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Government commissioner to make sure Birmingham schools ‘prepare children for the modern world’

Government commissioner to make sure Birmingham schools ‘prepare children for the modern world’

🕔22.Jul 2014

The Government is to appoint an education commissioner to oversee the way Birmingham city council addresses “fundamental criticisms” of its conduct raised in two inquiries into the Trojan Horse affair.

The commissioner will oversee reforms to the way school governors are selected and carry out their duties and make sure that all children are properly prepared for life in the modern world.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told MPs she would not hesitate to use her powers to intervene if the city council falls short of dealing with criticism of the way it failed to step in to prevent hardline Muslim infiltration at a small number of academies and state schools.

She also announced that Sir Bob Kerslake, currently head of the civil service, will lead a review of governance in the city council, reporting with recommendations for the short and long term by the end of 2014.

Ms Morgan presented a report by current education commissioner Peter Clarke, which uncovered an “intolerant and aggressive” Islamist ethos in some Birmingham schools brought about by governors intent on promoting an ultra-conservative version of their faith.

The Clarke report identified bullying and intimidation of head teachers and the “effective takeover” of some schools by Muslim activists.

Ms Morgan, just one week into her now job, said she was shocked to discover that a social media network had been used by teachers in academy schools to promote an “intolerant Islamist approach”.

Mr Clarke, a former counter-terror chief at the Metropolitan Police, examined more than 100 pages of transcripts covering 3,000 messages from a social media circle called Park View Brotherhood, which was run by the acting principal of Park View Academy, Monzoor Hussain.

The transcripts contained “a constant undercurrent” of “anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli” sentiment, according to the report.

Messages from teachers using the site included homophobic remarks and called for segregation of the sexes in classrooms. Participants were highly critical of Muslim sects promoting anything other than their own ultra-conservative ethos and made “highly offensive” comments about British service personnel, Mr Clarke found.

Ms Morgan told MPs: “The abiding principle of this government’s education policy is that schools should prepare children for life in modern Britain, and indeed the modern world.

“Schools should open doors for children, not close them. This is what parents want and expect. And we should be clear that this is as true for the overwhelming majority of British Muslims as it is for anyone else.”

She continued: “Individuals associated with the Park View Educational Trust in particular have destabilised head teachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. Particularly shocking is evidence of the social media discussion of the Park View Brotherhood group whose actions “betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach which denies the validity of alternative beliefs.”

She warned that teachers involved in the social media group might find themselves subjected to disciplinary action. Ms Morgan said: “The National College for Teaching and Leadership will take the extensive evidence provided by Peter Clarke so that its misconduct panel can consider whether any teachers involved should be barred from the profession.

“Advice to the panel already provides that actions which undermine fundamental British values should be viewed as misconduct. I will strengthen that advice to make clear that exposing pupils to extremist speakers should be regarded as a failure to protect pupils and promote British values.

“I will also strengthen the advice to make it clear that prohibition from teaching should be imposed while such cases are investigated and a prohibition without review made where misconduct is proved.”

The Education Secretary continued: “What Peter Clarke found is disturbing. His report sets out compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham.

“Teachers have said they fear children are learning to be intolerant of difference and diversity. Instead of enjoying a broadening and enriching experience in school, young people are having their horizons narrowed and are being denied the opportunity to flourish in a modern multi-cultural Britain.

“There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism. But there is a clear account in the report of people in positions of influence in these schools, with a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, who have not promoted fundamental British values and who have failed to challenge the extremist views of others.”

However, Ms Morgan added: “I want to ensure that our system of standards and accountability for all schools should better withstand the threats of extremism of all kinds.”

She reminded MPs that Birmingham council’s own inquiry into Trojan Horse, by former head teacher Ian Kershaw, was published last week. Ms Morgan added: “It concluded that in some cases the council was actually a vehicle for promoting some of these problems, with head teachers being eased out through profligate use of compromise agreements rather than supported.

“The council’s inability to address these problems had been exacerbated, the report found, by a culture of not wanting to address difficult problems where there is a risk of accusations of racism or Islamophobia.

Ms Morgan said she had spoken to Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham city council. “We have agreed that I will appoint a new education commissioner within the council to oversee its actions to address the fundamental criticisms in the Kershaw and Clarke reports, while building resilience in the system as a whole,” she added.

Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham city council, commented following the publication of the Clarke report:

“I welcome the appointment of an education commissioner, who will report to both the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, and Birmingham City Council’s Chief Executive, Mark Rogers. We will work closely with the Department for Education on making that appointment.

“We have had a very positive experience working with the commissioner for children’s safeguarding, Lord Norman Warner, and we look forward to an equally constructive relationship with the new education commissioner.

Governors representing three academies run by the Park View Educational Trust resigned en-masse last week, claiming to be the victims of a Department for Education “witch hunt”.

Last month, Park View Academy’s assistant principal Lee Donaghy told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that allegations about governors imposing ultra-conservative Islamic principles on pupils were made by “people who don’t understand the Muslim way of life”.

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