27 May 2016
The Government's schools' inspector Ofsted has been a prominent and influential feature of the educational scene for several years. All state schools are liable to be visited and judged by Ofsted, even though some can expect to be seen infrequently these days. Less well known is the separate inspection regime for Church of England and Methodist schools. The catchily titled 'Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools' (SIAMS) system makes sure that faith schools are of genuinely religious character and provide their students with an education of a spiritual, as well as a moral, nature. In some ways the SIAMS regime is similar to Ofsted, though not so intense. There is an inspector observing lessons and interviewing staff, students and parents and schools end up being awarded an Ofsted style grade.
Wren had its SIAMS inspection last week. I am not allowed to tell you the outcome yet - please watch the website for further news. I can however say a little about the inspection regime. I can understand that someone needs to keep an eye on church schools. They are in some ways essentially different from other schools and educating young people about faith is a sensitive business. If a school is getting this wrong, either through dogma or more likely through error, then this needs to be identified and rectified. A external visitor may be best placed to offer the appropriate guidance. I do however have some reservations about a church school being judged in an Ofsted style manner.
It seems to me that what makes a good church school different from a good secular school has to be about the presence of overt spirituality and the depth of the students' understanding of Christian religious practice. It is not about morals and the quality of relationships. Whilst these things should of course be nurtured, you would expect to see them celebrated in any good school. Nor is being a good faith school about the quality of lessons, important though this is; again, any good school should be teaching good lessons. I reckon that faith schools should display particular features which would not be found in a secular environment and it is these that should be most commented on by the SIAMS inspector.
This of course is where the complications begin. It is reasonably straightforward to comment upon the frequency of collective acts of worship or the presence of Anglican liturgy within them. It is much more difficult to make a judgement on how spiritual a place is and whether the spirituality forms a significant part of student and staff thinking and actions. Indeed I wonder whether the very word 'inspect' is the most appropriate for the kind of activity I am writing about.
So, perhaps a flawed if necessary 'inspection' system, certainly one that is complex and needs to reach its judgements in a wise and considered way. We will let you know how Wren got on as soon as we can.
Posted at 10:40 on 27 May 2016