielman will oversee the resumption of inspections across all settings in her remit expected from September 2021.

The reappointment was confirmed by the Privy Council, following an appointment process conducted in line with the requirements set by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, the Department for Education has said.

Read more at Children & Young People Now

Concerns over impartiality of school abuse review

Concerns have been raised about the impartiality of an Ofsted review into claims of sex abuse in schools.

The government ordered the review after thousands of anonymous allegations of abuse in schools were posted on the Everyone’s Invited website.

But the head of the largest teaching union says education watchdog Ofsted is unable to conduct an impartial review.

However, the Department for Education said Ofsted would ensure a wide range of expertise informed its work.

The mostly anonymous testimonies of abuse and misogyny started emerging mainly from within private schools but thousands of allegations have since been attributed to pupils from state schools and colleges as well.

Ofsted was asked to conduct a review into safeguarding policies and practices on sexual abuse in both state and independent schools in England.

But National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted says the watchdog is not best placed to conduct the review.

“The Department for Education wants an inquiry that it can control, so it overuses Ofsted for a whole manner of inquiries because it has a close relationship with Ofsted and can control the results of that inquiry and the recommendations,” she said.

Read more on BBC News

Ofsted cannot be immune from criticism

Ofsted might currently have the government’s full backing, but as a growing number of influential voices line up to criticise the existing schools accountability system, its position shouldn’t be seen as unassailable, says Melissa Benn…

Whenever I visit a school, one of the first things I do is download its Ofsted report – those few pages of A4 with their brisk summary of achievements and challenges.

Despite my better self, I’m inevitably drawn to those brute headline verdicts of Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate, even though I know how often they fail to give us a true picture of the school in question.

None of this is new. Thoughtful critics of Ofsted have long called out the limitations of remote national inspection and, in the unforgettable words of union leader Mary Bousted, “The toxic accountability regime of Ofsted, an agency at the middle of a spider’s web of inspection, tests and league tables.”

Read more on TeachWire