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No plot, but unacceptable practices and council failures finds local authority’s ‘Trojan Horse’ review

No plot, but unacceptable practices and council failures finds local authority’s ‘Trojan Horse’ review

🕔18.Jul 2014

Muslim governors at some schools in Birmingham behaved improperly by bullying and harassing head teachers in an attempt to remove them from their jobs, a report into the Trojan Horse affair has concluded.

Ian Kershaw, appointed by the city council to investigate claims of Islamist infiltration in non-faith schools, found elements of the five stages of the Trojan Horse takeover process present in a large number of schools.

There were also “clear patterns of behaviour amongst groups of individuals so common that it is reasonable to infer that there are links between these individuals”.

But Mr Kershaw could find no evidence of a systematic plot or a co-ordinated plan.

His investigation pointed to teachers and governors predominantly of Pakistani heritage who, concerned about failing schools in east Birmingham, formed groups to put pressure on head teachers to change the schools “often by unacceptable practices”.

However, the report adds: “There is no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation in schools in east Birmingham”.

There was a “genuine and understandable” desire to improve the education and opportunities for Muslim pupils, often coupled with a belief that the children can only be served by Muslim teachers and leaders.

Acitvists intent on imposing change were guilty of an “improper manipulation” of school governance where they judged a school to be failing.

The council turned its back on complaints of infiltration by militants, not wanting to address difficult issues for fear of being labelled racist, Mr Kershaw concluded.

Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham City Council, issued a formal apology to the people of Birmingham.

He said the actions of a few had “undermined this great city”.

Sir Albert admitted: “We have previously shied away from tackling this problem out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism. In a multi-cultural city, tackling the big issues together with all our communities is the only way of ensuring cohesion  for all our citizens.”

Sir Albert said Mr Kershaw’s report highlighted the “utter disregard for” and “rejection of the basic principles of public life” by some school governors.

Mr Kershaw’s report found that Governors had:

  • Demanded that head teachers change curriculum provision to deny students their right to a broad and balanced education including then right to understand world religions and the right to sex education.
  • Behaved in an overly challenging and sometimes aggressive manner.
  • Undermined head teachers during Ofsted inspections.
  • Interfered in operational matters and made inappropriate appointments of friends and relatives.

In some schools and academies the introduction of Islamic assemblies without the authorisation of the council or the Secretary of State meant that head teachers and governors were breaking the law.

In common with Ofsted’s report on 21 Birmingham Trojan Horse schools, Mr Kershaw found that the city council turned its back on allegations of infiltration, often because it did not wish to be seen as racist or Islamophobic.

There were “numerous incidents” where issues about the conduct of governing bodies went without investigation by the council. Although the local authority knew about head teachers’ concerns before the Trojan Horse letters were received, council leaders considered the complaints to be a “community cohesion issue” rather than a potentially serious school leadership issue.

Mr Kershaw said: “Birmingham city council was aware of some of these concerns, and failed to spot others when it should have done, due to a failure to join up the intelligence it did receive in relation to these schools.

“In some cases the city council was actually a vehicle for promoting some of these problems, with head teachers being eased out through the profligate use of compromise agreements rather than supported.

“The council’s inability to address these problems has been exacerbated by a culture within Birmingham city council of not wanting to address difficult issues and problems with school governance where there is a risk that the council might be accused of being racist or Islamophobic.

“Those head teachers who came under intense pressure received little support when they asked for help.”

Commenting on the report, Russell Hobby, general secretary of NAHT said:

“We cannot fully support the conclusions reached by the City Council’s review into the Trojan Horse allegations.

“The City Council has used too narrow a definition of extremism and limited both their process and their terms of reference in a way which excludes critical evidence. We entirely understand the pressures faced by the council but do not feel that their conclusions reflect the full reality in schools.

“The Clarke review, sections of which have been reported on in the press ahead of formal publication, reaches a very different set of conclusions from access to a different evidence base. The discrepancies between the two are regrettable and unhelpful.

Mr Kershaw looked at 14 schools, including those run by the Park View Educational Trust.

At Nansen primary school, all five steps for ‘takeover’ outlined in the Trojan Horse letters were in place, including turning parents against the school, installing governors to promote Islamic ideals and identifying key staff to disrupt from within.

The five steps were also all present at Oldknow, Saltley and Moseley schools.

Mr Kershaw said the fact that a number of people drawn from the Muslim community in Birmingham wished to get involved in running schools and academies “is a matter to be celebrated and welcomed”. But he added: “However, the evidence shows that the methodology used by some men of Pakistani heritage for achieving this aim, and its impact on education, raises serious concerns.”

Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Hodge Hill said:

“Today’s report confirms the challenge is not violent extremism, its delivering excellent education. We cannot and will not settle for second best for our children. We must strive for excellence.

“I’m glad Sir Albert Bore has apologised to my constituents for let-downs by the Council. The new Education secretary, Nicky Morgan must now do the same. Half the schools where Ian Kershaw found serious problems were academies – and Peter Clarke has revealed a culture of ‘benign neglect’.

“In other words, Michael Gove was asleep at the wheel while standards slipped.

“Crucially, the DfE must now back up Birmingham in a bold plan to boost school standards, with a full time, independent Director of School Standards, a helpline for whistle-blowers and a new scorecard for parents so they can see better what’s going on at their children’s’ school.”

Meanwhile, the council announced a series of measures to prevent a re-occurrence of Trojan Horse issues.

These include new procedures for appointing governors and a requirement for every school in Birmingham to produce an action plan setting out how they intend to implement good governance.

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