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Kemi Badenoch writes letter to Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman

Minister for Women and Equalities, Secretary of State for Business and Trade and President of the Board of Trade

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, has written a letter to the Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman requesting that Ofsted carry out a snap inspection of Rye College, in East Sussex.

Dear Amanda,

In my capacity as Minister for Women and Equalities I would like to request that Ofsted carry out a snap inspection of Rye College, in East Sussex. This is following the widely circulated recording of a teacher acting inappropriately regarding her pupils’ beliefs about sex, gender and a fellow pupil who claimed to identify as a cat, which in my view raises issues about safeguarding at the school.

As you will be aware, the UK courts have ruled that gender critical beliefs – the belief that sex is biological and immutable, that people cannot change their sex and that sex is distinct from gender-identity – are classed as a philosophical belief worthy of respect in a democratic society and are therefore a protected characteristic under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010. Through her behaviour, including her assertion that the pupils’ beliefs were ‘despicable’, my view is that the teacher was not acting in a way consistent with the Equality Act’s requirements upon schools, nor in accordance with Ofsted’s Education Inspection Framework’s requirements to promote respect for the different protected characteristics as defined in law.

In addition, by apparently teaching contested political beliefs as fact – including that there are ‘lots of genders’ or that ‘gender is not linked to the parts that you were born with’ – beliefs which are both politically controversial and have no scientific basis – it appears to me that the teacher was  in breach of the political impartiality requirements set out in Articles 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996.

Ofsted has previously conducted snap inspections where concerns have come to light about safeguarding, equality and bullying, including at Denton Community College this year, John Fisher School last year, and three Steiner schools in 2019, amongst others. Ofsted has not, to date, carried out similar snap inspections of state schools when gross misrepresentations of Equality Law, or of statutory safeguarding guidance, or of breaches of the impartiality duty, have been exposed.

You will of course be aware that the Government is intending to publish guidance on transgender issues, and is also reviewing the RSHE guidance. This guidance, on which I am working closely with my Cabinet colleagues, will be of use and guidance to teachers and school leaders who are dealing with difficult cases. It should not be necessary, however, to wait for this guidance in order to tackle gross breaches of existing legislation – whether of Equality law, safeguarding guidance or the Impartiality duty – or to take action against incidents such as those revealed by this recording.

I know that the Secretary of State for Education has asked her officials to look into recent events at the school.  At the same time, we have a shared interest in the correct application of Equality Law, in ensuring that schools comply with their duty to be impartial – including around their teaching of equality-related matters – and that, most importantly, schools are safe places for all children. I am confident that you will carefully consider my request for an inspection, and trust that you will see the importance, both for this school and the integrity of the school system more broadly, in carrying one out.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon. Kemi Badenoch MP
Minister for Women and Equalities, Secretary of State for Business and Trade and President of the Board of Trade

Sector Response

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“There is a need for a sense of proportion here. This involves an incident at one school in which the trust has already met with the Department for Education to share an update on the events that took place, and the school has said that no pupils identify as a cat or any other animal.

“Now we have politicians, including the Minister for Women and Equalities, weighing in over this matter in a manner that is unnecessary, unhelpful and smacks of grandstanding.

“To be clear, we have never heard of any issues arising at any schools over children identifying as animals. However, there are nine million children in England’s schools so all sorts of discussions are bound to crop up in classrooms. Teachers and leaders are very good at dealing with whatever situation arises.

“On the separate subject of guidance over matters affecting transgender pupils, we have spent the past five years constantly asking the government to provide a sensible and practical set of guidance to schools about how they should navigate this sensitive territory, but they have been left to do this entirely on their own and without any support whatsoever.

“Now, we have the government giving the impression that they are riding to the rescue over this matter, when the truth is that they have done absolutely nothing until this point in time. It is of the utmost importance that this guidance – which we believe to be imminent – is genuinely helpful and supportive to schools and pupils, and that it is not intolerant and burdensome.”

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