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Blame bad governors for Trojan Horse, not the Muslim faith, insists cabinet cohesion chief

Blame bad governors for Trojan Horse, not the Muslim faith, insists cabinet cohesion chief

🕔24.Jul 2014

At a recent city council press briefing, Cllr James McKay, cabinet member for social cohesion, said he thought the Trojan Horse affair was about governance and “not a faith issue”. Chamberlain Files chief blogger Paul Dale described the remark as “one of the stupidest comments” he had ever heard about Trojan Horse. Here, Cllr McKay explains what he meant. 

From a recent post on the Chamberlain Files, it looks like a comment I made last week – that the Trojan Horse saga was fundamentally about governance, rather than faith – has raised an eyebrow or two.

As we move on as a city from Trojan Horse, repairing the damage that’s been done and fixing the problems that have been highlighted, we need clarity about the issues we’re facing.

It’s certainly time to move on now, and the first step in doing so is that shared understanding.

Kershaw drew attention to how within Birmingham City Council we’ve been taking an ultimately self-defeating approach to cohesion, one that prioritised short term conflict avoidance over taking a long term view, tackling problems collectively, openly and in a timely way.

Although the motivation for this short-termism came from a good place – the desire to avoid conflict – it ended up letting the issues revealed by the Trojan Horse investigations run on and on, and therefore contributed to the rise of Islamophobia we’ve seen since the publicity around the anonymous letter.

So we can’t be blind to the faith dimension. It’s stating the obvious that issues of faith – and responses to them – are integral to the Trojan Horse saga.  How then might a focus on faith risk missing the point?

The Kerhsaw report sets out a number of reasons why the issues highlighted by the Trojan Horse investigations were allowed to continue unchecked for so long. In part, this was down to the sensitivities within the Council set out above. But only in part.

Kershaw also shows how cuts within the City Council, and the changing landscape around education in the city, meant that the overall effectiveness of oversight had been severely depleted.

So yes, as Kerhsaw argues, the poor City Council response was shaped by misguided sensitivities, but also by an overall lack of capacity to enforce and oversee good governance.  This more general – and fundamental – point is in danger of being missed.

According to the reports published on the Trojan Horse saga, the issues relate to a small number of schools, and a small number of individuals.

There is nothing that reveals a basic problem with the faith-based motivation to be engaged in education. That motivation supports excellence in education across our city and our country (and, by the way, was doing so long before the state stepped up to the mark during the nineteenth century).  Provided, of course, that this motivation is acted on in accordance with the principles of public life, we can all benefit from it.

What is revealed by the series of reports is a weakened system of oversight and challenge, which as highlighted by the Trojan Horse saga has failed to check particular manifestations of poor governance.

The key point is that the particulars of the Trojan Horse saga took place within that wider failure of oversight and challenge.  This time, it was Trojan Horse.  Next time, if we don’t fix that wider failure, it could be something else entirely.

In other words, it’s not fundamentally about faith, it’s about governance.

As we move on collectively as a city, we must not miss the wood for the trees, and pass up the opportunity to improve all aspects of governance and oversight in our schools, not exclusively those that have been in the spotlight over the last few torrid months.

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