Minister asks Ofsted to inspect college over ‘pupil identifying as cat’ incident

Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch said the incident ‘raises issues about safeguarding at the school’.

Aine Fox
Friday 23 June 2023 14:34 BST
Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has written to Ofsted requesting that it inspect Rye College in East Sussex following the incident (David Jones/PA)
Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has written to Ofsted requesting that it inspect Rye College in East Sussex following the incident (David Jones/PA)

A snap inspection should be carried out at a college where a teacher was reportedly recorded telling a pupil she was “despicable” for refusing to accept her classmate identified as a cat, a minister has said.

Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has written to the schools watchdog Ofsted requesting that it inspect Rye College in East Sussex following the incident.

In a statement this week, the school said none of its pupils “identify as a cat or any other animal”, and a school leaders union warned there must be a “sense of proportion”, accusing the minister of unnecessarily getting involved and “grandstanding”.

This is following the widely circulated recording of a teacher acting inappropriately regarding her pupils’ beliefs about sex, gender and a fellow pupil who claimed to identify as a cat, which in my view raises issues about safeguarding at the school

Letter from Kemi Badenoch to Ofsted

But in her letter to Ofsted, Ms Badenoch said that the “widely circulated recording of a teacher acting inappropriately regarding her pupils’ beliefs about sex, gender and a fellow pupil who claimed to identify as a cat” in the minister’s view “raises issues about safeguarding at the school”.

Ms Badenoch said she believes the teacher in question “was not acting in a way consistent with the Equality Act’s requirements upon schools, nor in accordance with Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework’s requirements to promote respect for the different protected characteristics as defined in law”.

The minister added that “by apparently teaching contested political beliefs as fact – including that there are ‘lots of genders’ or that ‘gender is not linked to the parts that you were born with’ – beliefs which are both politically controversial and have no scientific basis – it appears to me that the teacher was in breach of the political impartiality requirements set out in Articles 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996”.

Ms Badenoch said she expected Ofsted to “carefully consider” the snap inspection request and “trust that you will see the importance, both for this school and the integrity of the school system more broadly, in carrying one out”.

Ofsted confirmed it is considering the letter but had no further comment when approached on Friday.

Earlier this week the House of Commons heard Education Secretary Gillian Keegan had “launched an investigation” in response, with MPs also raising concerns in Parliament.

Now we have politicians, including the Minister for Women and Equalities, weighing in over this matter in a manner that is unnecessary, unhelpful and smacks of grandstanding

Geoff Barton, ASCL general secretary

The college said on Thursday that it had met with the Department for Education to “share a comprehensive update on the events which took place before, during and after the recording” and that it can confirm “no children at Rye College identify as a cat or any other animal”.

It has said it would “as always, fully support and engage with the process” should an inspection go ahead.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There is a need for a sense of proportion here.

“This involves an incident at one school in which the trust has already met with the Department for Education to share an update on the events that took place, and the school has said that no pupils identify as a cat or any other animal.

“Now we have politicians, including the Minister for Women and Equalities, weighing in over this matter in a manner that is unnecessary, unhelpful and smacks of grandstanding.”

He urged the Government to urgently publish long-awaited guidance over matters affecting transgender pupils, warning that it is of the “utmost importance that this guidance – which we believe to be imminent – is genuinely helpful and supportive to schools and pupils, and that it is not intolerant and burdensome”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, warned against “inappropriate interventions” from ministers.

He said: “Ms Badenoch has a duty of care to weigh her words carefully to ensure the wellbeing of pupils, teachers and school leaders.

“The very last thing that school leaders need is ministers from other departments interfering in the work of schools.

“Due process and the principles of good government are the very least that the sector should expect – not inappropriate interventions fuelled by reports that have now been significantly discredited.”

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