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School governors ‘undermined inclusive liberal values’ claims city council review group

School governors ‘undermined inclusive liberal values’ claims city council review group

🕔14.Jul 2014

Birmingham schools have suffered a “serious and substantive problem” with governors seeking to undermine the inclusive values of British liberal democratic traditions over a period of years, the latest inquiry into the Trojan Horse allegations has found.

A draft report from the city council’s Trojan Horse Review Group says parents have a right to expect their children will be helped to become confident members of a liberal democracy in the modern world and accuses the local authority of often failing to get to grips with safeguarding children.

Any school pursuing an “isolationist policy” is not equipping its children for the modern world, while the era in which schools claimed they could deliver high academic standards without a broad and inclusive approach to safeguarding is “well and truly over”, the document states.

The first draft report from review group chair Stephen Rimmer is dated July 11 and marked ‘Restricted – for review group members only’. But the 14-page document has been seen by Chamberlain Files.

The review group says it expects the Department for Education to make significant changes to national guidance in relation to school governors as a result of the Trojan Horse affair.  The report urges the Government to engage broadly with all communities as to the meaning of British values and the role of schools in reinforcing these. It states: “The Britain of 2014 is fundamentally different from even the Britain of the 1990s let alone a sepia-tinted past, and DfE need to listen directly to communities in the younger parts of this nation accordingly.”

The paper makes recommendations to ensure that schools exhibiting “isolationist tendencies” with governors attempting to inflict a “narrow faith-based agenda” on children are brought back into line. It’s proposed that to “mitigate the risks of any takeover by those with a narrower agenda” that the council bans any individual from being a governor of more than one school at any the same time.

Other recommendations include:
• The council and Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Board must work to “sustain a sharp focus on any school exhibiting isolationist tendencies and to work with any such school to reduce that risk”.
• To reinvigorate a Birmingham-wide approach to inclusivity across all schools.
• The council should issue a clear and simple statement of “what good looks like” in primary and secondary schools in respect of Preventing Extremisim.
• To ensure that governance responsibilities in promoting a strong sense of core liberal democratic values across all schools are taken forward by the council and the Birmingham Governors Association.

The review group was set up to examine a Trojan Horse inquiry being undertaken by the city council’s Chief Independent Adviser Ian Kershaw. Mr Kershaw’s findings are yet to be published.

Last month Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw published a report into 21 Birmingham schools. He found a “culture of fear and intimidation” at some of them and blamed the council for ignoring head teachers’ concerns about governors who he said were trying to impose a “narrow faith-based ideology” in classrooms.

Allegations were made about boys and girls being segregated in lessons, a refusal by some schools to teach humanities, a ban on mixed-sex swimming lessons and a failure to equip children with knowledge of all faiths and cultures.

Sir Michael told the Commons Education Committee that Birmingham city council had been “pretty useless” by failing to take seriously complaints from the heads.

The review group’s draft report says Birmingham faces a critical moment in its history with a challenge to restore confidence, purpose and cohesion to school children and communities.

The report details two major areas of concern.

“First, any avenue for any particular network or clique of governors to pursue an agenda beyond the clear and consistent interests of children in all schools across the city must be comprehensively blocked out.

“Secondly, this must not be pursued in such a way as to signal to members of the Muslim communities that they will be looked on with suspicion in relation to becoming school governors. Schools with predominantly Muslim communities need a strong range of governors, not least from Muslim communities themselves.”

Mr Rimmer makes it clear that incidents of school governors seeking to undermine liberal democratic principles are not exclusive to one, or any, religion and are “primarily a challenge for good governance”.

The review says responsibilities for safeguarding children must always take precedence over individual roles and responsibilities of governors.

In a hard-hitting section, the draft report warns: “There is a particular challenge here for the council to take fully on board its responsibilities to the safeguarding of every single child across the city, irrespective of which type of school he or she goes to.

“There is also a clear responsibility for Birmingham Safeguarding Children’s Board to ensure that the governance of schools does not enable any agenda that places a child on a pathway to extremism, of whatever kind, is facilitated.

“And we need to see the era of any school arguing that it can deliver high academic standards without a broad and inclusive approach to safeguarding being well and truly over.

“Any school that pursues an isolationist culture is not equipping its children to deal with the realities of the modern world, on the streets and online. This applies to a small minority of schools who wrongly consider it to be reputationally damaging to accept the risks around issues such as sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

“The only schools with a fundamental problem about these issues, and about safeguarding in general, are those schools that say they do not have a problem.”

The report criticises Ofsted for its “overriding narrative for Birmingham of systemic failure”. Such claims are an inaccurate and unfair reflection of what is happening in many good or outstanding schools, the paper adds.

It calls for a sustained process over the rest of the summer of putting the case for a new way forward for Birmingham, being honest about acknowledging the faults of the council and others, but in particular engaging parents, children and communities more generally about building the best set of schools across “the whole of this diverse and vibrant city”.

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