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Top Catholic school penalised by Ofsted in anti-extremism drive

The school was marked down for failing to have its curriculum on its site

One of Britain’s best Catholic schools has been marked down by Ofsted because its “younger students show less awareness of the dangers of extremism and radicalisation”.

St Benedict’s in Bury St Edmunds, one of the five best comprehensives in England and Wales, was marked down because it failed to have its Citizenship curriculum on its website by September 1, as a result of which the watchdog marked it down from outstanding to good.

The move came after the schools regulator was criticised for its failure to stop Islamic extremists from taking over schools in Birmingham.

Oftsed also questioned whether the school prepared pupils “for life and work in modern Britain”, part of its remit to make schools teach “British values”.

However, the decision has left parents and teachers at the school, which in recent years has beaten Eton in its A-level results, bemused.

Hugh O’Neill, the headmaster, said: “The official reason was that all curriculum guides were missing from the website. Verbally the reason they gave for their concern was to check if schools were complying in teaching core British values in the Citizenship classes.

“My understanding is that Ofsted have come under some serious criticism after the Birmingham Trojan Horse scandal, but we were a bit surprised about the grounds of concern – targeting a Catholic school in Suffolk seems like an overreaction. They are increasingly using school websites to check if schools are teaching the curriculum and I should have been more on the ball. We have learned our lesson.”

However, he said, considering the results the school achieved at GCSE and A-Level, “to find our sixth form labelled as good rather outstanding” because of this omission seemed like an overreaction.

But he said Ofsted had called the school to say that the decision would be under review.

Mr O’Neill said: “We have 30 minutes a week on Citizenship where we teach everything from how the democratic system works to the law.”

Although some Catholics have expressed concern about what “British values” might mean and whether Christian schools could be put under pressure by a secularist agenda, for instance on the subject of gay marriage, Mr O’Neill said there was nothing in the Citizenship classes that were “of concern”.

“The British values within Citizenship classes are something any school could teach,” he said.

He added that as part of their Citizenship teaching the Catholic school would be taking its pupils to Parliament – on November 5.