Today’s news review looks at stories from the weekend and today including pieces on concerns about a group of independent schools, celebrity Melanie Sykes finding a school place for her autistic son and sexual harassment in schools.
Accelerated Christian Education
Today the Independent has run a story on the front page of its online edition about a group of independent schools run by Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). The piece was based on claims made by former pupils that these schools are not providing children with a good education, teachers are poorly trained, textbooks contained homophobic and sexist statements, and concerns that staff haven’t been properly vetted.
Our position is included which makes clear that discrimination of any kind in the classroom is unacceptable and like all other independent schools they must abide by our requirements and are inspected.
Ofsted is also quoted in the story, saying that the Department is the registration authority for all independent schools and has laid down a set of standards that independent schools, including faith schools, are required to meet. Christian Education Europe were also approached and said: “All the schools we serve are inspected by the government inspectorate, Ofsted, and we prepare them to meet the criteria laid down by the Common Inspection Framework.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
We are clear that discrimination of any kind in the classroom is unacceptable. All pupils have a right to a good education which prepares them for life in modern Britain and all schools must promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect for different faiths and beliefs. Schools must also encourage respect for other people, including people who might be of a different sex, race or sexual orientation.
ACE schools, like all other independent schools must abide by these requirements and are inspected against the new, tougher Independent School Standards to make sure they do. We are investigating these claims and if the standards are not being met we will not hesitate to take enforcement action.
This morning BBC Breakfast ran a piece on the danger of drowning The angle of the piece was on how the mother of a man, who drowned whilst swimming outside, was raising awareness of the dangers of this activity. She is calling for more people to be educated about the potential dangers. The package referenced how children need to be educated about this.
The Department absolutely agrees that swimming is an important skill and we continue to support schools in providing lessons. In the recent Budget we announced that, through a sugar tax, we will double the funding for the primary PE and Sport Premium from September 2017, which schools can put towards additional provision for swimming. We expect schools to provide swimming lessons as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.
School places for children with SEND
On Sunday, 5 June, the Sunday Times wrote a piece on SEND and academies, hooked on the case of presenter Melanie Sykes who says she has struggled to find a place for her 11-year-old autistic son who was reportedly asked to leave a mainstream academy.
It is not clear what the reasons were behind this, nor how this relates to his Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. The unnamed academy responded to say it was “heavily oversubscribed” and decisions about places were made by the local authority.
We are clear that where a local authority fails to name a mainstream school, including an academy, of parental preference on a child’s EHC plan, parents can appeal to the First Tier Tribunal about that decision.
A Department for Education spokesperson said:
Every child, regardless of their circumstances, deserves an excellent education that allows them to fulfil their potential. All schools, including academies, are required by law to provide a place to a child with SEND when that school is named on their Education Health and Care (EHC) plan.
Should a school fail to meet this duty, the Department and the Secretary of State can direct them to do so.
We have made fundamental changes to the way the SEND support system works for families, and since then 74,000 young people have been given personalised EHC plans. We have increased funding for children and young people with high needs by over £90 million this year and given councils additional funding to help implement our reforms effectively.
Sexual harassment in schools
On Sunday, 5 June, The Sunday Times reported on claims that sexual harassment among pupils is now “normal” in schools. Schools children in England reportedly told the Women and Equalities Committee that although teachers had a zero tolerance attitude to racist insults they told pupils to “just ignore” sexist abuse. This came as part of a parliamentary inquiry which will take public evidence later this week.
The Government is absolutely clear that no young person should be made to feel unsafe of suffer harassment in any circumstance and we know teachers are already doing great work in making sure pupils are aware of the issues and that they are responding well to incidents.
The Sunday Express, on 5 June, ran a story on The Only Way is Essex stars mother and daughter Debbie Douglas and Lydia Bright opening their home to over 250 foster children in the last 23 years. The pair share their experiences of fostering and talk about the how worthwhile it has been. Debbie and Lydia are both fostering ambassadors for the Department for Education.
Watch our video of TACT ambassador, care leaver, and spoken word artist and musician Solomon O.B sharing his experiences growing up in foster care with siblings.
Child abuse campaign
The Mirror ran a piece from its columnist Fiona Phillips on Saturday, 4 June, about child abuse. She says people shouldn’t turn a blind eye to harassment where they think they see it. She recounts an incident in which she saw a mother slapping the legs of a child in a supermarket. She intervened but was told to ‘go away and mind her own business’, which she did. She explains that she now looks back on that incident with regret, particularly in light of the recent case of Liam Fee, who was abused and killed by his parents. She cites the Department saying that people, particularly those who are well placed to observe concerns like teachers, GPs and social workers, should not feel shy of reporting. The piece includes a link to the child abuse reporting portal which makes clear how and what to report.
Watch this video to find out more about our campaign: Together We Can Tackle Child Abuse.