Minister’s defence of commitments fails to convince

Lord Avebury, ACERT president, has received a response from Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister to the letter he wrote on July 2nd expressing concern about Ofsted’s response to two of the commitments of the Ministerial Working Group.

While the minister claims to be “strongly committed to tackling the inequalities experienced by pupils from these communities”, the letter suggests there will be no changes in Ofsted practice; “[w]here an inspection discovers that particular groups of pupils are not making good progress, Ofsted will take this seriously and investigate fully.” The minister assures Lord Avebury that the changes to the inspection framework (which downgraded Gypsies, Roma and Travellers to a footnote) do not represent a weakening of Ofsted’s commitment. Even if this is the case, the Ministerial Working Group Commitments aim to reduce inequality not maintain the status quo. There are many ways in which Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils can fall through this net; isolated learners, children moving between schools, those who do not choose to identify themselves to the Gypsy/Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage ethnic categories so ACERT expected positive action, focused inspections and better training of the inspectorate. Ofsted is carrying out its legal duties under the Equalities Act and no more, and the Government feels that that is sufficient.

Lord Avebury’s letter pointed out that Ofsted had also failed to highlight the problem of racist-bullying experienced by many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in its thematic review “No place for bullying.” This figured in Commitment 5 of the progress report. The Minister again offered the assurance that “the recommendations made in the document apply to all vulnerable pupils, including Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.” Again, no specific focus or positive action.

The Minister concludes by acknowledging that the Government has limited control over what Ofsted says and does, and encourages Avebury to write directly to the Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw. The inspectorate is, rightly, independent of Government (with some notable exceptions) but the question then arises, should the Ministerial Working Group be making Commitments on its behalf. Was there any consultation, we wonder, with Ofsted before the commitments were made, or is the progress report a paper-thin cosmetic exercise which is beginning to fall apart?

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