Sir John Cass: C of E school acts fast to counter ‘extremism’ charge

21 November 2014

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Special measures: Sir John Cass Red Coat school, Tower Hamlets

Special measures: Sir John Cass Red Coat school, Tower Hamlets

INTENSIVE lessons on the dangers of Islamic extremism were already taking place at Sir John Cass and Redcoat School, in east London, last week as the Church of England school, one of the most successful of its kind in the country, was placed in special measures by OFSTED.

The reason given by inspectors was: "The school has not put in place steps to ensure that students, staff and governors understand the risks posed by extremism."

The 1500-pupil comprehensive, where more than 90 per cent of pupils are of Bangladeshi heritage, lost its previous "outstanding" status after a snap inspection by OFSTED in September, which confirmed suspicions that some members of the sixth-form Islamic Society were misusing social media, including a dedicated school You Tube channel.

Postings included links to extremist sites and messages discouraging students from attending school events that did not "adhere to a particular religious viewpoint".

One warned that any student who attended a leavers' party, indulged in "free mixing" and "listening to music" would face severe consequences later, the report reveals.

The report shows that the school's senior leadership team and governors had reacted inadequately to warnings given earlier this year by counter terrorism police. Arrangements for vetting visiting speakers and monitoring student groups, were "not robust enough".

Communication between the head, Haydn Evans, members of the senior leadership team, and governors, was poor, inspectors found.

A statement from London Diocesan Board for Schools (LDBS) said that urgent action was already under way to tackle the issues raised   by OFSTED. "Extremism has no place in our society, especially not in our schools."

Diocesan staff are understood to be involved in an improvement plan, which draws on the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, now in place at Sir John Cass. They hope the school, which will be subject to frequent visits from OFSTED inspectors, could regain its former Outstanding rating by Easter.   

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Sir John Cass and Redcoat is the only C of E school so far to be inspected in relation to the Government's anti-extremism agenda. The criticisms it faces are vastly different from those levelled at the Birmingham schools - none of them faith schools - involved in the "Trojan Horse" inquiry (News, 24 October).

Where inspectors in Birmingham found evidence of co-ordinated efforts by some teachers and governors to make their schools more compliant with a conservative form of Islam, Sir John Cass senior teachers and governors are criticised with failing to monitor the internet activity and behaviour of some of their sixth formers.

The Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, also appears to draw a sharp distinction in his advice note to the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, between the findings of the snap inspection of Sir John Cass and OFSTED's simultaneous unannounced visits to six independent Muslim schools, two of them connected to the East London Mosque.

All six were found to be inadequate in all respects. with the general curriculum compromised by  concentration on Islamic teaching. Sir Michael recommends the Education Secretary to use powers under the Education Act 2002: likely lead to closure.

In the case of Sir John Cass, he promises robust evaluation of school- and local-authority-  improvement plans, and early special measures monitoring visits.

As news of the downgrading of Sir John Cass was made public, parents, former pupils and other locals piled in with praise for the much loved school which is a beacon of success in a deeply disadvantaged area.

Heads of neighbouring schools rushed to the defence of the head of Sir John Cass, Haydn Evans, who was awarded a CBE in the last New Year's Honours list for his stewardship of the school  for nearly 20 years. Earlier this month he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of East London for the same reason.

Sir John Cass and Redcoat was a failing school when Mr Evans took over in 1995. He introduced rules that improved standards of behaviour and academic achievement . By 2004 the school was seen by OFSTED as a model for educating pupils of Bangladeshi and similar backgrounds. In 2008 it was rated Outstanding.

Mr Evans was reportedly "shell-shocked" by the result of the snap, inspection. A response from Tower Hamlets council emphasising the overall success of the school included a brief statement from Mr Evans. He was "surprised" by the finding. His priority was rectify the problems OFSTED had identified, the statement said.

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