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Birmingham council chief exec ‘open to possibility’ that Trojan Horse may involve ‘extremism’

Birmingham council chief exec ‘open to possibility’ that Trojan Horse may involve ‘extremism’

🕔20.May 2014

Top Birmingham Council officials have admitted that “extremism” may lie at the heart of the alleged Trojan Horse plot by hardline Islamists to infiltrate city schools.

Chief executive Mark Rogers and the strategic director for People, Peter Hay, say they are “open to the possibility”, although the council’s inquiry into the affair has failed so far to uncover any evidence of extremism.

Their views were made clear in a frank letter to head teachers at the 21 Birmingham schools under investigation by Ofsted as part of a Trojan Horse probe.

Mr Rogers and Mr Hay reacted after a meeting they held with the heads was secretly recorded and transcripts sent to the media.

Mr Rogers made it clear at the meeting he expected Ofsted’s reports into the schools to inflict great damage on the council. A “firestorm” and a “knockout blow” would descend on the local authority, he predicted.

The possibility of the city council losing direct control of schools could not be discounted, and there would be “significant structural” changes, Mr Rogers warned. Ofsted’s findings and the extent of any Government sanctions against the council are expected to be made public next month.

The council chief executive’s latest contribution to the debate goes a step further than comments he made at the beginning of April, when Mr Rogers told Chamberlain Files he did not believe Birmingham schools were at the centre of an extremist plot.

He now accepts that Trojan Horse might be underwritten by extremism, but any evidence to back this up is yet to emerge. However, the council is still sifting through hundreds of emails and letters from former teachers and school governors, and a separate investigation by former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism commander Peter Clarke is also searching for evidence.

In the letter, Mr Rogers and Mr Hay describe leaks from the meeting with head teachers as “most regrettable” and admit they simply don’t know what to do in future about sharing information with schools following a breakdown in “mutual respect”.

The letter states: “We did ask those who came to the meeting for an agreement about confidentiality. In agreeing this condition between us, we were particularly mindful that some head teachers present expressed their anxiety about leaks from the open NAHT meeting the week before. There was, accordingly, mutual agreement about a need for confidentiality. It is, therefore, most regrettable, that this agreement – and the trust implied in it – was substantially breached.”

Mr Rogers and Mr Hay say they stand by their remarks, and accept that the reputation of Birmingham will have been damaged following media reports of the meeting.

The letter continues: “We have acted to clarify that, although we have yet to see evidence of extremism, we are open to the possibility. Indeed, we have sent letters to Andrew Gilligan and to the editor of the Sunday Telegraph to set out that we would welcome receipt of the evidence related to the claims of extremism made in the Telegraph.

“We very much regret that our determination to report on evidence has been manipulated to portray a closed approach to the investigation, inconsistent with our commitment to public accountability.

“There is clearly no point in reconvening a group meeting where mistrust of those in the room – heads and council officers – will be prevalent. Equally, none of us have the capacity to meet each of 21 schools individually. We will try to meet individual requests for support but this will not have the collective effort that emerged from last week’s meeting.”

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