Chief schools inspector accuses critics of creating a 'smokescreen' over investigations into homophobic bullying

Exclusive: Sir Michael has come under fire from parents who claim inspectors have been asking primary aged pupils questions such as 'do you know anybody in the school who is gay'

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The Independent Online

Chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw today hits back in the row over inspectors’ investigations into homophobic bullying - accusing critics of creating a “smokescreen for their own palpable weaknesses of leadership and management”.

Sir Michael, chief executive of Ofsted, has come under fire from staff and parents at a handful of predominantly Christian schools  who claim inspectors have asked “inappropriate” questions of pupils to determine whether there was homophobic bullying. These questions allegedly include asking primary aged pupils: “Do you know anybody in the school who is gay?”.

Writing in The Independent today, Sir Michael says his inspectors “absolutely understand the need to behave with sensitivity and integrity when talking to young people”.

“Inspectors had to couch their questions using age-appropriate language that the children would understand to get to the heart of what was happening - and, crucially, to determine what the schools were doing about it,” he adds.

“The idea that this constitutes harassment of unsuspecting ten-year-olds or a sinister attempt to force a particular metro-liberal, politically correct orthodoxy on the nation’s schools is simply wrong.”

In a clear riposte to sections of the media, he says anyone wading through some of “more lurid” press reports “would be forgiven for thinking Ofsted is rampaging through the education system on an aggressively secular mission to tear up the fabric of England’s proud faith school tradition”.

Sir Michael is adamant his investigation has cleared inspectors of asking inappropriate questions and insists any inspector found guilty of doing so would face “serious” consequences.

The two schools at the centre of the row  - Durham Free School and Grindon Hall in Sunderland, both Christian schools - were failed by inspectors for failing to show respect to people of other faiths and instances of homophobic bullying. 

Their Ofsted reports also criticised standards of teaching at the school.

In the Durham case, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has withdrawn its funding so it closes at Easter - a decision which lawyers representing the school claim show she is “tainted with bias” over the school.

It was the allegations of homophobic bullying and religious intolerance, however, that most angered parents at the two schools - and have led to Durham Free School seeking a judicial review of the decision to withdraw funding plus lodging an official complaint with Ofsted about the conduct of the inspection.

The inspectors’ verdicts follow the Government’s decision to order Ofsted to ensure that all schools teach “British values” - which include tolerance for all faiths as a necessity to prepare  pupils for life in modern Britain.

In other cases, though, Muslim schools have been criticised for failing to teach pupils to respect other religions.  Five private schools in Tower Hamlets, east London, were recently all declared “failing” by Ofsted as a result.

In addition, the “Trojan Horse” affair in Birmingham - in which a letter purported to show evidence of a concerted campaign by hard-line Islamists to take over the running of city schools - led to a further five (this time state schools) being failed by Ofsted. 

The new edict urging inspectors to keep an eye out for “British values” being taught in schools is likely to mean there will be further cases where  schools are criticised for failing to teach them. However, Ofsted says the vast majority of faith schools should have nothing to fear from the new edict.