‘There’s no Muslim plot to radicalise Birmingham schoolchildren’, insists city council chief executive
In the first part of a report on his interview with Council boss Mark Rogers, chief blogger Paul Dale explains that Mark Rogers is seeking to play down the ‘Trojan Horse’ story that has grabbed national media and political attention.
Birmingham schools are not at the centre of a Muslim extremist stealth plot to radicalise pupils and claims of a Trojan Horse-type takeover are without foundation, city council chief executive Mark Rogers has insisted.
Mr Rogers attempted to defuse critical media coverage over the issue by insisting investigations have failed to uncover any conspiracy by hardline Islamasists to infiltrate classrooms.
In his first major interview since starting the top council job, Mr Rogers told Chamberlain Files that there were issues in some schools, but this did not involve radicalisation.
He believed “new communities” in Birmingham were simply looking for the same educational environment for their children that they would get in the country they came from.
There were certain “customs and practices” these communities wanted to see that did not always fit in with the national curriculum that exists in Britain.
They were asking “legitimate questions” about the type of schooling they wanted for their children and how that could fit in with the “liberal education system” we have in this country.
Mr Rogers’s assurances seem unlikely to do much to end the growing media and political clamour over Trojan Horse, which began when the council received a letter claiming that extremist Muslim parents, teachers and governors were infiltrating secular schools in an attempt to drive out non-Muslim staff and impose a strict Islamic interpretation of the curriculum.
Claims of children being encouraged in anti-Christian chanting, anti-American rhetoric at assemblies, the forced segregation of girls and boys, a refusal to recognise Christmas and children being “brainwashed” to follow Muslim principles have featured in the national and local media for weeks.
Education Secretary Michael Gove is taking a personal interest in the issue and Ofsted is currently inspecting 12 Birmingham schools at the centre of the allegations.
During his interview Mr Rogers did not use the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’. The chief executive preferred instead to talk about Birmingham’s “new communities”.
Mr Rogers said the council was working hard “to fully understand what is going on here”.
He added: “Some things are getting conflated and it is being assumed they are Trojan Horse-related when they are completely separate.
“The letter that sparked all this off is almost certainly spurious. But it does relate to important issues dealing with the different expectations that communities have.
“I think the letter reflects some concerns and potential issues in our communities. I don’t think it is a narrative of historical fact.
“I don’t believe there is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is such a damaging and loaded word. Easy to use, and difficult to prove.
“We have still got more work to do to understand what is going on but this is not a new issue. We see issues like this in the north of England where there are new communities.”
Mr Rogers continued: “We have the national curriculum and a long tradition of liberal education system. I think what we are seeing is the legitimate questions and challenges that some communities have around their own expectations and how these can rub along against the existing culture of the education system here.
“We need to be careful to delineate between individuals and communities who might seek an educational environment conforming to the prevailing culture and customs in the countries they come from. We should distinguish that from radicalisation. These are two very different things.
“This is not about radicalising young people. It is a different set of issues in my mind.
“What we may be seeing are some individuals from communities who are asking questions about the kinds of custom and practices they want to see and whether they can fit in with the prevailing cultures and customs and practices. This is not about some radicalisation agenda.”
A plea by the city council for anyone with information about the claims to come forward met with an overwhelming response and the local authority has been forced to take on extra staff to sift through scores of letters.
There is no sign of an end to national media interest in Birmingham schools. The Sunday Telegraph journalist Andrew Gilligan, who has been at the forefront of an investigative campaign, has ceased writing that Birmingham schools are allegedly being taken over by hardline Muslims, and simply presenting the claim as a fact.
In his latest article, Gilligan quotes the parent of a girl at Oldknow Academy, one of the schools at the centre of the Trojan Horse allegations. Mohammed Zabar, a Musilm, said he sent his daughter to Oldknow because it is a secular school and he did not want a strict religious education for her.
He added that his daughter had been placed under pressure by teachers at Oldknow because “her hair is un-Islamic or her trousers are un-Islamic”. Mr Zabar said he and some other Muslim parents had complained to teachers about anti-Christian chanting in assemblies.
Birmingham faith leaders have combined to condemn media coverage of the Trojan Horse issue.
The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev David Urquhart, joined representatives from Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faiths to issue a statement: “We are profoundly concerned that some of the public media have distorted the discussion on what has become known as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’, demonising sections of the community in a completely unacceptable way.
“As faith leaders in this city we wish to affirm our commitment to education for every child in Birmingham that promotes their emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual development and equips them to live well as citizens of a global city.
“Birmingham is a super-diverse city of a million people, from over 180 countries, with a rich variety of faith and secular beliefs. In the largest UK city outside London, every child matters absolutely. “Working out what good education looks like, especially for the 37 per cent of the population that is under 25, is really important.
“As leaders of faith communities we are determined to play our part in starting a wider conversation with a full range of partners. Together we can look at the highest standards of governance, excellence in leadership and mutual expressions of faith in schools.
“It is vital for the cohesion of the whole city that each child in Birmingham has the very best educational experience.
“The cohesion of this city is built on years of interfaith communication and dialogue, joint practical action and friendships between people of different faiths that have built resilient communities and a strong core of shared values.
“We remain committed to build trusting relationships and joint working across the city so that no person or group is excluded and we can all flourish together, enjoying, sharing and celebrating the richness brought to this city by its diversity.”
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced the transfer of £36.5 million to the new West
In the third of our special summer reports, the Chamberlain Files team examine a turbulent 12 months for
Theresa May is prepared to lift the requirement on city regions to have directly-elected mayors
In the latest of our special summer reports on the Greater Birmingham political scene, the Chamberlain