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Common sense needed in tackling ‘extremism’ in schools – Select Committee

Common sense needed in tackling ‘extremism’ in schools – Select Committee

🕔17.Mar 2015

The active promotion of British values in all schools is welcome but the monitoring of how this is achieved in individual schools must be carried out with common sense and sensitivity, says the Education Committee in its extremism in schools report published today.

There are lessons for Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE) to learn from the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham and how it was investigated, says the Committee.

The headlines of the report are more critical of the Department and Oftsed than it is of Birmingham City Council. The lack of inquisitiveness in DFE, Oftsed’s inspection framework and the lack of co-ordination of the various Trojan Horse inquiries come in for particular criticism.

In setting out the scope of the report, it states:

The one example given by Ian Kershaw [a film promoting violent jihadist extremism had been shown to children in one classroom and the teacher had not been disciplined] is clearly unacceptable and action should have been taken by the school to prevent it, but a single instance does not warrant headline claims that students in Birmingham—or elsewhere in England—are being exposed to extremism by their teachers.

The Birmingham City Council Trojan Horse Review Group was firm that it did not “support the lazy conflation-frequently characterised in the national media in recent months-of what Ofsted have termed issues around ‘a narrow faith based ideology’ and questions of radicalisation, extremism or terrorism”. We agree.

Launching the report, Extremism in Schools: the Trojan Horse Affair, Graham Stuart, Chair of the Education Committee, said:

One incident apart, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the inquiries in any of the schools involved. Neither was there any evidence of a sustained plot, nor of significant problems in other parts of the country. The Trojan Horse affair is less about extremism than about governance and the ability of local and central agencies to respond to whistle-blowers and to correct abuses of power within schools.

We found a worrying and wasteful lack of co-ordination between the various inquiries carried out by the DfE, Birmingham City Council, the Education Funding Agency, Ofsted and others. In the case of the Birmingham schools, the number of overlapping inquiries contributed to the sense of crisis and confusion.

Questions have been raised about the appropriateness of Ofsted’s framework and the reliability and robustness of its judgements. Ofsted must act to restore confidence in the inspectorate.

The British values which are now to be promoted in all schools are universal and deserving of support. Monitoring how these are promoted in individual schools must be done with common sense and sensitivity.

In its report, the Education Committee investigates how the Department for Education, Ofsted and others responded to the allegations of extremism in Birmingham schools last year, and draws out wider lessons for the entire school system.

The Education Committee recommends the Government should:

  • Ensure that there is more coordination between inquiries by different agencies in the future.
  • Draw together the recommendations from all the investigations and set out its response.
  • Keep under review its arrangements for sharing information effectively between the various bodies responsible for oversight of schools.
  • Make an annual written ministerial statement on the priorities and achievements of the DfE’s Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division.
  • Continue to monitor the situation in the individual schools affected in Birmingham to ensure that the students receive the education they deserve.

Among the conclusions, the report states:

The children in the schools affected in Birmingham deserve better from all involved. The DfE must continue to monitor the situation in the individual schools. We welcome the extension of the appointment of Sir Mike Tomlinson as education commissioner to address wider problems in education in Birmingham.

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