Confusion reigns at St Benedict’s Catholic School after Ofsted accuses Bury St Edmunds school of not promoting ‘British values’

Hugh O'Neill, headteacher of St Benedict's School, Bury St Edmunds.

Hugh O'Neill, headteacher of St Benedict's School, Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Contributed

Ofsted have piled on the confusion at St Benedict’s Catholic School after they made “disturbing” claims that it is failing to promote ‘British values’.

The Bury St Edmunds secondary school was included on a list of 11 schools accused of “not teaching respect” for multiple faiths and not promoting “awareness and tolerance”.

A controversial Ofsted report making the same accusations was repealed in October, and republished after all the references to “radicalisation” and “extremism” were removed.

Headteacher Hugh O’Neill said he was “shocked” when he found out, after the Catholic Education Service (CES) demanded an apology for the “unsubstantiated claims” from Ofsted.

He said: “This caps what has been an extraordinary experience of Ofsted over this past term. We were targeted for a no-notice inspection in the first week of term.

“The inspection report came out on October 3, and included reference to the school not preparing students adequately against the dangers of radicalisation and extremism.

“That section of the report caused quite a media storm, and we were pleased when it was almost immediately withdrawn by Ofsted, on the instruction of Sean Harford, then Regional Director for the East of England.

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“A second inspection visit then took place, which resulted in a number of changes to the report, including the removal of all references to the school failing to alert students to those dangers.

“There is nothing in the current inspection report to suggest that it is regarded as a problem.”

The school was downgraded by the snap inspection from ‘good’ to ‘requires improvement’, with the lack of progress made by some groups of pupils criticised.

“I can only suppose that the inclusion of St Benedict’s on the list was the result of the first flawed inspection report,” Mr O’Neill continued.

“I could just about understand how that error might have occurred. What worries me is that Ofsted were informed of the mistake two weeks ago by CES, and have responded saying that they stand by the listing.

“It is also very disturbing that, if they do maintain that the dangers of radicalisation and extremism still exist at St Benedict’s, they have done nothing to inform me, the governors or the Diocesan Education Office of the danger.

“The continuing accusation that this school is one of a handful identified with radicalisation and extremism concerns is hugely disturbing.

“I think people will want to know why St Benedict’s Catholic School remains at the centre of this Ofsted focus, when their Senior HMI, Asyia Khazmi, assured both me and the governors that she was satisfied that no such concern remained.”

An Ofsted spokesman said: “Our recent advice note to the Secretary of State summarised the findings of 35 school inspections carried out at no notice earlier this term. Final inspection reports for each of these schools are published on the Ofsted website.

“Inspectors found that a number of the schools could have been doing more to prepare pupils for life in Britain today. This definition covers a wider range of issues other than dealing effectively with extremism and radicalisation, and includes how a school’s curriculum and other activities raise the pupils’ awareness of different aspects of how our society works.

“Sir Michael Wilshaw is looking forward to meeting representatives from the Catholic Education Service next week as part of his commitment to meet education leaders from the different faith communities to discuss Ofsted’s inspection frameworks and guidance.”