An independent report, conducted by the University of Wolverhampton, highlights serious concerns about potential inequality for minority faith schools in the UK and has concluded that Roman Catholic (RC) and Church of England (CofE) schools seem to enjoy additional protection via a Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) agreed with the Department for Education (DfE) and benefit from an extra level of support that is not available to other faith schools and academies.
Commissioned to independently and fairly investigate two Termination Notices delivered to Sikh faith schools from September 2017 to August 2020, the report raises concerns about the protection afforded to only RC and CofE schools by these MoU and the transparency of the rebrokerage process. Re-brokerage is a term used where an Academy Trust is asked by the Regional School Commissioners (RSC), who act on behalf of the DfE on a regional basis, to transfer one, some or all of its academies to a different Academy Trust.
The MoU, both agreed in 2016, requires a high level of cooperation between the DfE and RC Dioceses, and between the DfE and the CofE. The DfE is expected to share information with the Dioceses at the earliest opportunity about concerns regarding underperforming schools and seek consent from the Dioceses before taking action on converting to academy status, intervention, re-brokerage or issuing termination notices or warnings.
However, no such Memorandum of Understanding exists between the DfE and minority faith bodies, therefore there is no such expectation on the DfE to share information, nor to seek the consent of faith representatives before decisions to convert or re-broker schools rated as Inadequate through Ofsted.
Critically, the report raised a need both for greater clarity and an enhanced understanding of the seeming lack of equality for all schools whose Trusts do not have an MoU with the DfE.
The report examined the frequency of Termination Notices handed to Sikh schools in comparison to those schools with an MoU in place. Only two Termination Notices were issued to Inadequate rated faith academies (out of 135) in the period September 2017 – August 2020. These Termination Notices were both issued to Sikh schools. No other termination notices were sent to any other faith academies in this same period and of the 45 Catholic schools rated inadequate, none were re-brokered.
The report goes into significant detail comparing actions taken by the Regional School Commissioners between the treatment of a Sikh school (Khalsa Secondary Academy - KSA) and a similarly rated Roman Catholic school who were graded as inadequate by Ofsted within a six-week period.
The report examined a lack of consistency in the level of Notice sent to schools and academies following an Inadequate grading. It revealed that the Roman Catholic school was only given the lowest warning despite failing to make progress over 26 months. Whereas the Sikh school was given a Termination Notice less than 4 months after receiving a Termination Warning Notice, despite a remote Ofsted section 8 monitoring visit that found no significant concerns.
Finally, the report raises concerns around the re-brokerage process. The report revealed that there is very little evidence to support the DfE’s assumption that re-brokerage is effective in raising standards, and what research exists appears inconclusive.
Non-Christian faith schools are increasing in the UK but at the moment remain very much in the minority; combined, they comprise less than 1% of all state-funded mainstream schools. The report looked in particular at a number of Sikh schools which are standing as examples of potentially unequal practice: they (like all minority faith schools) have no MoU to potentially support them in access to early interventions, communication and cooperation with the DfE. This report argues for greater clarity in the procedures of the Regional Schools Commissioners, particularly of the criteria used to re-broker schools. In the light of the discussion on the levels of security enjoyed by Church schools through their Memoranda of Understanding, the report also calls for greater understanding of the seeming lack of equality for all schools whose Trusts do not have such an MoU with the DfE, and whether these MoU affect decisions made in children’s interests.