Ofsted chief: 'Self-appointed moral guardians policing teachers' views

Ofsted chief says ‘self-appointed moral guardians are policing teachers’ views and harrying them on social media’ in stark warning about ‘militant activists’ limiting children’s education

  • Amanda Spielman said schools are facing a ‘confrontational brand of activism’ 
  • She said children should not be ‘forced to support a fellow student’s campaign 
  • Her comments come after protests were held outside Batley Grammar School in March after teacher showed Year 9 pupils caricature of the Prophet Mohammed 
  • In 2019, primary schools in Birmingham faced protests from parents who opposed allowing children to be taught about existence of LGBT+ relationships

Teachers views are being policed by ‘self-appointed moral guardians who harry them on social media,’ England’s chief schools inspector has said in a stark warning about ‘militant activists’ limiting children’s education.  

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman said schools are facing a new ‘confrontational brand of activism’, and insisted that it was ‘unacceptable’ that some pupils and teachers are suffering abuse and violence ‘simply for being who they are’ amid a rise in activism both inside and outside schools.

Children should not 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’, she said in a speech to the Festival of Education.

Teachers views are being policed by ‘self-appointed moral guardians who harry them on social media,’ England’s chief schools inspector has said in a stark warning about ‘militant activists’ limiting children’s education. Pictured: Protesters give a statement to members of the media outside Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire

‘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.’

The chief inspector added: ‘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.’

Her comments come after protests were held outside Batley Grammar School in March after a teacher showed Year 9 pupils a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed during a Religious Studies (RS) lesson.

In 2019, some primary schools in Birmingham faced protests at the school gates from parents who opposed allowing children to be taught about the existence of LGBT+ relationships.

A motion passed at the National Education Union’s (NEU) conference in April called for support for staff and pupils who face protests against teaching age-appropriate Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman (pictured) has said schools are facing a new ‘confrontational brand of activism’, and insisted that it was ‘unacceptable’ that some pupils and teachers are suffering abuse and violence ‘simply for being who they are’ amid a rise in activism both inside and outside schools

Addressing sector leaders on Thursday, Ms Spielman said: ‘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.’

The Ofsted chief said a new ‘confrontational brand of activism’ was ‘problematic’ for schools.

The Batley Grammar School teacher sparked fury by allegedly showing pupils cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a RE lesson. Pictured: Protesters outside the school in March 

During the speech, she said: ‘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 is affecting staff, parents and children and can have a limiting effect on education.’

Last week, the MailOnline reported that a teacher who was suspended after showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to pupils during an RE lesson is refusing to return to work over fears for his life – despite being cleared of causing deliberate offence and told that he could have his job back.

As of June 18, he remained in hiding with his family and has permanently left the housing association property they shared near Batley.

The family have been rehoused at a secret location with not even close relatives being informed about where it is.

Two other members of staff who were also suspended by officials at Batley Grammar School, West Yorkshire have refused to return to the classroom after being reinstated, citing similar concerns that they could be attacked.

The teacher, who is not being named, was head of Batley Grammar School’s RE department but remains in hiding with his family following furious protests in March. Pictured: Protests outside Batley in March

It has resulted in the entire RE department, which was made up of the three teachers, being replaced by supply staff.

The teacher who kick-started the row and his two colleagues remain on full pay although it is not known how long this will continue for as their suspensions have been lifted.

They are being supported by the National Education Union (NEU), which is liaising with school officials in an attempt to resolve the stalemate.

A source close to the teacher, who was head of RE at Batley Grammar School, told MailOnline that he had not ruled out the possibility of legal action if he is unable to reach a settlement with the school so that he can move on with his career and personal life. 

‘On paper, he’s got his job back but returning to the school is not a possibility,’ the source said. ‘An inquiry might have cleared him, but it doesn’t mean a thing because he doesn’t feel safe teaching there and genuinely fears that he could be killed.

‘His two colleagues feel exactly the same. The matter needs to be resolved so that they can have a decent future but if we don’t get to that point soon, legal action is not out of the question.’ 

The teacher’s former home is currently undergoing repair work for new tenants.

Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, where protests took place in March

A neighbour told MailOnline: ‘A few weeks ago a removal van came and took all their stuff. I saw the teacher’s sister and she told me that the family won’t be coming back.

‘The last contact I had with him was last month when he sent us Eid cards and presents through his sister.

‘But I’ve not been able to speak with him or his partner because they’ve had to change their mobile phone numbers and they’re not allowed to contact us.’

The teacher was suspended in March for showing pupils a drawing taken from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a religious studies classes at Batley grammar school, provoking complaints from parents and protests outside the school’s gates.

A report published last month by the Batley Academy Trust, which runs the school, found that although it was not necessary for the teacher to use the material in question, they ‘genuinely believed’ using the image had educational purposes and did not mean to cause offence.

But it added: ‘Nevertheless, the Trust recognises that using the image did cause deep offence to a number of students, parents and members of our school community.’

It ruled that the teacher’s suspension and the suspension of his two colleague should be lifted and they should be allowed to return to the classroom.

The Trust refused to comment on the reasons why they have not yet resumed their teaching duties. 

On March 24, the teacher was suspended and the school accompanied its unreserved apology with the announcement of an independent panel to investigate. Pictured: Protestors outside the school 

In a statement, it said: ‘The findings are clear, that the teaching staff involved did not use the resource with the intention of causing offence, and that the topics covered by the lesson could have been effectively addressed in other ways.

‘In the light of those conclusions, the suspensions put in place while the investigation was underway will now be lifted.’

A spokesperson for the NEU said: ‘Personal employment details of individual members are not something for the NEU to discuss publicly, and we believe that our members want, need and deserve privacy.

‘We are continuing to support all our members at the school, and we have worked to ensure fairness and the best outcomes in the workplace for all going forward.’

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