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Poor leadership, and Trojan Horse hasn’t gone away – Wilshaw’s last blast against Birmingham

Poor leadership, and Trojan Horse hasn’t gone away – Wilshaw’s last blast against Birmingham

🕔08.Jul 2016

The “culture of fear” in Birmingham’s Trojan Horse schools has not gone away and the situation remains “fragile”, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw claims today in a blistering attack on Birmingham city council.

In a letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Sir Michael says there has been little improvement to the overall quality of child protection services in Birmingham more than seven years after the social services department was placed in Government special measures.

And in an extraordinary condemnation of the council’s Labour administration, Sir Michael says:

I have previously remarked that this long and shocking track record of inadequate provision represents a failure of corporate governance on a grand scale.

I regret to inform you that I have seen nothing in the intervening period to alter this view. Birmingham’s political leaders, in my opinion, have consistently shown themselves to be incapable of delivering the urgent and sustained change required to improve the safety and well-being of the city’s vulnerable children.

The allegation stunned council leaders who pointed out that the Government-appointed children’s commissioner Sir Michael Tomlinson, who is answerable to the Department for Education, has consistently praised Birmingham for taking the right steps to improve services for at-risk children.

The chief inspector’s blunt letter is bound to reignite claims by Labour that Sir Michael “has it in for Birmingham” and is launching a final attack before he retires in October.

Three years ago the Ofsted chief inspector described Birmingham as “a national disgrace” and one of the worst places in the developed world to bring up children.

Earlier this year Birmingham cabinet member Brigid Jones claimed children’s services were improving and on the brink of being removed from special measures.

Sir Michael admits there have been some improvements in schools at the heart of the Trojan Horse affair, where governors and teachers attempted to impose an extreme form of Islamification on pupils, but adds that “there are a minority of people in the community who are still intent on destabilising these schools”.

Sir Michael has held four meetings this year with council officials, senior councillors, the police and school heads and concluded that “although many of these schools have improved and children are now much safer, the situation remains fragile”.

He challenges claims that the council is monitoring closely schools in east Birmingham.

In one particular meeting I held with a group of heads, it was distressing to hear how isolated and vulnerable many of them said they felt. One remarked that this was the first time that anyone had arranged for them to meet together as a group to discuss issues of common concern.

This lack of coordinated support meant that, in their view, the good practice developed by some schools to counter radicalisation and extremism was not being disseminated effectively to others.

These headteachers are working hard in often difficult circumstances to provide the strong leadership necessary to keep their schools on track.

However, it was commonly recognised by members of the group that the culture of fear that I identified two years ago had not gone away.

One headteacher said that ‘the problem has gone underground, but it is definitely still there’. Other headteachers spoke of overt intimidation from some elements within the local community.

Sir Michael says he is particularly worried about the failure of Birmingham and other councils to address the problem of children missing from education and to satisfy themselves “that these children are not being exposed to harm, exploitation or the risk of falling under the influence of extremist views”.

An inspection by Ofsted last month found that children remain at risk. A report noted:

  • Services to help and protect vulnerable children remain very poor
  • Vulnerable children who may be at risk do not always receive an effective and timely assessment of their needs
  • Intervention thresholds are still unclear
  • There is too much inconsistent and variable practice by children’s social care professionals
  • Processes for tracking the whereabouts of children missing from education are inadequate.

In his letter to the Education Secretary, Sir Michael states:

As you know, Birmingham’s children’s services department has failed seven Ofsted inspections over the last decade. Vulnerable children in the city have been inadequately protected throughout this period.

Despite the appointment of a succession of commissioners to the city, there has been little tangible improvement to the overall quality of child protection services.

He urges Ms Morgan to make sure an independent voluntary trust planned to take over control of Birmingham children’s services “is, indeed, independent and not influenced by those in the local authority who have demonstrated such incompetence over many years”.

Responding to Sir Michael’s letter, Cllr Jones said:

Given that no-one from the political leadership has been interviewed in an Ofsted inspection since 2014, and that it has changed quite significantly since then, we found the comments in Sir Michael’s letter to be a surprise. Our doors are always open should Ofsted wish to talk to us about their concerns directly.

We will continue to do our utmost, working with partners and our commissioners, to ensure we have the right framework for social work in this city to become excellent.

In terms of the Chief Inspector’s comments on schools in Birmingham, we note what is being said but contend they don’t fully reflect the feedback that we receive from teachers, our education commissioner and the positive views of other government departments on our work on extremism.

Cllr Matt Bennett, Birmingham Conservative children’s services shadow cabinet member, said Sir Michael’s letter contradicted “the upbeat reports we have been receiving about continued progress”. He added:

The most vulnerable children are being let down by this council, their social and educational needs are not being met and they are allowed to disappear from view.

Ofsted clearly have no confidence in the political leadership of Birmingham and, if we are to judge by results, I can’t say I blame them. Labour will no doubt complain about this but they would be more than happy to accept praise from Ofsted if it were forthcoming.

They have been running children’s services for more than four years‎ and they have failed. Worst of all they are failing those children most in need of protection. They should have the honesty to admit as much.

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