OFSTED’s top boss has criticised Bradford Council for not getting a grip on illegal schools that could be operating in the city as he hauled authority staff into a crisis meeting.
Sir Michael Wilshaw asked Bradford Council staff if they are being ‘naive’ when it comes to understanding how children are being educated, and asked for evidence on what ‘intelligence’ they’ve gathered on unregistered schools.
However leader of Bradford Council David Green has furiously hit back and said the authority is doing everything they can to ensure children are safe, and said he will “throw the books open” to inspectors so they can check they are operating correctly.
The meeting’s agenda, seen by The Yorkshire Post, also included discussions on standards, the Prevent counter extremism strategy and the levels of children missing from education.
Naz Shah MP, who attended the meeting, said the council were in “denial” over the city’s school system.
Ms Shah said: “Mr Wilshaw called it naivety. I feel that would be a nice way to put it. I would say that there’s some denial here.”
Mr Wilshaw said in December that standards were so bad in the local education system that he called for an inquiry.
However his focus on rooting out badly managed supplementary schools and spotting illegal schools has led to three specific meetings in Birmingham, Luton and Bradford.
Supplementary schools offer several hours of teaching within places of worship, but others are conducted in people’s homes.
Illegal schools are those where a group of young people are being taught in an unregistered premises, potentially with unqualified teachers.
Councillor Green said: “At the meeting with Michael Wilshaw we were asked about whether there were any unregistered and illegal schools in Bradford. Our response was that we are not aware of any.
“We have agreed with Ofsted and their inspectors is that there were questions about whether we were getting information and intelligence, and acting on that intelligence and I said we are more than happy for their inspectors to come in and look at that.
“We will throw the books open so they can assess the actions that we take, rather than simply making a bold statement about what Bradford is doing.
“Having seen that information and evidence, if they feel there are any shortcomings in our processes we will act on their advice.”
While he admitted the authority does have problems assessing independent schools - either faith schools or non-religious, he said they have also been praised by Ofsted in the past for their commitment to improvement.
He said they also hold regular meetings with police on vulnerable children, and a former HM Inspector is employed by the council scrutinises the environment of children who are being home educated.
Around 500 children are home schooled across the city, split 50/50 between the white and Asian population.
He said: “Ofsted are concerned that there is a tendency for groups of parents to get together to jointly educate their children in an establishment or somebody’s house, and that would be an illegal and unregistered school - and we are not aware of that happening and we explained the processes we go through in terms of checking.
“I am not naive or in denial, I am concerned about it. We need to be clear that Bradford in terms of education and child safeguarding has got real challenges, and we are tackling this issue.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “In our annual report we identified Bradford as a city where standards have been low for many years across both primary and secondary schools.
“On Tuesday, HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted Chief Operating Officer Matthew Coffey, and Ofsted North East, Yorkshire and Humber Director Nick Hudson visited Bradford to meet political and school leaders to discuss educational under-performance and unregistered schools.
“Sir Michael regularly meets political and school leaders around the country.”