A BRADFORD councillor has accused the schools watchdog Ofsted of coming “closer and closer to singling out and demonising” Muslims, following the organisation’s campaign to root out unregistered private schools.
Earlier this month, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw criticised the council for not getting a grip on illegal schools that could be operating in the city, and hauled authority staff into a crisis meeting.
Sir Michael acted after his inspectors found evidence of three establishments in Birmingham teaching a “narrow, Islam focused curriculum” and in one case, operating in filthy conditions.
He visited Bradford to question council officials on what they were doing to check that home-schooled children were not being taught and potentially radicalised in illegal schools.
But at a council meeting last night, Coun Simon Cooke, leader of the opposition Conservative group, said Ofsted was “running closer and closer to singling out and demonising religious minorities” in a speech which drew applause from across the council chamber.
Coun Cooke said it was right and proper that social workers checked home schooling arrangements to make sure children were being well cared for and educated properly.
And he said given the recent events in Brussels, he was also mindful of the danger of radicalisation.
But he said: “I do not think home schooling is what causes people to put bombs onto themselves and walk into an airport, and I do not think we should allow Ofsted to get away with this subtext about radicalisation.”
Council leader David Green said the authority went “above and beyond” the welfare checks it was required to do on home-schooled children.
But he said there were limits to the checks its social workers could make, saying parents could legally refuse to let them into their homes.
Of the 333 home educated children in the district, 94 per cent have been visited by council staff, but access to the remaining six per cent has been refused.
Coun Green said he wanted the council to lobby the Government to review this policy.
The debate was prompted by a motion put forward by the Liberal Democrat group.
Its leader, Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, said she had wanted to find out whether illegal schools were an issue in Bradford and to investigate claims that the Labour administration were complacent about the issue.
On whether the district had a problem with illegal schools, she said: “It doesn’t look like we have and it does look like an agenda being driven centrally.”
An amended motion, put forward by the Labour group, was voted through unanimously.
It called on council chief executive Kersten England to write to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan calling for national policy to be reviewed so local authorities and partner agencies get more support when trying to check on home-schooled children.
Bradford West MP Naz Shah MP said previously that the council was in “denial” over the city’s school system.
She 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.”