Council pressures DfE and Ofsted to take action over ‘inadequate education’ for 350 Luton schoolchildren

Rabia Girls' School, Portland Road
Rabia Girls' School, Portland Road

Around 350 children in Luton are getting a “totally inadequate education”, it has been claimed.

The situation is unacceptable because it is “their one chance in life”, Labour Farley councillor Mahmood Hussain told the borough council’s children services review group.

These pupils attend independent schools in the town which have received unfavourable reports from Ofsted inspectors, the meeting heard.

Of the eight independent schools in the town, five were rated inadequate or requires improvement following their most recent Ofsted inspections. One of these, the Luton Pentecostal Church Christian Academy, has just been inspected again last week, but has yet to hear a decision.

A report to the review group showed the most recent Ofsted outcomes for independent schools in Luton:

Al-Hikmah/Bury Park Educational Institute – requires improvement (September 2015)

Mehria School – requires improvement (February 2018)

Luton Pentecostal Church Christian Academy – inadequate (October 2016)

Olive Tree Primary School – inadequate (May 2017)

Rabia Girls’ School – inadequate (January 2018)

Oakwood Primary School, King’s House School and Jamiatul Uloom Al – Islamia were all rated good on their most recent inspections.

The council’s senior school improvement adviser, Caroline Dawes said: “We still have some concerns obviously about the schools which are inadequate, particularly around safeguarding which is the duty the local authority has.

“We are in contact regularly with the Department for Education (DfE) around any concerns we have in relation to independent schools for the DfE to commission as it sees fit an inspection by Ofsted.

“Two of our inadequate schools currently have restriction orders in place, which means they are unable to admit any new pupils, including any at the beginning of the academic year. One school, Rabia Girls’ School, is appealing that restriction notice, so until that appeal is heard they are able to accept new pupils.”

Councillor Hussain reminded the review group: “We did ask a civil servant to come and give you the evidence, for all the help that he was.

“Remember, it’s all minuted, rather than him telling us what he can do for us, he was asking us what we could do for him. We are asking the government, as I am totally dissatisfied, I keep reminding them, the Secretary of State as well as the minister for children Nadhim Zahawi, that there are children in Luton getting a totally inadequate education.

“And you and your department between yourselves and the Ofsted is doing absolutely nothing.

“We have no legal powers at all and you’re not prepared to give us the legal powers either,” said councillor Hussain.

“I think 350 children in this town are getting a totally inadequate education.

“To me neither this committee or we as elected members should accept that, because the children do get only one chance in life.

“So I would say to yourselves whether we remind the civil servant, I am not sure if he’s still with the DfE or not, but a letter could go from yourselves.

“I have done it as much as I can. Let’s continue to remind whoever turns up, the minister or otherwise, that this is not acceptable at all,” he added.

“If this was a maintained school, a free school or an academy we could ask the regional commissioner to do something.

“But in this case there is absolutely nothing that can be done.”

Liberal Democrat Stopsley councillor Meryl Dolling said: “We appear to be powerless to actually do anything other than review from the sideline.”

The senior school improvement adviser responded “with full support for the sentiments of councillor Hussain”.

“As a consequence of that meeting with Steve Bishop, from the DfE, who is its lead for independent schools, we recognise the role the DfE and Ofsted play and are holding them to account around performing that role,” she said.

“We regularly send notes of concern to the DfE, in relation to the independent schools, based on local intelligence or on a no change situation since their last Ofsted.

“We’ve articulated to the department that we feel there should be intervention by the regulator to keep children safe, as is our duty.

“Whether it’s as a consequence from that information going from the local authority to the DfE, or if it’s just a coincidence, very soon after receiving those notes of concern those schools are visited by Ofsted and inspected.

“We are pushing things back to the DfE on a regular basis with a clear articulation that we expect them to intervene as the regulator, and they are doing that.

“I would like to think because of our push back the restriction orders are now in place, so we keep pushing back to the DfE,” she added.

“We have no jurisidiction in independent schools because we have no resource, other than jurisdiction around safeguarding.

“I think it’s about holding the DfE to account around that. The issue we are trying to improve is around communication with the DFE.

“This is because they haven’t informed us of any restriction notice they have put in place and we are saying we would like to know.”

Asked about whether parents could be kept informed, she said: “The school has got an obligaton to inform parents of their Ofsted outcome.

“We don’t write to parents of independent schools.

“If an alternative provider wants to expand its remit we are consultated on that,” she added.

“The challenge is where a private business opens up as a school, with possibly the best intentions of supporting children, but there’s a process they need to go through.

“We haven’t picked up any particular appetite around expanding these schools, or for any further independent schools to arise in this centre.”

Councillor Dolling, who chairs the review board, asked if any independent schools closed down would it be possible to relocate all the pupils.

“We have the registers from those schools, as part of our safeguarding duty around children missing education and coming off the rolls,” the adviser replied.

“So we know where they live and which schools would be their closest in their catchment area.

“We have done that exercise this summer mitigating the risk against them not opening.

“So, yes, we would be able to accommodate those children partly because of the small numbers and they are over the range of age groups.”

The review board is to consider inviting the head teachers of the independent schools to a future meeting, although there is no statutory obligation for them to attend.