trojan-horse-schools

 

 

 

Last update – 20th  August 2014 – DfE had received no complaints about ten of the Trojan Horse schools. Why, then, did Gove order inspections?

This archive has six sections:

1. How it all began
2. The OFSTED inspections
3. More on OFSTED
4. The Ruskin College letter to the Guardian
5. Key interviews, speeches and debates (including videos)
6. Further updates

For a comprehensive resume of developments  see also

Robin Richardson’s website -  ‘The Trojan Horse Affair in Birmingham – Competing and Overlapping Narratives’.

Islamic Commission on Human Rights’ website – ‘Operation Trojan Horse: What isn’t being said’

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In  April 2014, for reasons yet to be clarified,  the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, better known as OFSTED, decided to conduct spot inspections at schools in localities with high Muslim  populations.  The first school selected was the Saltley School in Bordersley Green, Birmingham.

From the Muslim community’s perspective, this was an attempt to disempower Muslim governors and other educational initiatives addressing issues of underachievement,  lack of parental involvement in schools, lack of role models and the high rate of student exclusions. It was an indication that there were separate, discriminatory rules applicable to British Muslims because of a lack of appreciation of  ‘British values’ and ‘secular culture’.

The svengali in this affair is the Education Secretary Michael Gove MP, who has a track record of hostility towards Muslims and the bogey of  ‘the Islamists’, well documented in his polemic ‘Celsius 7/7 – How the West’s policy of appeasement has provoked yet more fundamentalist terror – and what has to be done now‘ – a title that summarises this former Times journalist’s ideology. He was an advisor of the Quilliam Foundation, the self-declared “world’s first counter-extremism think tank”,  a signatory to the principles of the Henry Jackson Society, and former chairman of Policy Exchange – in other words, impeccably Neo-Con.

Sign up to this e-petitionREMOVE MICHAEL GOVE FROM OFFICE

OFSTED is unlikely to have acted without pressure from the Department of Education and Skills (DES) - links likely to be unraveled in Freedom of Information requests in the coming months.


 

1. How it all began

On 9 March 2014, Andrew Gilligan, a journalist with a penchant for Muslim scare stories, lived up to  his reputation with an alarmist account of a Muslim ‘take-over’ of a school in Birmingham.

telegraph

Gilligan’s article referred to a document from which the saga was to take its name:

” The leaked document, purportedly a letter from one Muslim extremist to another, called it ‘Trojan Horse’ – an operation by fundamentalists to ‘take over’  state schools in the city of Birmingham, undermine the headteachers and ensure they were ‘run on Islamic principles’.”

The article insinuated that this was leading to extremism and serving as a  pathway to terrorism. Gilligan focussed on one Muslim educationalist, Tahir Alam:

“The chairman of governors at Park View, Tahir Alam, is a senior activist in the Muslim Council of Britain and vice-chair of the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS). His views, like the MCB’s, are hardline. In evidence for the MCB to the UN’s high commissioner for human rights in 2008, he said he would ‘caution against advocating that desegregation [in schools] should be actively pursued’ and stressed the ‘obligatory nature’ of the hijab for Muslim women and girls. Mr Alam is also a senior official of another organisation, the al-Hijrah Trust, which runs another successful state school in the city and trains teachers, many of whom have gone on to head other state schools in Birmingham.”

Tahir Alam response was as follows:

..As one of the people named in this anonymous document by a fictitious author, I wish to state that any reference to me is a malicious fabrication and completely untrue. I condemn the strategy outlined in this dodgy dossier, it goes against my values and the principles in campaigning and working for higher educational standards.

Some sections of the media followed Gilligan’s line, with headlines like:

Gove in war on Islamic takeover of schools (9 April, Sunday Times)

“MICHAEL GOVE is preparing to send hit squads of inspectors into dozens of state schools where conservative Islamic practices are allegedly damaging children’s education. The education secretary has ripped up the rule book for inspectors so that they can fail schools where ‘religious conservatism is getting in the way of learning and a balanced curriculum’.

On 26 April, Gilligan wrote a further piece in The Telegraph: ” The alleged ringleader of the Trojan Horse plot wrote a detailed blueprint for the radical ‘Islamisation’ of secular state schools which closely resembles what appears to be happening in Birmingham. Tahir Alam, chairman of governors at Park View school in the city, called for ‘girls [to] be covered except for their hands and faces’, advocated gender segregation in some school activities, and attacked a ‘multicultural approach’ to collective worship.” Gilligan quoted  the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood,  “Mr Alam … has been planning this for 15 years. He goes around making these schools religious by manipulating governors, and bringing in certain teachers. He was able to hone the [tactics] in Birmingham that he drafted in this report.”   Top


 

2. The OFSTED inspections

In April-May 2014 OFSTED inspected 21 schools in Birmingham and Luton. According to eye-witness reports, the inspectors were heavy-handed and arrogant. In some cases, the visiting team included Peter Clark,  former national head of counter terrorism. Unreasonable and ambigious questions were put to staff, governors and students, for example:

To staff and governors: What is extremism? How do you prepare children for modern Britain?

To students: What would you do if the law was changed so you could not practice your religion in this country?

The inspections were less about gathering facts on academic achievement but more on adherence to the counter-terrorism PREVENT agenda.

Christine Quinn, the Executive Principal of Ninestiles Academy, as reported by the Guardian describes the experience as  “somewhat harrowing, in that it was unlike any other inspection”. “They were trying to establish whether we had mechanisms in place to know if elements of radicalism or extremism were in our school, and whether we knew how to recognise it, and that we had extensive policies on citizenship, personal, social and health education the sort of things to counteract any such elements.”

For Mohammed Ashraf, a governor at Golden Hillock School, “Many of the questions seemed strange in comparison with a normal Ofsted. It became apparent during the interview, no matter what was said, the inspectors (had) already decided to condemn the school.”

An Ofsted inspection of a Muslim primary school in Luton was abandoned after children were questioned on their attitude to homosexuality. Pupils at the independent Olive Tree Primary School in Bury Park Road said they felt “bewildered and confused”, according to the school. BBC News 16 May

Ibrahim Hewitt, a veteran Muslim educationalist, noted “one school in Leicester with which I am associated is accused, for example, of gender segregation when, in fact, such segregation has never been a policy there.”  Al Jazeera

 Top


 

3. More on OFSTED

For an OFSTED publication on ‘tackling radicalisation’ (November 2012) click here


 

4.

Second Ruskin College letter to the Guardian - 29th July 2014

The new secretary of state for education, Nicky Morgan, makes various pledges following the “Trojan horse” reports on Birmingham schools. Several of her pledges are valuable. The basis for them, however, is unsound. Peter Clarke’s report is not “forensic”, as Nicky Morgan claims (Report, 22 July), but a biased mix of uncorroborated smear, anecdote, hoax and chatroom gossip.

It reflects neoconservative assumptions about the nature of extremism; ignores significant testimony and viewpoints; implies the essential problem in Birmingham is simply the influence of certain individuals; discusses governance but not curriculum; ignores the concerns and perceptions of parents and young people; and is unlikely to bear judicial scrutiny. The Trojan horse affair has done much damage in Birmingham, both to individuals and to community cohesion.

Political leaders have key roles in the urgent process of restoration and support for curriculum renewal. Alas, they will not be much helped by the official reports of Clarke, Ian Kershaw and Ofsted.

They will, though, be helped by the unique strength and goodwill of people in Birmingham itself.
Tim Brighouse, Gus John, Arun Kundnani, Sameena Choudry, Akram Khan-Cheema, Arzu Merali, Robin Richardson, Maurice Irfan Coles, Gill Cressey, Steph Green, Ashfaque Chowdhury, Ibrahim Hewitt, Baljeet Singh Gill, Arshad Ali, S Sayyid, Massoud Shadjareh, Abdool Karim Vakil and Tom Wylie

First Ruskin College letter to the Guardian – 3rd June 2014

Letter in The Guardian from Sir Tim Brighouse and other educationalists and Muslim leaders:

Several major Ofsted reports are due to be published about the so-called “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham which are alleged to be at the centre of a plot to “Islamise” schools (Six schools criticised in Trojan Horse inquiry, 2 June).

The reports will be a landmark in British educational history and the history of Britain as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, for better or for worse.

First-hand accounts of the Ofsted inspections that have emerged are disturbing. They suggest that inspectors were poorly prepared and had an agenda that calls into question Ofsted’s claim to be objective and professional in its appraisal of standards in schools serving predominantly Muslim pupils.

Numerous sensationalised leaks have reinforced the perception of a pre-set agenda. It is beyond belief that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be “outstanding” are now widely reported as “inadequate”, despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership team and the same governing body. In at least one instance, these conflicting judgments were made by the same lead inspector. This has damaged not only the reputation of the schools but the integrity of the inspections process.

This is uncharted territory, with Ofsted seemingly being guided by an ideology at odds with the traditional British values which schools are meant to espouse, particularly fairness, justice and respect for others. We, the undersigned, believe that such an approach compromises not only Ofsted’s impartiality but also the British education system itself.

Tim Brighouse, Robin Richardson Former director of the Runnymede Trust, Salma Yaqoob, Tom Wylie Former HMI, Ibrahim HewittEducation consultant, S Sayyid University of Leeds, Arzu Merali Islamic Human Rights Commission, Sameena Choudry Equitable Education,Baljeet Singh Gill Ruskin College, Massoud Shadjareh Islamic Human Rights Commission, Farooq Murad Muslim Council of Britain,Arshad Ali Institute of Education, University of London, Maurice Irfan Coles, Abdoolkarim Vakil King’s College London, Gill Cressey Muslim Youthwork Foundation, Steph Green Ruskin College, Mustafa Draper, Abbas Shah, Tasawar Bashir, MG Khan Ruskin College

 click  here for link to the Guardian

Ofsted is deeply flawed. It has little to do with school improvement and much to do with passing judgement, often on the basis of unreliable data and expertise. Its reports are turgid, reflecting an obsession with controlling language and thought that bears comparison with newspeak. It employs the same dodgy subcontractors of state services as perform so well in other areas of public life.
Roy Boffy
Former Ofsted inspector, Walsall

click here for link to the Guardian

Top


 

5. Key interviews and debates (videos)

10th June: Salma Yaqoob tackles Khalid Mahmood MP  click here

10th June:  Myriam Francois-Cerrah on ‘British values, universal values? click here

15th June: AbdoolKarim Vakil on the British Muslim narrative click here;  click here for text of speech

17th June: Lee Donaghy, Vice Principal, Park View School, Birmingham – at the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee

10th July: Professor Tim Brighouse – Putting Birmingham school kids first click here


 

6. Further updates

20th August 2014

DfE had received no complaints about ten of the Trojan Horse schools. Why, then, did Gove order inspections? – See more at: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/08/dfe-had-received-no-complaints-about-ten-of-the-trojan-horse-schools-why-then-did-gove-order-inspections/#sthash.iz8xjPi2.dpuf

DfE had received no complaints about ten of the Trojan Horse schools. Why, then, did Gove order inspections?

Department for Education (DfE) response, 19 August 2014, to Freedom of Information request:

21 schools were inspected in April 2014 as part of the Trojan Horse investigations. Ofsted ordered six but the remaining fifteen were at the request of Michael Gove, then Education Secretary.

Four of these fifteen were named in the Trojan Horse letter but that left eleven which were not. So why were these eleven chosen? Had the DfE received complaints?

The DfE confirmed it received four complaints about Oldknow Academy but no complaints about the remaining ten. It says these were inspected because:

‘the [then] Secretary of State had a range of concerns regarding the other eleven schools. Internal investigations raised a number of potential issues, particularly in relation to leadership and governance and the safeguarding of children in these settings.’

It’s unclear, however, what sparked these ‘internal investigations’. Or what form these internal investigations took. There were, after all, no complaints.

I can only speculate but in some cases it appears staff changes may have triggered inspections. click here for Janet Downs’ full posting.

6th August 2014

Her (Baroness Warsi’s) dramatic departure, in which she warned the Prime Minister’s approach (condoning the Israeli offensive in Gaza)  was “detrimental” to the national interest and risked radicalising young Muslims, won plaudits from several former Tory ministers. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, also appeared to back her.(…) she has become increasingly frustrated at what she sees as the increasingly anti-Muslim rhetoric in parts of Government – in particular over the “Trojan Horse” affair.  She is understood to have been concerned at the appointment of Peter Clarke, a former senior anti-terrorism policeman, to lead the inquiry into allegations hardline Islamists infiltrated Birmingham schools. She raised her worries with Mr Cameron but was overruled.  click here

 

24th July 2014

The Muslim Council of Britain has warned education authorities “not to be sidetracked by culture wars initiated by divisive commentators”, as it rejected many of the findings of a government-commissioned report that found a co-ordinated effort by extreme Muslims to take over some Birmingham schools.  The MCB said the report, written by Peter Clarke, the former Met counter-terror chief, was guilty of “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to Islamise secular schools”. Patrick Wintour in the Guardian.

22nd July 2014

Salma Yaqoob: The residents of Birmingham ought to be able to sleep more easily tonight. Peter Clarke’s 129-page report into the city’s schools found no evidence of plots to indoctrinate, groom or recruit school pupils to an agenda of radicalisation, violent extremism or terrorism. This is also the key finding of the reports commissioned by Birmingham city council and Ofsted.[...]

Unfortunately, a great deal of damage has been done by politicians who whip up hostility towards migrants coming to this country or towards a Muslim community that is very much part of Britain. Viewing the problems of governance through the prism of “culture wars”, with Birmingham schools as the battlefield, was bound to leave many casualties. The reality on the ground is a huge increase in bullying – including in one case Muslim children having a dog set on them – and being taunted with accusations of learning to make bombs at school. The impact of this stigma on a whole generation of the city’s Muslim students when applying to universities and jobs cannot be overstated.

Attention has rightly been paid to social media exchanges in which individuals with educational responsibilities spout conspiracy theories and “anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment”. Such comments, some of which end with an antisemitic punchline, must be challenged whenever they emerge. But it is dangerous politics that blurs the difference between this and the legitimate wave of protest at Israel’s crimes in Gaza.  The Guardian, 22 July 2014

22nd July 2004

Muhammad Amin:  [...] Do I object to anything in the reports?

All I know about the schools comes from the reports themselves plus what I have seen in the media since Trojan Horse first broke. However as I read each report, as a Briton of Muslim belief and Pakistani ethnicity, I inevitably asked myself if I had any bones to pick. There were some.

The law requires all schools to hold a Christian act of worship, unless they have a dispensation. Where the pupils are overwhelmingly Muslim, I would expect this dispensation to be given routinely. The Nansen primary school lists six governance failings, one of which is below:

“Currently, the academy has a weekly whole-school assembly, which is of an Islamic character. The governing body has not received permission from the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from providing a broadly Christian act of worship. This means that governing body fails to meet this aspect of their responsibilities.”

This failing is given parity with the others listed which appears to be nit-picking. If the Inspectors consider that failure to obtain a routine dispensation is symptomatic of a more serious underlying compliance failure, they should say so. Otherwise they risk being accused of chucking in the kitchen sink to ensure that they got a conviction. The same point applies to Oldknow Academy which had a 2008 dispensation which expired in January 2013 which was not renewed. I assume this arose from a failure to apply for a renewal, rather than from DfE turning down a renewal application [...]  Muhammad Amin’s website, click here.

22nd July 2004

Peter Clarke report

….5.1 This investigation has revealed a sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strand of Sunni Islam. Left unchecked, it would confine school children within an intolerant, inward-looking monoculture that would severely inhibit their participation in the life of modern Britain.

5.2 In the context of schooling, it manifests itself as the imposition of an aggressively separatist and intolerant agenda, incompatible with full participation in a plural, secular democracy. Rejecting not only the secular and other religions, but also other strands of Islamic belief, it goes beyond the kind of social conservatism practised in some faith schools which may be consistent with universal human rights and respectful of other communities. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to convert secular state schools into exclusive faith schools in all but name.

5.3 This agenda, though not necessarily the tactics involved, appears to stem from an international movement to increase the role of Islam in education. It is supported by bodies such as the Association of Muslim Schools–UK (AMS-UK), the International Board of Educational Research and Resources (IBERR), the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the recently closed Muslim Parents Association (MPA). The movement provides practical advice and religious legitimisation to those who, in the words of the IBERR, seek to ‘Islamise the provision of educational servicesSome of the individuals who have featured in the investigation were associated with, or held positions in, these bodies.

11.1 I neither specifically looked for, nor found, evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham. However, by reference to the definition of extremism in the Prevent strand of the Government’s counter terrorist strategy CONTEST, and the spectrum of extremism described by the Prime Minister in his Munich speech in February 2011, I found clear evidence that 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. ..Click here for report.

15th July 2014

Statement from Park View Educational Trust

Verbal statement given by PVET Chair Tahir Alam at Park View School on Tuesday 15 July

We are immensely proud of the role we have played with others in bringing about school improvements at Park View School. It is now one of the highest performing in the city.

 We have also helped to significantly raise achievement at Golden Hillock and Nansen schools. We have no regrets, nor do we make any apology, for being part of a dedicated team of professionals who have substantially raised standards.

At the same time we have enabled all our students’ cultures, as well as their parental aspirations to be reflected in their education. 

The last four months have seen a vicious and co-ordinated offensive against the Trust and its schools. The Department for Education, with Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency aided by some sections of the media have undermined the good work of these schools. They have also attempted to rubbish people’s hard-won reputations. 

click here for full statement

13th July 2014

England’s Chief Inspector of Schools is today accused of abandoning “objectivity and independence” in his handling of the Trojan Horse scandal and of “tarring” a generation of Muslim children with “the brush of extremism”.  In a coordinated attack city leaders, officials and businessmen in Birmingham said Sir Michael Wilshaw’s “ill-advised and ill-informed” approach to “isolated” problems in the city had damaged community relations and led to a teacher recruitment crisis. click here

12th July 2014

Practising, evangelical Christians are the sources behind the crisis which has hit Birmingham over the past months. They are linked to a controversial Church called Riverside, located on Moseley Road Birmingham, near Queensbridge School. Sunday morning services for the Church are held at the school. Queensbridge School’s head teacher has been renting out to the Church at a massively discounted rate. A governor in Queensbridge School has confirmed that Riverside Church would use the venue at a rate of £3.75 per hour; others were not able to rent out the place because the rate is normally much higher.

The close relationship between the school and the Church has prompted concerns related to proselytising amongst the people in Birmingham. My sources in Birmingham have spoken directly with teenagers at Queensbridge School, who were raised Muslim but converted to Christianity due to the brainwashing of Riverside Church. click here

6th July 2014

Speaking on BBC1′s The Andrew Marr Show, Gove defended his decision to appoint the former Scotland Yard head of counter-terrorism to lead the investigation into the so-called ‘Trojan horse’ plot by Islamists to take over schools in Birmingham. “Islamism is a perversion of Islam in the same way that communism was a perversion of socialism and fascism is a perversion of nationalism,” he said.  ‘If liberalism is to survive – and I believe liberalism is the way in which we approach these issues, liberal values are our best protector – we need to be robust’.   Guardian

1st July 2014

Chris Allen, University of Birmingham:”One of the worrying trends to have emerged out of my research into Islamophobia over the past decade or so is that, even when stories about Muslims and Islam are proved to be incorrect or just untrue, many in wider society continue to believe them arguing that there is ‘no smoke without fire’. With Trojan Horse, the sheer scale of the response from central government would be seen to offer a semblance of evidence that resonates with this response. Factor into that the public and political discourses that have repeatedly focused on Muslim ‘hardliners’ and ‘extremists’ and, as one senior politician was alleged to have put it, the need to ‘drain the swamp’ in Birmingham and it is almost certain that levels of suspicion and mistrust shown towards Muslims will have increased….” Discover Society

1st July 2014

Shamim Miah, University of Hudderfield: “This short article is based upon a review of all the 21 Ofsted inspection reports linked with the Birmingham Trojan Horse. I will argue that the significance of the Ofsted reports lies not only in the redefining of extremism to equate with Muslim cultural conservatism, with the implicit assumption that Muslims have sole monopoly over cultural conservatism, but also in the ways in which a seemingly ‘independent’ body is used by the state to embed the governments counter terrorism programme of Preventing violent extremism at the heart of inner city schooling…”  Discover Society

1st July 2014

Jacqueline Baxter, Open University: “The recent declarations by Gove on the future policing of British Values implies that Ofsted will be central in judging not only what these values actually are, but equally whether they are present or not within schools. This will leave Ofsted with a very tricky course to steer in terms of its politically impartial stance. There is already a cacophony of dissent on the internet from both governors and parents wondering who these so called British values will be designed to include and exclude from school governance, and to what extent this will represent another type of Trojan Horse- this time filled with the type of British Values which may be equally as destructive as the hard-line Muslim versions. In addition to this, the letter which sparked the inquiry is now believed to have been a hoax leading a number of papers, including the Financial Times, to brand the government’s handling of the whole affair as a fiasco….” Discover Society

25 June 2014

Letter to the Guardian

We are forming the Putting Birmingham School Kids First campaign (Comment, 24 June). It aims to, firstly, ensure any issues of governance within Birmingham schools are fixed, and fixed fast. Secondly, to challenge the false and divisive allegation that this is a problem of systematic radicalisation, extremism or terrorism. The central allegation, that there was an organised plot to radicalise schoolchildren in a handful of Birmingham schools, remains unproven. What the Ofsted reports show is some governance issues in some schools. Communities across Birmingham now believe that their children’s educational potential and wellbeing is being threatened by politicians, who wish to be seen as “tough” on Muslims. The sensationalist references to extremism and national security have been deeply hurtful and damaging. Most importantly, they could prevent us finding the solutions we need to help schoolchildren in Birmingham. We will work with anyone who is willing to put the interests of our children first.

The Muslim community is no different to any other faith community in having a spectrum of opinions, from liberal to conservative, on what is the correct balance between secular and religious values in the provision of education. Instead of debating these issues openly, the government has taken the completely inappropriate approach of linking this with the prevention of terrorism. Workable solutions will not appear overnight. Trust needs to be rebuilt between those who should be working together. Our role in the journey is to provide parents, staff, pupils and governors with a strong forum within which to voice their opinions and explore solutions in a safe and transparent space. We are proud that Birmingham is among the youngest and most multicultural cities in the world and stand by its people in all their diversity.
Shabana Mahmood MP, Tim Brighouse(former education commissioner), Father Oliver Cross, Rev Andi Smith, Salma Yaqoob, Christine Blower, General secretary, NUT,Shabina BanoOldknow Academy Parents Association, Joy WarmingtonBrap, Dr Chris AllenLecturer in social policy, University of Birmingham, Professor Richard HatcherSchool of Education, Birmingham City University, Imran AwanSenior Lecturer, Birmingham City University, Janet HoskynsProfessor emerita, Former head of school education, Birmingham City University

23 June 2014

New emergency powers will be introduced to close any school linked to extremism or child abuse in the wake of the Trojan Horse plot, it was announced today. Lord Nash, the Schools Minister, said the government would be able to apply to a magistrate to shut a school “where there are serious safeguarding concerns”. Schools can appeal but will not be able to operate while a legal challenge is being made. The tough new powers will be implemented as part of a crackdown on schools that are failing to prevent “vulnerable” pupils being groomed by extremist groups following an Ofsted investigation into 21 schools in Birmingham. For the first time, schools will also be required to meet new requirements to “actively promote” British values…Graeme Paton in the Telegraph.

22 June 2014

New York Times: “When the three government inspectors came to Park View School to look for evidence of a purported takeover by Islamists, one of them joked about the many “beards” among the teachers there. They looked at the loudspeakers, the ablution rooms and the prayer mats in the gym behind the volleyball net. And, according to accounts by school officials and students, the inspectors asked teenage girls in white hijabs:

“Is anyone forcing you to cover up?”

“Aren’t you hot in those long skirts?”

“What are you taught about menstrual cycles?”

Park View, a public high school in a heavily Muslim part of Birmingham that was once judged one of the worst in Britain, now sends nearly eight out of 10 of its students into higher education. It is many times oversubscribed, and as recently as March, inspectors told the school it had again received top marks.

But 10 days later, as headlines about the takeover plot of Birmingham schools spread, the inspectors were back again. This time, they came to a very different conclusion: The school was “inadequate,” they wrote in a report published this month. The children there were not prepared for life in multicultural Britain and were not protected from “extremism,” the report stated….”. click here

21 June 2014

Nicholas Watt: “Nick Clegg has written to the head of the Muslim Council of Britain to express his concern that the reporting of the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by extremists may have led to a ‘deeply regrettable’ increase in Islamophobia. The deputy prime minister told Shuja Shafi, the secretary general of the council, that Muslims are “patriotic citizens” who should not be held to a different standard to other citizens…It would be fundamentally wrong for British citizens who hold the Islamic faith to be held to a different, or indeed, higher standard from other citizens. Being Muslim does not contradict being British, nor is it in tension with it. A person can uphold their religious and cultural identity as well as British identity….”The Guardian

21st June 2014

Yorkshire Post:  Yet, as the so-called Trojan Horse controversy in Birmingham has demonstrated, there do need to be safeguards in place to ensure that impressionable young people do not have the opportunity to be radicalised by extremists, and it is disappointing that the Muslim Council of Britain does not appear to understand – or accept – the need for this requirement. As Professor Sir Keith Burnett, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, set out so eloquently yesterday on these pages, the social conscience of Britons is one of this country’s greatest values and needs to be cherished by all. 21 June

20th June 2014

Hugh Muir: “….But what we have here is not measured policy. It is a hastily applied sticking plaster to the wound that was “Trojan horse”. There has been no widespread agreement about the values. Gove is imposing them. There is no agreement about what behaviours would constitute breach of them. The Muslim Council of Britain has already raised concerns, and it is right to do so. What would be the trigger for the ultimate sanction? No one would complain at the closing of a school led by a cadre of jihadists. But would a school with one or two governors devout in conservative theology also be at risk? Many might not care for their view of the world. But aren’t they entitled, as part of the legal framework Gove administers, to the same degree of religious observance in their schools as anyone else? And would there be any way for a school aggrieved to challenge him, save for through the courts?..Like so many dictators before him, Gove is challenged by his own contradictions and ineptitude. He preaches localism as he becomes more centralist. He sets sail with his ever shinier ocean-going school reforms, while at the same time – as is happening here – plugging the leaks. He preached a doctrine of returning schools to local communities, but it apparently never occurred to him that Britons other than those he might encounter at evensong might avail themselves of the opportunity. The contract was signed. Retrospectively, he adds the fine print. To claim wide powers in such hurried chaotic fashion smacks of weakness, not authority. Gove is for action, not consensus, but this time even Caesar needs to stop and think. A revolution without consent isn’t much of a revolution at all.The Guardian

19th June 2014

Community leaders have warned that some Muslims could be effectively barred from becoming trustees or governors of new academies and free schools under rules introduced by the education secretary, Michael Gove, in response to the “Trojan horse” controversy.  The Department for Education has inserted new clauses into the model funding agreement for academies stipulating that its governors should demonstrate “fundamental British values”, and giving the secretary of state powers to close schools if they do not comply. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that the new rule would make it very difficult to become a school governor if conservative Muslim beliefs were deemed to be incompatible with “British values”, and that it put too much power in the secretary of state’s hands to define those values. The Guardian

18th June 2014

Prof Gus John: “…So, how has the ‘Trojan Horse’ come to lead this packhorse of Cameron’s values into every school?

Why now? Why were those values not packaged and laid at the door of every school when Asians in Seven Kings, in Newham, in Manchester, Oldham, Bradford and elsewhere were having their homes firebombed by the National Front  and other race hate-mongers ?  Why were they not made compulsory in every school when Nick Griffin and the British National Party were seeking to convince the electorate that it would be in their interest to let them run our town halls and deal with the blacks, the dispossessed and the homosexuals?

…It would appear that the only way David Cameron and Michael Gove could understand and respond to the farcical situation in Birmingham is by distancing the government and the rest of the society from that alien race called ‘Muslims’, with all their foreign and un-British values, foreign and un-British ways, foreign languages, foreign belief systems and all the rest of it. Cameron appears to want to make the entire Muslim population in the UK responsible for ‘standing up’ to Muslim clerics who ‘inflame terrorism by denouncing free speech, equality and democracy’. As far as he is concerned, ‘the failure to stand up to such firebrands has allowed extremism – both the violent and non-violent kind – to flourish’.

Yet, the 2011 census revealed that there are some 3 million Muslims in the UK, or 5% of the population, with those numbers set to grow. It is estimated that 1 in 10 children aged 4 years and under is Muslim. Some 1600 mosques serve the Muslim population and 136 schools are Muslim, 125 of those in the private sector. The majority of Muslims attend those 1600 mosques and go about their business week by week without encountering any ‘firebrands’ preaching extremism and inflaming terrorism. That majority are as opposed to such ideologies and the destructive practices that are encouraged by them as are the rest of us. They run their schools in pretty much the same way that Roman Catholic, Church of England and Jewish schools are run, i.e., according to the beliefs and practices of the particular faith.

Despite that, however, Cameron and Gove make it their business to focus the entire nation on the activities of a minority of deviants and to make the entire Muslim population accountable for them. That process of ‘othering’, projecting ‘the other’ as not belonging to you or among you, e.g., their practices in our society, leads inexorably to an even more pernicious form of marginalisation and exclusion, i.e., essentialising, seeing the activities or beliefs of a few as being characteristic of the group or population as a whole. Hence, the police use of stop and search powers under the Terrorism Act results in 125,000 people being searched, although just about 1% of those led to an arrest….” 18th June

17th June 2014

Sir Tim Brighouse, “As the Trojan horse furore in Birmingham continues, and spreads, five issues emerge that require urgent national attention. First our system of school governance is broken and needs a total overhaul: its weaknesses contributed significantly to the real and imaginary problems in Birmingham. Second, the role and power of the education secretary needs to be reduced and his relationship with Ofsted clarified – neither can be trusted to act efficiently or fairly. Third, Ofsted itself needs to set out its working methods more openly if it is to retain the respect of those it inspects. Fourth, the place of religious bodies and their organised faiths in schools needs to be understood and reframed. Finally, there is an urgent need to provide help to the schools involved in the Trojan horse affair to avoid enormous damage to their pupils’ education and community cohesion. The Guardian

15th June 2014

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: “…The crisis at some Birmingham schools must be dealt with fairly and robustly. Academies and free schools give parents and governors too much power, and this is the result. The fanatically ideological and thoroughly incompetent Michael Gove created this mess. But, as ever, when in trouble of their own making, British politicians either blame immigrants or evoke Britishness, as if it is a magic spell that will get voters to love them again….If getting drunk is a typically British thing to do, I want no part of it. Hating incomers seems to be a British pastime. Sorry, can’t join in. And don’t expect me to despise those on benefits either. The Empire was not glorious for the ruled, and you can’t make us celebrate such a complex history. Britain holds itself up as a beacon of human rights and freedoms, but duplicitously undercuts all our basic rights and freedoms. We surely cannot exult Magna Carta when we now have secret courts, the state spying on us all and withholding information from us.
In 2007, when we went through another episode of evangelical, revivalist Britishness, an establishment newspaper asked its readers for a single sentence that defined it. The winning entry was this: “No motto, please, we’re British”. And no enforced patriotism either…”The Independent

15th June 2014

Ted Jeory and Caroline Wheeler: ” The Sunday Express has identified two schools where well-known ­figures in Hizb ut-Tahrir were or are ­governors. Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) is a non- violent political body that campaigns for a worldwide Islamic state. In 2007 Mr Cameron, then Opposition leader, told MPs he regarded the group as ‘extremist’ and that it ‘tried to radicalise young people’. Last year the Prime Minister, who plans to use the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, 12 months from today, to reassert British values as a Magna Carta for modern Britain, again spoke out against the group but it remains a lawful organisation. However, there are new concerns about its influence on the school ­system in some parts of Britain. One school in Tower Hamlets, east London, Kobi Nazrul Primary School, has just been the subject of an urgent Ofsted inspection due to poor Sats results last year and a breakdown of relations between school governors and the local authority. Solicitor Mohammed Abdul ­Kuddus is a governor and a former chairman. He is also described by HuT as a ­senior member of its organisation. Senior Tower Hamlets council ­officials were aware of his links and it is understood these were relayed to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s department. There is no suggestion Mr Kuddus has used his position to influence teaching policy at the school, whose pupils are almost all from a Bangladeshi Muslim background. He did not respond to a request for comment…” Express

15th June 2014

“The alleged Islamic extremism seen in the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal in schools in Birmingham is the same as that practised by Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist network, Tony Blair has said. The Trojan Horse ‘plot’ to bring hardline practices into Birmingham classrooms is part of a global extremist movement stretching from Britain to Africa to the Far East, the former Prime Minister claimed.” Matthew Holehouse in the Telegraph

13th June 2014

John Freeman, a former director of children’s services: “…Much of the debate has been about Park View Academy having an imposed Muslim character as a secular school. But a) it serves an almost exclusively Muslim population and b) if it were reconstituted as a faith school (like RC and CofE and Jewish schools) then these worries would (in theory) evaporate! All this is an indication that Michael Gove has no notion of an education system – all he seems to want is autonomous schools fighting for market share in a dog-eat-dog way. He has now discovered that he wants schools to be autonomous provided they do what he wants … governance, curriculum (no American books …). This is madness, and it represents a tearing up of the notion of the education service being a public service there for the public good. And it won’t and does not work.”  click here

13th June 2014

Why shouldn’t schools use the freedom they’re given?

I have no axe to grind: I am not in Birmingham nor involved with any Muslim schools, but I am a retired inspector who was part of 300 Ofsted inspections over 13 years.

The government promoted academies and free schools by saying that they would be community-run and have the freedom to develop their own curriculum and ethos. Of course this is reflected in teaching and learning. With their extra freedom, academies are better placed to address underachievement by devising and teaching a curriculum that suits the range of abilities and interests of their pupils.

With community schools, greater continuity between a child’s home environment (socio-cultural or religious) and the school enhances learning – this is a strong educational argument for faith schools, for example. Similarly, single-sex classes in faith or other schools are not uncommon.

This is all that the Muslim-led schools appear to have done. However, Ofsted, not above political pressure, can quite easily judge curriculum, teaching and learning to be limiting and inadequate from a conventional standpoint as dictated by a generic inspection framework. This then negatively reflects on management and leadership (including the governors), and the schools end up in a failing category, including special measures.

For other schools, parental involvement is considered most desirable. Having inspected a number of schools in Birmingham, I know that many second- or third-generation parents just want the best for their children – more than the national curriculum. They understand that context is as important as content when it comes to teaching and is key in addressing underachievement. It is this that they wish to influence.

This seems to be the real concern for the authorities – a sort of fear of a “Muslim takeover” by a young generation who know the system well, including the government drive for community empowerment and involvement.

Husain Akhtar, Retired inspector of schools, Harrow writing to the Times Educational Supplement

13th June 2014

Remembering Honeyford: “…For him, a school existed to promote learning rather than cultural diversity. In what turned out to be the clearest and least inflammatory statement of his position, published in the Times Educational Supplement in 1982, he wrote that the “commitment [of immigrants] to a British education was implicit in their decision to become British citizens. Maintenance and transmission of the mother culture has nothing to do with the English secular school [but is] an entirely private decision to be implemented by the immigrant family and community out of school … There should be a welcome for the strangers in our midst, but no attempt by the education service to confer a privileged position on this sub-culture or that….The pity of it is that he fell in love with the idea of himself as a writer, and as a thinker on more general matters. He could never understand why his description of a parent as speaking English “like a Peter Sellers’ Indian doctor on an off-day” might be infuriating to the families of his pupils, or why attributing heroin addiction in English cities to migration from Pakistan was a slur on entire communities. Like someone else – could it be Michael Gove? – he developed the headline-grabbing instincts of a newspaper polemicist, to the detriment of the more careful qualities that his proper job demanded.”  Ian Jack in the Guardian

 11th June 2014

Sir Tim Brighouse’s questions to OFSTED:

1. What is the provenance of the Trojan Horse letter? Was it real or a hoax and is it pure co-incidence that it has the same title as a chapter of a book, Celsius 7/7, written by Michael Gove?

2. Did that coincidence and his published views on Islam cause him to consider, as it should have done, stepping aside in this matter and handing over responsibility to his Schools Minister David Laws? (Just as Vince Cable did on the Murdoch issue earlier in the Parliament)
 
3. If he had concerns about the behaviour of the governors of the academies in Birmingham, why didn’t Michael Gove send one or two of his officers to governing body meetings – as he had a duty so to do as holder of the private contract with the trust? And why did he so recently approve one academy’s sponsorship of two other of the schools now found by Ofsted to be inadequate? From a list of 20 questions

11th June 2014

Seamus Milne: “The harassment of minorities on the basis of forged documents has a grim history. So the official onslaught on mainly Muslim state schools in Birmingham, triggered by what has all the hallmarks of a fabricated letter outlining a supposed Islamist plot to take them over, should be cause for deep alarm…But the campaign to bring to heel Birmingham’s schools and humiliate the Muslim community in the process is a wider threat in a country where war-fuelled Islamophobia is already rampant. Dog-whistling to Ukip bigotry might seem a cute electoral trick. However, it risks driving Muslims from participation in public life, pushing Muslim pupils out of the state sector and boosting the extremism the government claims to be battling. Gove’s assault on Muslim schools in Birmingham isn’t about British values: it’s a poisonous campaign of discrimination and intimidation.The Guardian

Myriam Francois-Cerrah: “Are there problems in some of the schools at the centre of the so-called “Trojan horse” debacle? Certainly there are. Having spoken at length with various members of the community in Birmingham, there are undeniable concerns among certain – yes, including Muslim – students and parents pertaining to a narrow interpretation of Islam being enforced within some schools. There are also allegations of mismanagement, nepotism and of the misuse of funds. The detail of these issues is likely to emerge in upcoming reports. But what the problem is not, is an issue of radicalisation. Rather, attempts to link the problems to radicalisation reflect an expansion of the counter-terrorism agenda to the policing of socially conservative views among some Muslims and the effects of this policy are likely to be disastrous….The narrative, despite denials to the contrary, has been that schools have been infiltrated by extremists who are at risk of radicalising Muslim children. The remedy? “Prevent” teaching, as recommended by Ofsted, in order to inoculate them. As if by virtue of being Muslim, children should be assessed as potential terrorists who require early intervention to stop them jumping on the conveyor belt of violence. There couldn’t be any more damning indictment of this government’s engagement with communities than its choice to identify individuals on the basis of a reified conception of their identity, rather than as multifaceted citizens...” New Statesman

Matthew Parris:…This ‘Trojan horse’ business is the new WMD; and I won’t let British neocons mislead me a second time. I admire Michael Gove tremendously as well as liking him personally, but I honestly think that something in his brain flips when Islamic extremism is mentioned.Spectator

10th June 2014

Simon Jenkins: …If Birmingham, what about London? The draconian regime of “dawn raids” to be enforced in some Midlands schools by Education Secretary Michael Gove assaults not just local control of schools but confuses the part faith should play, or should not play, in education. The present government regards it as fine for a state school to enforce a Christian education on its pupils, reserving desired places for those who assent. It does not do likewise for Muslims. In London, just 48 per cent of the population (and falling) is Christian, while 12 per cent (and rising) is Muslim. In boroughs such as Newham and Tower Hamlets the latter proportion may be double that….It is strangely hypocritical for the state to ordain that Christian schools bestow their beliefs on their pupils while Muslims must keep theirs to the home. We sing Onward Christian Soldiers but they may not recite the Koran. Evening Standard

10th June 2014

“It isn’t just Theresa May who seems to take issue with Michael Gove’s approach to tackling extremism in British schools. Baroness Warsi has distanced herself from the education secretary’s response to allegations of an Islamist plot to take over Muslim-majority schools in Birmingham – and took a jab at Gove for not having any relevant life experience on the issue. The senior Foreign Office minister, who also serves minister for faith and communities, said in an interview on Tuesday afternoon that the education secretary had to ensure he did not “make matters worse” by alienating Muslims.”  HuffPost

10th June 2014

Matthew Norman: “…So it is with an uncontainable sense of excitement that we may at last anticipate the resolution of the riddle. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is presumably about to educate us. In a typically peremptory response to Ofsted’s report about the alleged “Trojan Horse” infiltration of Birmingham schools by Islamists, Govey has mandated the proselytising of “British values” in every primary and secondary school. Where until now it was a requirement that “British values” be respected, they will henceforth be actively promoted…If one core British value has typified the last decade above all others, it is of course blanket faith in blanket surveillance. Rather than try to enthuse students about state-sponsored snooping on digital communications, the way to express this value and prepare children for adult life would be to put CCTV cameras and microphones in every classroom and playground.”Independent

9th June 2014

OFSTED reports summary in The Guardian

Lee Donaghy, assistant principal of Park View School: “My first day at Park View School left me feeling like I’d found a second home. After teaching in two challenging London schools, Birmingham’s Park View was different: in 2010 the school throbbed to the rhythm of its then school motto: Respect, Opportunity, Achievement. The pupils were exceptionally well behaved and respectful – an attitude fostered by their Muslim faith – and keen to take advantage of the opportunities the school provided through trips and extracurricular activities. Exam results were well above the national average, despite a cohort who entered with attainment well below. These ingredients gave me the confidence that this was a place that shared my values and my belief that education was the key for disadvantaged, marginalised young people…Over the past three months the pupils and parents of Alum Rock, the tight-knit, overwhelmingly Muslim community we serve, have become unwitting players in a vast game of academies, anti-extremism policy, Whitehall leaks and faith schools. Not a thought for our year-11s sitting crucial exams, or their parents. But then, these people are Muslims, and Islamophobia the last acceptable prejudice.The Guardian

9th June 2014

Muslim Council of Britain Press Release

We Need Clarity and Consistency in our Education Standards: British Muslims Respond to the Ofsted Reports of schools in Birmingham...We understand that many of these schools are being downgraded because they are ‘not doing enough to tackle extremism’.  Yet, extremism will not be confronted if Muslims, and their religious practices are considered as, at best, contrary to the values of this country, and at worst, seen as ‘the swamp’ that feeds extremism. When, in supporting the Education Secretary, former Communities Secretary Hazel Blears says that a person going to the mosque five-times-a-day is a sign of extremism (Radio 5 Live, 5 June), then we have a problem….MCB

9th June 2014

 “The manner in which ministers and the media have reacted to accusations of a so-called Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham is putting off British Muslims from entering public life, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has warned….Khan, however, told HuffPost UK that “the evidence [for a conveyor belt to extremism] is not necessarily there”, explaining: “You’ve got to be quite careful equating how somebody dresses, what somebody eats, how long someone’s beard is, with how extreme they are.”  HuffPost

9th June 2014

Gilligan continues to demonise Muslim activists:

“The letter’s signatories, incidentally, include Ibrahim Hewitt, who (as you wouldn’t know from The Guardian) has written a book calling for adulterers to be stoned to death and gays to be given a hundred lashes– and in his spare time chairs a charity, Interpal, branded a “specially designated global terrorist” by the US Treasury. (Interpal’s ever-vigilant lawyers always insist we add that in the UK, the Charity Commission did not find against Interpal.)

Then there are those well-known educational experts Massoud Shadjareh, a political activist who criticised the “demonisation” of Abu Hamza; Arzu Merali, who is expecting a new “Spanish Inquisition against Muslims; Farooq Murad, head of the Islamist-dominated leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and ex-chair of a charity, Muslim Aid, which hasfunded terrorist groups; and Salma Yaqoob, former leader of the Respect party and a pyschotherapist by profession.” Telegraph

9th June 2014

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: “..But instead of bickering, these politicians [Gove and May] should be safeguarding education; our children, our society, our futures. As a retired Asian school head said to me on Sunday: “I would not let them run my father’s small newspaper shop for two hours. They can’t be trusted and make things worse whenever they step in. It’s because they know nothing about multicultural Britain, its strong and weak points, what to do to make it work. They live in their own worlds. How many Muslim friends do any of them have? Do they even understand the problem they are trying to solve?”  No. They are muddled, hysterical, disconnected from wider truths, still clueless about religious ideologies and several key concepts. And yet they fire off opinions and haphazard words, revealing how ignorant they really are and how lazy their thinking.” Independent

9th June 2014

Andrew Gilligan’s further insinuations - Trojan Horse ‘links to terror’ Radical school’s parents leader has been to Syria to support rebels and helps extreme groups Telegraph

9th June 2014

Alan Judd’s support for Gove in the Telegraph: “In the Thirties he would have been with Churchill warning against Nazism, in the Cold War he would have been vociferously anti-Communist. Now his concern is the threat to our democratic values posed by aggressive Islamist extremism….The particular cocktail reported in some Birmingham schools is the result of grafting Muslim Brotherhood/Salafist political Islamism onto these segregated communities.” Telegraph

9th June 2014

Muhammad Amin in Conservative Home: “…I first met Mr Alam about seven years ago when I attended a talk in Manchester by him about the desirability of encouraging more Muslims to volunteer as school governors. From memory, he pointed out that in many cases in Birmingham there had been schools where the pupils were preponderantly or overwhelmingly Muslim, but the governors were all non-Muslim. Quite often such schools were disregarding the religious needs of the pupils, such as halal food, and continuing to hold a Christian daily act of worship rather than one suitable to a mostly Muslim pupil body.

Furthermore the schools had been under-performing academically. In many cases the teaching staff had low expectations of the pupils, and the head-teachers were actively resisting Muslims joining the governing body. However once a critical mass of Muslims did manage to join the governing body, they were able to ensure that halal food was provided etc. Furthermore it was then made clear to the head teacher that academic underachievement would no longer be tolerated, and the results had improved dramatically, either because the head teacher raised their game or because they were replaced.

I found the presentation very impressive, and a year or so later attended a similar presentation in London. When I issued a manifesto to stand as Secretary General of the MCB in March 2010, I included an item on education: “The statistics show Muslims underperforming at school. While the Department for Children, Schools and Families needs to do a better job, Muslims can do far more to engage with schools as parents and governors, and run more supplementary schools. It is our children’s education that is at stake.”  While I continue to believe that more Muslims should become school governors, and not just at schools where most pupils are Muslims, I have never had time to volunteer myself…. Conservative Home

8th June 2014

“Six schools accused of spreading Islamic extremism will be placed into special measures in a bid to tackle fanatics, a report into the ‘Trojan Horse’ controversy is expected to reveal today.

Three Birmingham schools – Park View Academy, Golden Hillocks and Nansen Primary - this morning confirmed they had been slammed by government inspectors – but lashed out at the findings.

Ofsted is also planning ‘no notice’ inspections – dubbed ‘dawn raids’ – as part of a crackdown on teachers who undermine ‘British values’. David Cameron has personally intervened in the controversy to demand an end to Ofsted’s practice of giving schools two days’ notice of an inspection.”  Daily Mail

 But support from MPs Liam Byrne and Shabana Mahmood

The allegations made about some Birmingham schools are incredibly serious. From the word ‘go’, we demanded that nothing be swept under the carpet, that parents have the facts – and fast. We want specifics; has gender segregation taken place in mixed schools, yes or no? Have extremist preachers been invited to give assemblies, yes or no?

 Why is this necessary? Because Michael Gove’s education policy has left our city with a fragmented school system over which no one has control. Michael Gove and the DfE are theoretically responsible for the numerous academies in our city but how on earth can they do that from Whitehall?

 The fact is they can’t and everyone knows it. This has allowed claim and counter claim to flourish – in this context the truth is hard to find. As the net has widened, these investigations have left local parents with an anger-making sense that schools have come under suspicion merely because they serve a population that is predominantly Muslim; that state schools which make reasonable accommodations for local needs – like allowing a day off to celebrate a religious festival, or allowing pupils to use a school room to pray during the lunch break – might be fine for some – but not for Muslims. Schools take these steps because they respect students with strong religious convictions and recognise that faith plays an important role for those students in driving their aspiration and every child we inspire helps make our city a richer and better place. Yet now thousands of Muslim parents feel that they and their children are automatically under suspicion, and that the education they receive will be viewed through the prism of counter-terrorism. We simply do not accept this.

 For many people faith is an integral part of their daily lives. It is a strength to be harnessed which is why today we call on the city’s faith leaders to come together to show the city just how excellence in standards and strength of faith can be coupled better in our state schools. At the same time we hope that the lessons will be learnt. Ofsted must ask some searching questions about how it so misjudged standards in the past. Michael Gove has to tell us how he let things get out of hand. Of the five schools allegedly bound for special measures, four are academies for which he and no-one else is accountable. Faith has inspired greatness in our country – and has done for centuries. Let’s build an education system in which it can flourish. 

Not just for some.  But for all.  click here for link

Richard Adams: “…  What’s remarkable is how the Trojan horse affair has got bigger and bigger, from a flimsy letter involving a handful of schools in inner-city Birmingham, to a scandal that engulfs the cabinet and the political parties.  The affair has led to four separate inquiries: three ordered by the education secretary, Michael Gove, including the Ofsted inspections of 21 schools that will be published on Monday. There are also investigations by the Education Funding Agency, to be published soon, and then a separate inquiry into extremism led by the former Met police anti-terrorism chief Peter Clarke. The fourth inspection is a city-wide inquiry being conducted by Birmingham city council, which is waiting on the Ofsted reports.

In the past few days an extraordinary public spat between Gove and Theresa May has seen the education secretary forced to apologise and one of May’s special advisers forced to resign. The row has even seen oOne national newspaper reported that Gove’s future in cabinet was even under threat.

Labour’s position has been little more coherent: the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, has used the letter to paint Gove as ‘soft ‘on extremism, which some in Birmingham have called disgraceful. But then again, both parties appear to have been briefed by Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, who argues the letter reveals a truth about an Islamist takeover that has eluded others. Just what that takeover entails is central to understanding what the Trojan horse row is all about, and the fall-out between May and Gove. It comes down to a definition of extremism…. the DfE’s definition of extremism has shifted from actual bomb-throwers to religious conservatives. That is a definition that is dangerously wide – and one that the Home Office objects to, hence the May-Gove rift. After the Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, agreed to Gove’s redefinition of extremism so enthusiastically, he now has to put its cards on the table and publish the reports on Monday. Ofsted’s reputation is also under fire. Several of the schools were previously praised for their academic results and record for improving community relations. If the judgments change, as is expected, which inspection was flawed: this one or the previous one? Can Wilshaw justify the incautious and injudicious methods Ofsted’s inspectors have used? Has Wilshaw imperilled Ofsted’s hard-won independence? Should it backfire, Gove has a scapegoat in the form of Wilshaw. The Guardian

The irony is that the Trojan horse may not be the supposed Islamist plot that it describes but the very letter itself. Gove and Wilshaw, two men who might have made their mark for their zeal to reform England’s schools, could turn up in a future GCSE history syllabus remembered more for a crude witch-hunt.”   The Guardian

7th June 2014

Catherine Bennet in the Observer: If a serious objection to one of Birmingham’s – allegedly – ideologically infiltrated state schools is, according to a leaked report , its failure “properly to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain”, the culprits find themselves, in throwback terms, in exalted company. It is difficult, for example, to conceive of a school more openly rejecting of Britain’s predominantly secular culture than the Cardinal Vaughan comprehensive in Kensington, London, where 99.7% of the pupils are Catholic, the principal activity is “the apostolic mission of the Church” and “the teachings of Christ permeate all areas” – unless it is the Yesodey Hatorah Senior girls’ school, a state-funded institution serving the Orthodox Jewish Charedi community in Stamford Hill in London. An Ofsted inspection in 2006 noted: “The Charedi community do not have access to television, the internet or other media. All members of the community aim to lead modest lives governed by the codes of Torah observance.” It was marked grade one, “an outstandingly effective school”.

Supposing the Charedi set-up should therefore appeal more widely, in the same way that outstanding Anglican schools have reached out to formerly godless politicians, the school website makes clear (as far as is practicable in the prohibited, online format) that its voluntary-aided status entitles the governors to keep out atheists and incompatibles, staff as well as pupils. Although some state-funded faith schools must now let in a fixed quota of infidels, to the fury of Catholics who, nowadays, prefer preaching to the converted, Yesodey is legally entitled, despite being funded by taxpayers, to discriminate against virtually all its benefactors. Parents will need a signed form confirming their commitment to the faith and, as for the girls, “any disputes as to whether a child is Jewish will be settled by reference to the Rabbinate of the Union of Hebrew Congregations”.  Observer

7th June 2014

John Prescott: ” …What is beyond doubt is that Gove’s bullying tactics as a neo-conservative who appears to be on his own personal crusade against what he says as Islamic fundamentalism, is affecting the kids.Parents at the suspected schools say their children are getting harassed just as they prepare for crucial SATS and GCSE exams.Personally I don’t think any religion or ideology should be forced upon children who don’t want to accept it.Just like the Education Secretary who sent a Protestant bible to every school in England – including Catholic, Muslim and Jewish schools – costing £370,000!…We should be worried about our schools being controlled by fundamental extremists. It’s just that the biggest one is Michael Gove. Mirror

7th June 2014

Chris Allen: More recently, Gove has sought to extend the government’s definition of extremism. Not least, as implied in May’s letter, by seeking to include restrictions on Muslim girls wearing hijabs as part of a voluntary code of conduct aimed at combating extremism in schools as recommended in the report of the Extremism Task Force published last year. Gove has denied that such issues were being discussed in government.

For some, there are concerns about Gove’s wider opinion of Muslims and Islam, not least because it is claimed he tried to prevent the setting up of the Cross-Government Working Group on anti-Muslim Hatred launched in 2012, something that was not widely known at the time.

7th June 2014

Teachers and governors involved in the alleged ‘Trojan Horse’ Islamic takeover plot face life-long bans from all schools in Britain under new powers being taken by Michael Gove.  Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, wants to use the new powers to ensure that anyone found to have been involved in the plot – allegedly designed to Islamise secular state education in Birmingham – is prevented from working in schools elsewhere in the country. He is also considering removing all state schools in Birmingham from the local education authority’s control, The Telegraph understands…He will make clear that the alleged plot was motivated by Islamist ideology at odds with fundamental British values.Telegraph

 7th June 2014

If anyone has been radicalised in recent weeks it might be Helena Rosewell, 56, the head of music at Park View, who admits her “blood is boiling”. Rosewell wants to know since when was it confirmed that extremism existed at the school? Yet when the chancellor, George Osborne, spoke on the Today programme earlier in the week, he talked about extremism at the school as an established fact. “I can’t begin to tell you what a shock this has all been,” Rosewell said, sitting in a small office off the school’s reception. “I believe this is all wrong. I have never seen children being segregated. 

“I had to cut down the size of the choir this year because I had 53 and I didn’t have the space in my rooms. There are 27 in the choir thiThe Guardians term and 10 of them are boys.

“I also teach history for a few hours a week – I never had the sense that we can’t teach a normal curriculum. And it is taught very well. I am teaching them about the Crusades, 1066, at the moment about the English civil war. We don’t feel sensitive about anything.” She added: “I have seriously no idea how this has started.”

Lee Donaghy, assistant principal at Park View, does have an idea.

The academy does all it can to accommodate the faith of its 98% Muslim intake (the other 2% are Romanian, a growing ethnic group in this area). For example, Rosewell admits that she has been asked by senior staff to discourage children from dancing to pop or Bollywood music, a policy within a secular school that might make many feel uneasy. But as the school has embraced the faith of its intake – with the encouragement of the parents, who have taken a greater role in recent years in its running – exam results have improved. The Guardian

7th June 2014

The former leader of Respect and a former city councillor, Salma Yaqoob, said the “trickle” of leaked reports, including most recently that of Park View’s, had “thoroughly damaged the reputation of Birmingham’s schools and children” while there was still no evidence of a radical Muslim plot. Yaqoob, who lives in Birmingham, claimed the Ofsted inspections “were not impartial” and that “the view on the ground is that this is political interference – Michael Gove is the education secretary and his views are well known”. She told Radio 4′s Today programme: “It seems the kids of Birmingham are already damned as being extremists before the official Ofsted report. “I’m a Birmingham mum, I don’t want to see extremism in Birmingham, I don’t want to see any extremism in schools yet I have still to find any shred of evidence what extremism plot was going on. “How are the kids being radicalised, are the kids doing something dangerous? Yet instead we’ve had this political footballing going on.” The Guardian

7th June 2014

A controversial Ofsted report ordered by Michael Gove and leaked to the Guardian will highlight that one of the reasons why the school – previously rated outstanding – will be downgraded to inadequate is that teachers have not received enough training in the government’s anti-extremism Prevent programme. The Guardian

6th June 2014

Andrew Neil got reaction from the writer Myriam Francois-Cerrah, and Toby Young, the founder of the West London Free School, on the row in Westminster, amid calls to drain the “swamp” of allegations of extremism.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27736270

6th June 2014

…But there are two substantive issues in this clash.

First, Mr Gove reiterated his longstanding view that Ms May was wrong to scale back the effort to combat non-violent extremism. In a meeting with The Times he said as much. He is reported to have argued that Ms May’s approach amounts to “beating back the crocodiles that come close to the boat” instead of “draining the swamp”.

The second reason this row has erupted is because of a report to be published next week by Ofsted, which oversees the inspection of England’s schools. Ofsted is looking into claims that conservative Muslims have infiltrated the governing bodies of 21 schools in Birmingham and imposed an Islamist agenda. This has highlighted concerns that extremist ideology is taught in some faith-based schools.

On both issues it is hard not to side with Ms May. Her decision to scale back Prevent was well judged. Last year, the UK authorities made more than 250 terrorist-related arrests. Given limited resources, the Home Office is right to concentrate on defeating violent extremists. The Prevent strategy risks alienating Muslim communities. These communities must have the confidence to approach the UK authorities when they see an individual moving towards terrorism.

Secondly, the preaching of religious ideologies in Britain’s schools is a matter to be monitored by Department for Education officials. It is not a matter for security agencies. Ms May is right to question why the DfE did not itself investigate allegations of extremism in Birmingham schools. It is particularly unfortunate that Mr Gove has asked a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism squad to conduct a separate investigation into the allegations relating to Birmingham. Financial Times, Editorial. 6th June 2014

6th June 2014

“I used to work as a ministerial advisor at DCLG. I met the department’s ‘theology section’ whose only job was to throw the weight of government against (all) Muslim thought. Or fund invented government backed ‘representative’ groups with links to nowhere. Working with John Denham we tried to moderate a programme that could provide no evidence for its strategies. After the election I watched Eric Pickles back really creative new schemes to build bridges in fresh ways. And so I’ve been really bothered by Hazel Blears, the Manchester MP, is doing the media rounds today backing Michael Gove against Theresa May and calling for a return of the policies that she tried out when the was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government…

As Secretary of State John Denham’s response was to seek to broaden the DCLG’s work so that it was focused on connecting all communities. He worked hard to moderate the tone of Prevent making it clear that it should never be harnessed by the local state as a simple mode of surveillance nor be grounded on a working assumption that a whole community was a threat. Most Muslim parents, after all, are as focused on looking after their kids and paying the bills as any of us. And many Muslim kids may not share my views on the right of Israel to exist but carrying intense solidarity with your fellow co-religionists in your heart and expressing grave concerns about Israel’s behaviour are not yet crimes in our country.

And this perhaps is where the most sensitive question nestling at the heart of the present debate rests:  The Jewish community in the UK have watched in horror as so many friends and allies in the Middle East have been devastated by political violence on the part of some Muslim activists. When the UK Jewish Community  senses a threat at home many of their number naturally cross reference back to Israel and want intense responses here too. That is why they have heavily funded the Quilliam Foundation which had an outing on Newsnight last night to back Michael Gove/Hazel Blears. Lord Carlisle who followed up on the Today programme this morning is well networked in that community and Michael Gove too has strong family reasons for wanting to make sure that all those he loves are safe. But internationalising local matters makes for great love, real passion and huge integrity – but rotten policy.

In the face of the threat of political violence the apartheid state, the Northern Ireland Office, the Peruvian state and many others have tried ‘all out ideological war’ against their enemies. In place after place these ‘catch them young schemes’ more often than not had the impact of expanding the base of political sympathy among the non – violent for the cause that the violent were seeking to address… No wonder Eric Pickles wisely called Prevent a ‘disaster’ when he arrived at DCLG. And Lambeth Palace agreed with him…The only way forward here is for policy to return to research and evidence rather than intense rhetoric and point scoring between communities. New work that cuts across disciplines now emerging from the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford could help. But Hazel Blears defending that which failed and backing Michael Gove for him this is understandably a personal rather than a policy question will not help us find paths forward with real traction in the future. Gove Vs may is not the issue. Evidenced versus emotional policy making is.”From Francis Davis’s website.

 5th June 2014

“…Muslim parents and communities rightly want the education received by Muslim children and young people to be improved. In recent years there have been major improvements nationally in the achievement of Pakistani heritage and Bangladeshi heritage pupils, and nationally there is no longer a gap between the achievement of these pupils and the average for all pupils. But these improvements and greater equality of outcome are not evenly distributed through the country, and there continues to be a need, in Birmingham as elsewhere outside London, for attainment gaps to be narrowed and closed. Amongst other things this means there needs to be more recognition in schools for British Muslim identities, more attention to issues of bilingualism, more commitment to the human right to freedom of religion, more attention to Islamophobia, and closer relationships with parents and communities. Further, it means there is a need for more Muslims to be involved actively in school governance and leadership. The Trojan Horse affair must not be allowed to hinder improvements that are urgently needed in educational provision, and in the representation of Muslims in educational policy-making and decision-making. More generally, the affair must not be permitted to hinder debate and deliberation about the role of religion and belief in modern society, and about the needs and tasks of an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.”  Robin Richardson writing in the Institute of Race Relations website.

5th June 2014

Prime Minister David Cameron: “I set up the UK extremism task force which I set up after the appalling murder of Lee Rigby because I wanted to make sure that the Government is doing everything that it could to drive extremism out of our schools, our colleges, off our campuses, out of prisons, out of every part of national life. “It is very important that we recognise that you have got to deal not only with violent extremism but also the sink of extremism, of tolerating extremist views, from which violence can grow. “The whole Government is signed up to that agenda and is driving through changes to deliver that agenda.” Evening Standard , 5th June 2014

5th June 2014

Reports suggest that the pair  [Michael Gove, Theresa May] have clashed over Mr Gove’s insistence that radicalisation must be tackled at its roots by stepping up the Government’s Prevent strategy to take on those spreading extreme messages in the community, which Mrs May is said to fear risks antagonising mainstream Muslims.  In her letter, the Home Secretary appeared to raise concerns about the possibility that hair-coverings of the kind used by many Muslim women might be banned in schools, telling Mr Gove: “The text on dress requirements should… not be part of the extremism definition.” Evening Standard, 5th June 2014

5th June 2014

Michael Gove has been accused of cynically using the “Trojan Horse” schools row to push an ideological anti-Islamic agenda within the Government.  Whitehall sources revealed that behind the scenes the Education Secretary has been pressing David Cameron for months to widen the Government’s definition of Muslim “extremism”. And they suggested that he has used allegations of a plot to “take over” a number of schools in Birmingham to press the Prime Minister to agree tough new measures to secularise schools in Muslim areas. The Independent, 5th June 2014

5th June 2014

A Department for Education source, believed to be Mr Gove himself, told The Times that more should be done at an earlier stage to stop young people being radicalised. The source suggested that the Home Office’s counter-terrorism chief Charles Farr had adopted an approach of “beating back the crocodiles that come close to the boat rather than draining the swamp”. Within hours a letter to Mr Gove was published by the Home Office in which Mrs May indicated she was concerned that his department had failed to deal with warnings four years ago of an alleged plot by hardline Islamists to seize control of Birmingham schools. Evening Standard, 5th June 2014

4th June 2014

Since when, however, did Michael Gove become an expert on counter-extremism strategies? Robust or otherwise?

What are the education secretary’s qualifications? He studied English at Oxford in the late 1980s and became a journalist upon graduating, serving as a leader writer and columnist for the Times prior to being elected as the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath in 2005.

His defenders, of course, point to Gove’s authorship of the book, Celsius 7/7, published in 2006, which singles out political Islam, or Islamism, as a “totalitarian” ideology underpinned by “hellish violence and oppression” and compares it to the threat posed to the West by Nazism and communism.

…Which Muslim group or Islamic text do you know of that refers to the battle of Troy or Trojan plots?” asks a high-profile British Muslim who has advised the government on its counter-extremism policy. In fact, references to Trojan horses are a staple of anti-Islamism polemics. The eighth chapter of Gove’s 2006 book, which focuses on a supposed failure to “scrutinize, monitor or check” the activities of British Islamists is entitled.. wait for it.. ‘The Trojan Horse’.  Mehdi Hasan in Huffington Post

4th June 2014

A former Conservative prisons minister has accused Michael Gove of using Britain’s national security council to promote “neocon” ideas that could encourage moderates to move towards Islamist extremism. Crispin Blunt spoke out after an extraordinary cabinet row broke out between Gove and Theresa May over how to tackle extremism.  The Guardian, 4 June 2014

4th June 2014

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has decided he needs to act to root out what he believes is a Militant Tendency-style operation to radicalise Birmingham schools. Not for the first time, he is paying little attention to proper process. In his determination to justify the replacement of some governing bodies he stands accused (again) of undermining the independence of Ofsted, as schools suspected of being implicated in the so-called Operation Trojan Horse are downgraded and placed in special measures. Some educationists believe he is sacrificing the integrity of the inspectorate for political purposes. That is serious enough. But there is more. The 25 Birmingham schools under investigation have become the latest battlefield for a deeper debate within Whitehall about the relationship between extremism and terrorism which pits Michael Gove against the home secretary, Theresa May, in a very personal confrontation that proves the divide between polemicist and pragmatist can be every bit as damaging as any policy disagreement. Add in a potential leadership bid and you have all the elements needed for a potential cabinet earthquake.

3rd June 2014

What happens in a secular schooling system when, free from ‘the shackles’ of elected local government, parents exercise the choice the state gives them and their school chooses to reflect its community’s aspirations in the way it caters for the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” of children? What happens when the community that school serves is predominantly Muslim, even though the school is not a faith-based school?

The intriguing ‘Trojan Horse’ school debacle in Birmingham is set to run and run. What is extraordinary about it, however, is the fact that although it says more about the unmanageable shambles that is schooling provision in the country right now, than about Islamic extremism in schools, however that’s defined, there is very little comment about this aspect of the whole sorry saga.

…Gove has so far provided no evidence that he considered the possibility that the allegations made against Park View School and Tahir Allam might be vexatious, vengeful and motivated by Islamophobia. There is certainly no reported evidence that he made any attempts to canvass the views of the students and parents at Park View and establish what their experience of what is taught and the way the school is run and managed might tell the country, or to obtain personal statements from individual members of staff who facilitate children’s learning at that school and interact with the community day by day. Nor did he appear to ask himself what was so fundamentally flawed about the Ofsted monitoring and inspection process that that watchdog could come up with such conflicting assessments of the performance and effectiveness of the same school within days of each other. click here for more

3rd June 2014

Home Secretary letter to Michael Gove on extremism in schools

Voluntary Code of Practice for Supplementary Schools

I am writing in response to your letter to the Prime Minister seeking approval to launch a public consultation on a voluntary Code of Practice for supplementary schools.

The publication of a Code of Practice for supplementary schools was an agreed Extremism Task Force commitment and we agreed at the conclusion of the ETF’s work that the Code should be voluntary. However, since the publication of the ETF report in December there have been serious allegations of extremism in some Birmingham schools and accusations about the inability of local and central government to tackle the problem effectively. In this context, I am not convinced that a voluntary code is sufficient and I believe it would be sensible to include the option of developing a mandatory code in your consultation document.

I understand and share your desire to include a clear and unambiguous definition of extremism and of Islamist extremism, and indeed I was pleased that we were able to agree the latter in the ETF report. It is important that having agreed these definitions we now stick to them in the Code of Practice to avoid any confusion.

We know that extremists try to impose specific forms of dress on people and this includes the mandatory veiling of women. The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way. We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one’s hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so. The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the Government’s already-stated position on the burqa, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way.

The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector, not just the supplementary schools that would be signatories to this Code of Practice. How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain? Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act? I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.

I am copying this letter to other members of the Extremism Taskforce.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/home-secretary-letter-to-michael-gove-on-extremism-in-schools

30th May 2014

Talha Ahmad, writing in the Muslim News

Most troubling however, is the war of mettle between two blocks – the neoconservative right wingers determined to challenge the state to redefine the space afforded to meeting the needs of its Muslim citizens, and centre left politicians too eager to make partisan capital out of this to discredit Gove and his vision of education. In the middle of this ideological battle, the Muslim students of Birmingham schools, and now even Luton and Bradford, have become political pawns….We need to use this moment to remember how precious our young people and institutions of learning are and protect them from the ravages of vested interests and biased media.

…This is particularly important if one reflects on the implications of accepting the narrative advanced in the name the ‘Trojan Horse’ plan. Muslim parents and professional who have engaged themselves in their local schools, have been vocal about underperformance of their children and demanded significant change have been labelled as potential extremists. Reasonable and innocent aspirations that Muslim children’s social, cultural and spiritual needs be met have the potential to be ignored as “conservative” religious practice. In turn, this will have the potential of undoing the good work that has gone into many of these schools. Click here for more

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