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‘Trojan Horse’ Birmingham bashing set to continue

‘Trojan Horse’ Birmingham bashing set to continue

🕔10.Jun 2014

The formidable spin machines of Ofsted and Birmingham City Council clashed head-on yesterday in what might be described as part one of the great Trojan Horse War.

And like the battles of the First World War, despite throwing all they had at each other, very little ground was gained and, ultimately, nothing very new was brought to bear on the alleged infiltration of some Birmingham schools by ultra-conservative Muslim governors and teachers.

There were few direct casualties, although city council leader Sir Albert Bore came close to losing his temper in a live BBC television interview after being asked several times whether he would resign and being reminded that the council knew years ago what was going on but did nothing.

This was a little unfair since Sir Albert was not leader of the council between 2004 and 2012 when complaints from head teachers about infiltration by militant governors were beginning to pile up.

Sir Albert said he was “reassured that no evidence of a plot or conspiracy has been presented”, which is true, up to a point, although Ofsted did find evidence of “an organised campaign to target certain schools in order to alter their character and ethos”, and pointed out that some of the governors involved serve on more than one of the Trojan Horse schools.

There are, therefore, relationships between some of those at the centre of these allegations.

The difference between a plot or conspiracy and an organised campaign involving the same governors at different schools is not immediately clear to me. It is, perhaps, a fine debating point.

Part two of this conflict will erupt next month when former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism commander Peter Clarke publishes his Trojan Horse report on behalf of the Education Secretary Michael Gove. It is safe to say, I think, that Mr Clarke’s analysis may be rather more interesting, and perhaps more damaging, than Ofsted’s.

But back to yesterday, with a quick summing up of events so far.

The following facts are clear:

– Five Birmingham schools have been placed under special measures because they are major contributors to what Ofsted describes as a “climate of fear” and have been taken over by governors and teachers intent on pursuing a “narrow faith-based ideology”. Four of these schools are academies and one, Saltley, is a council-run school.
– A further 11 schools are judged by Ofsted to require improvement. Nine of these are council-run, three are academies.
– Birmingham City Council failed to respond adequately to complaints from school heads about the conduct of governors trying to take control of schools “by stealth”. It should be pointed out that some of these complaints will have been made between 2004 and 2012 when the council was under the control of a Tory-Lib Dem coalition.
– Some of the academy schools named by Ofsted, in particular the Park View Educational Trust, do not accept the watchdog’s findings and have suggested that inspectors arrived with closed minds and were determined to find something wrong.

A summary by Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw of the 21 Birmingham schools inspected is in many ways an extraordinary document. It is quite possibly the most outspoken condemnation of failing education standards in a city ever issued by the independent watchdog. Sir Michael backed up his document with television interviews in which he was outspokenly critical of the city council.

But let’s not forget that Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools has form in this area, having last year castigated Birmingham as one of the worst places in the developed world to bring up children.

Nowhere in Sir Michael’s summary will you find the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’.  But the implication is crystal clear when Sir Michael talks about “narrow, faith-based ideology” and schools being targeted “to alter their character and ethos”. He bemoans a lack of safeguarding arrangements and criticises governors for failing to focus on how children may be vulnerable to “extremist influences” or to female genital mutilation or forced marriage.

A trawl through the 21 Ofsted inspection reports provides plenty of colourful claims about unacceptable events. Specifically, schools banning Christmas and Easter events, failing to teach parts the national curriculum that conflict with ultra-conservative Islamic ideology, segregating pupils by sex, and the appearance of guest speakers at assemblies whose “mind blowing” rhetoric included brandishing America as evil and describing white women as prostitutes.

If Sir Michael avoided using the M-word, Michael Gove saw no problem in doing so, but took care to present events in Birmingham as being far removed from mainstream Muslim culture or beliefs.

The Education Secretary said: “It is important that no-one allows concern about these findings to become a pretext for criticism of Islam itself, a great faith which brings spiritual nourishment to millions and daily inspires countless acts of generosity.

“The overwhelming majority of British Muslim parents want their children to grow up in schools that open doors rather than close minds.

“Muslim parents deserve the same right as all parents to choose between schools with a variety of designations but a common purpose: raising standards and promoting British values. It is on their behalf that we have to act.”

Mr Gove has ordered Birmingham City Council to draw up an action plan “to tackle extremism and keep children safe”. He will also order all schools to teach “British values of liberty and tolerance” from September.

And so, as Trojan Horse drags on through the summer, what have we already learnt?

While no evidence has been presented of a plot or conspiracy to radicalise children, it is clear that poor governance has allowed a small number of secular Birmingham schools to become faith schools in all but name, where ultra-conservative Islamic ideology is apparently inflicted on to pupils.

These are schools, though, where Muslim pupils make up almost 100 per cent of the student population. A way has to be found, surely, of allowing these schools to properly reflect the makeup of the local community in a moderate and measured way, while also encouraging children to learn about and respect other faiths. Perhaps this is what Mr Gove means by being British?

The other main lesson to emerge from Ofsted’s findings could easily have been anticipated. That is, Birmingham city council’s ‘head in the sand’ attitude over many years to a problem that many councillors (not just Labour, either) felt was too difficult and too sensitive to tackle. How much easier it was when the national curriculum was being ignored for ‘cultural’ reasons to turn a blind eye.

That level of complacency and lack of leadership by the council is exposed for all to see by Sir Michael Wilshaw. Peter Clarke’s report is next up, and if Michael Gove remains Education Secretary we can expect a robust response and another bashing for Birmingham.

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