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Education in the media: Monday 13 November 2017

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Today’s Education in the Media blog looks at reporting on the Education Fellowship Trust, and the Hasmonean school.

Education Fellowship Trust

On Monday, 13 November, The Times ran a piece on the Education Fellowship Trust (EFT), focusing on it still running schools eight months after agreeing to find new sponsors for them due to issues with performance.

The EFT runs 12 schools, five of which have been rated as inadequate by Ofsted. As a result, the Department is working closely with the trust to re-broker its schools while keeping disruption to a minimum for pupils – something the article makes clear.

What the article doesn’t make clear are the other steps the department is taking to keep oversight of the trust during this interim period.

For instance, the department issued the EFT with a Financial Notice to Improve in August 2016 and the notice will be in place until we are satisfied that the trust has taken effective action to address our concerns. The notice clearly outlines the steps the trust must take in order for it to be lifted, which include commissioning an independent review of financial management and governance across the trust to improve the level of financial oversight within the trust and to strengthen the trust’s financial management and governance arrangements.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Every pupil deserves an excellent education, and academy trusts operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability, allowing us to take action to effectively deal with under-performance.

Our priority is to ensure that all children receive the best possible education and we are working closely with the Education Fellowship Trust to ensure disruption for pupils is kept to a minimum. This includes securing additional specialist capacity to support the trust with the transfer process.

Hasmonean schools

Also on Monday, 13 November, The Independent published a piece on the Hasmonean High School, a Jewish orthodox school in Barnet which is planning to split into two single-sex schools.

The piece suggests that this move is a response to the Court of Appeal upholding Ofsted’s case against the Al Hijrah school in Birmingham, which unlawfully segregated pupils based on gender. The piece claims the ruling has created a new law and that Hasmonean’s plans are an attempt to circumvent this law.

There are a number of inaccuracies in this piece. Firstly, there is no new law as it suggests – the ruling by the Court of Appeals on Al Hijrah was to uphold rules on the levels of gender segregation in schools, to make sure that children do not learn less in segregated lessons than children of another gender. This fits in with the department’s long-standing position that mixed schools should only separate children by gender in very limited circumstances where this can be justified and they can demonstrate that no pupil is disadvantaged by virtue of their gender. The judgement against Al Hijrah school reinforced this position.

Secondly, there is no way a school would be able to circumvent any laws on equality. Whether the Hasmoean school, or any other school in question, were to split into two single-sex schools or not, they are still subject to the same rigorous oversight as all other schools meaning that all pupils must be taught a broad and balanced curriculum and cannot be disadvantaged just because of their gender.

Single sex schools are completely permissible and are subject to Ofsted inspections in the same way as all other schools. They must also comply with equalities law – just like all other schools. If a single sex school was found to be substandard or not teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, action would be taken.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

All new or existing schools, whether they are single sex schools or mixed, must comply with the law and under no circumstances would they be able to circumvent this. It is primarily for individual schools to consider what action they need to take to do this. All schools are also held to account by Ofsted to ensure they are delivering a broad and balanced curriculum.

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