Sarah Stone: Ofsted probably didn't need to ask kids what lesbians do

Judging the 'British values' of a school by asking a ten-year-old what lesbians do seems completely ridiculous.

Yet, as part of Ofsted's new policy to assess schools on the way they teach British values, that is exactly what happened at Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland. Students were also asked whether they had any friends who felt they were trapped in the wrong body, and pupils as young as six were quizzed on what they knew about Hindu festivals and the Jewish Torah, according to The Telegraph.

After being swamped by complaints from parents over the questions their children were asked by inspectors, head teacher Chris Gray wrote to Ofsted to raise his concerns.

The inspection took place as part of Ofsted's new rules to check that all schools actively promote British values. The guidelines were introduced in September, after an investigation of 21 schools in Birmingham found that some schools were teaching extremist Islamist views and treating other religions as inferior. The attempt to introduce an Islamist ethos into schools has become known as the 'Trojan Horse' plot.

But how have we gone from wanting to prevent religious extremism in our schools to judging whether schools hold British values by asking how much children know about lesbian sex?

'British values' is, in itself, a very vague term. David Cameron describes it as "a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, and respecting and upholding the rule of law". These are all good things to be teaching Britain's children.

But I can't see how asking primary school children direct, and seemingly irrelevant, questions about sexuality can help Ofsted ascertain the quality of a school's British values. Surely there's a better way – like finding out what the pupils believe about themselves and their peers, or observing how they treat each other.

To me, what a ten-year-old knows about homosexuality or transsexuality is irrelevant to a discussion on British values. It's a category that shouldn't be about knowledge, but should instead be about attitude. If a child knows no one who is different from them, or believes that their way is the best way and that everyone else is wrong, then that would suggest a lack of understanding or acceptance of British values. But the questions that caused complaints couldn't have unearthed answers like that.

Gray and some of Grindon Hall's sixth form students believe that Ofsted came to the school determined to find it intolerant, according to The Telegraph. Although it seems that UK Christians often have a bit of a persecution complex, and it's definitely not right to assume that faith-based schools (or any faith-based organisations) are automatically going to be penalised by the government, Gray feels that in this case Ofsted were unnecessarily negative.

"The tenor of the inspection was negative and hostile at every stage, as if the data collected had to fit a predetermined outcome," Gray said in his complaint. "Everything was as negative as it could possibly be, if there was a negative slant they could put on something they did."

This is particularly ironic considering Gray had earlier supported the new Ofsted guidelines, writing on the school's website: "Just as we rightly expect tolerance from others, so we must always show huge respect for those who believe differently from us, who come from different backgrounds and whose sexual orientation is different from the majority. That we will do."

While I maintain that asking kids what they know about lesbian acts is absurd, I do like Ofsted. Teachers hate/fear them and they get a pretty bad press most of the time. But we do need them. Schools need to be held to account, and I am really glad to live in a society that cares not only about what children are being taught academically, but also about what values they are learning to live by. However, if Ofsted's job is to call schools out on their mistakes, they need to be held to account too.

And if the news reports about Grindon Hall are anything to go by, Ofsted still have a rather long way to go.

Sarah Stone is a writer and editor at a Christian mission agency.