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Trojan Horse for Twitter: council’s fear of racist tag gave bullying school governors free hand

Trojan Horse for Twitter: council’s fear of racist tag gave bullying school governors free hand

🕔22.Jul 2014

As new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan prepares to make a statement to the House of Commons today on the report by Education Commissioner Peter Clarke, Paul Dale sums up what has emerged from the leaks and published reports.


Thousands of words have been written about Trojan Horse and with the benefit of three ‘official’ reports into the plight of east Birmingham schools we now have a good understanding of what’s been happening over the past few years

But you don’t need reams of paper to get to the heart of one of the most damaging issues to engulf Birmingham City Council since the onset of the social media age.

What does the story look like in Twitter terms? In just under 140 characters, here’s my take:

Muslim men wanted to improve schools, but bullied heads and introduced intolerant Islamist ethos. Council, frit of racist tag, did nothing.

And that, really, is it. You can argue about the extent of infiltration, and I dare say there will never be proof one way or the other whether those at the heart of introducing an “intolerant and aggressive” Islamist ethos into their schools were involved in a co-ordinated plot or conspiracy.

But what can no longer be in doubt are the basic ingredients of Trojan Horse, as evidenced by reports from Ofsted, Ian Kershaw and Peter Clarke. Apart from the odd nuance here and there, the three assessments are broadly similar in mapping out what happened and may still be happening in some schools.

For the city council, this has been an entirely predictable disaster.

Anyone with knowledge of the council’s relationship with Birmingham’s Muslim community, and – even under a Tory-Lib Dem coalition – its achingly right-on attempts to burnish its multi-cultural credentials, could have predicted that if anything untoward had been going on in inner city schools then councillors and council officials would have been tempted to look the other way for fear that any interference by them would be interpreted as anti-Muslim or even racist.

If it was known that, say, boys and girls were being segregated in some schools, or that humanities and sex education lessons had been shelved, or that inappropriate preachers had been invited to assemblies, that girls were to be regarded as second class citizens, or that children were being subjected to dangerous propaganda about the US and the west, then the council did nothing because its leadership was frozen in inactivity.

It is in many ways similar to the council’s failure to act in 2003 when the Aston Pride New Deal for Communities Board was riven by feuding, placing £50 million of public money at risk. As would happen a little later with Trojan Horse and city schools, council officials backed away from challenging Aston Pride’s mainly Muslim community representatives.

Eventually the Government stepped in and disbanded the board, which consisted of elected community representatives with little idea of how to administer a multi-million pound fund.

But back to Trojan Horse. Ian Kershaw, the former head teacher appointed to investigate the affair, proved to be as independent as he said he could be, perhaps to the discomfort of some in the Council House.

Here’s what Kershaw had to say: “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.”

Although the local authority knew for several years about headteachers’ concerns, council leaders considered the complaints to be a “community cohesion issue” rather than a school leadership issue.

Rather than help headteachers bullied out of their jobs, the council speeded them on their way and made sure there would be no bad publicity by requiring them to sign ‘gagging orders’ in return for receiving redundancy payments.

Kershaw suggests that the governors who bullied and harassed headteachers in an attempt to remove them from their jobs did so with the best of intentions because they wanted to improve standards at the schools and genuinely believed this could only be done through a strict Islamic ethos, even if this was based on “unacceptable practices” and contrary to the national curriculum.

These unacceptable practices were the handiwork of a relatively small number of individuals who maintained close links across Birmingham schools. Kershaw shies away from suggesting there was any kind of organised ‘plot’ even though he found “clear patterns of behaviour amongst groups of individuals so common that it is reasonable to infer that there are links between these individuals”.

The Department for Education hardly emerges unscathed. The lack of accountability for Academies, so clearly highlighted by all the reports, may be one of several reasons for the demotion of former Secretary of State Michael Gove last week. Liam Byrne MP and others will be waiting for an apology from the new Education Secretary and anything she has to say on Academies oversight.

Peter Clarke, the former Metropolitan Police counter-terror chief appointed by the Department for Education to investigate Trojan Horse, reaches broadly the same conclusions as Kershaw, but puts it rather more bluntly in a leaked copy of his report.

He found children to have been the victims of “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action” to introduce an “intolerant and aggressive” Islamist ethos into their schools.

Clarke, significantly, draws a connection between this Islamist ethos and the danger of children being sucked into radicalisation in the future.

On the matter of a plot or conspiracy, Clarke goes further than Kershaw: “I found clear evidence there are a number of people associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies who espouse, sympathise with, or fail to challenge extremist views.

“The tactics that have been used are too similar, the individuals concerned are too closely linked and the behaviour of a few parents and governors too orchestrated for there not to be a degree of coordination behind what has happened.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, found in his examination of 21 Birmingham schools a culture of fear and intimidation where headteachers had been marginalised or forced out of their jobs. He noted an organised campaign to target certain schools to alter their character and ethos, and was the first of the Trojan Horse investigators to accuse the council of failing to respond adequately to complaints from head teachers.

Birmingham city council’s attitude to all of this hasn’t changed much since March, when new chief executive Mark 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.

Mr Rogers said then: “I don’t believe there is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is such a damaging and loaded word. Easy to use, and difficult to prove.”

Asked at a press briefing last week why if Mr Kershaw found links between the governors involved in Trojan Horse he could so confidently dismiss the notion of an organised plot, Mr Rogers simply replied that was a matter for Mr Kershaw, who unfortunately was not at the briefing.

Plot or no plot, fake or not fake? These have been recurring questions since the infamous letter came to light. The Birmingham Mail reports Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood (Lab) saying:

“Everybody has been saying this is a fake letter. I think that must now surely throw doubt on the assertion.

“I have said all along there is substance to that letter. That substance has been proved now by Kershaw.

“And he has virtually confirmed all the claims of collaboration, which is another way of saying a plot – something that a lot of people denied and just buried their heads in the sand.”

The the council remains adamant there is no extremism and no radicalisation of young Muslims. Cllr James McKay, who used to be in charge of wheelie bins but now has cabinet responsibility for social cohesion, went further by insisting the entire Trojan Horse affair is about governance and “is not a faith issue”.

That, to my mind, is one of the stupidest comments yet delivered in this sorry saga. Surely the one thing we can all agree upon is that interpretation of faith lies at the very heart of the governors actions, for without their wish to impose a conservative interpretation of Islam in classrooms there would have been no need for Trojan Horse investigations.


This story was updated to correct an attribution to Cllr John Cotton rather than Cllr James McKay. 

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