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New Trojan Horse probe will examine quality of Birmingham council leadership

New Trojan Horse probe will examine quality of Birmingham council leadership

🕔23.Jul 2014

Most attention following yesterday’s Education Secretary Nicky Morgan’s Commons statement was focused on the appointment of a Government commissioner to make sure Birmingham City Council delivers the recommendations from two Trojan Horse inquiries.

Just as interesting though was the decision to order a review of the council’s corporate governance arrangements, which will be conducted by the outgoing head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake.

He has been given until the end of the year to examine the culture at the heart of the council that resulted in officials and councillors failing to intervene and stop a small number of governors who were intent on introducing an “intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos” into schools.

Kerslake has more than a passing interest in Birmingham.

He was on the short list to become city council chief executive a decade ago, but the job went to Stephen Hughes instead. After Mr Hughes announced his retirement towards the end of last year, Sir Bob turned up on the interview panel that appointed Mark Rogers as chief executive from this March.

When conducting his review Sir Bob may wish to speak to Mr Hughes, who from 2005 to 2014 had overall responsibility for council governance.  A chat with former cabinet education member Les Lawrence, a leading member of the 2004-2012 Tory-Lib Dem council coalition, might also prove fruitful.

Pressure is likely to be felt by present and former council officers who may be called upon to account for their actions.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr, used parliamentary privilege to name individuals “about whom further investigation is needed”.

These included Mr Lawrence and former council officials David Hughes and Jackie Hughes.

The Education Secretary told Mr Mahmood: “As part of the new commissioner’s appointment, we will pursue those names, and there may be others involved in what has happened.

“When one reads the reports and realises what has been going on against the wishes of the vast majority of teachers, one sees that when the teachers, and head teachers in particular, turned to the council, they did not get the support they should have received. That is something we all have to reflect on.”

There is plenty of evidence from the Trojan Horse reports to show that some in the higher echelons of the council knew what was happening but failed to act, probably because they feared being labelled racist or Islamaphobic.

The Clarke report comments: “It is quite clear that the Council was aware of the core allegations outlined in the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter long before the letter came to light in December 2013 and has failed to intervene appropriately when such issues have arisen.”

As Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles explained to MPs, Kerslake’s task is far more than a simple inquiry into what went wrong and why: “The review will consider the operation, culture, and structures of the corporate governance arrangements at the heart of the city council.

“It will assess their effectiveness and appropriateness for supporting the leadership and local service delivery needed to secure the future prosperity of England’s second city and the wellbeing of all who live, work, or visit there, and make recommendations.

“We have asked Sir Bob in particular to make recommendations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the city council‘s corporate governance arrangements, both in the short and medium term.”

Warming to his theme, Pickles added: “If Birmingham is to achieve its potential as a diverse, vibrant city of opportunity for all its people, this will be possible only with strong and effective civic leadership which commands the confidence of all communities.

“The city’s democratically elected leadership has a central role to play which needs the support of effective, transparent, and accountable governance arrangements throughout the council.”

The clear inference to be drawn here is that Mr Pickles does not believe Birmingham possesses effective leadership at the moment and is not on course to become a city of opportunity for all people.

Ian Kershaw’s report makes it clear that the council took a hands-off approach to schools:

  • There is no council policy or strategy that describes the kind of relationships it wishes to promote and pursue in the process of supporting or challenging schools to deliver high quality education,
  • The council has no integrated approach toward the provision of support and challenge to governance, financial probity management, human resource management, employee relations, school improvement, legal employment services, or the raising of standards through improved leadership and training.
  • There appears to be an acceptance of disruptive behaviour by governing bodies, which head teachers are expected to manage with little or no support.

A suggestion that spending cuts to school support services may have played a part in all of this is more or less dismissed by Kershaw.

He notes that the schools improvement team went from 158 staff to 12 in three years and the governor support team fell from 16 to eight, but goes on to explain that, even now, the council’s total school support teams are run by 170 people which he describes as “substantial, even for an authority the size of Birmingham.”

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