Trojan Horse: Reaction to council and government reports

July 18, 2013

The findings of two reports into the “Trojan Horse” allegations of an attempted takeover of some Birmingham schools have been published. Peter Clarke’s report, ordered by the government and leaked to The Guardian, found there was a “co-ordinated effort” to impose an “Islamist ethos” in some schools. A council-commissioned report by Ian Kershaw found “no evidence” of a conspiracy.

Russell Hobby, general secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the NAHT could not “fully support the conclusions” of the city council’s report because it has used “too narrow a definition of extremism” and limited its process and terms of reference “in a way which excludes critical evidence. We entirely understand the pressures faced by the council but do not feel that their conclusions reflect the full reality in schools,” he said.

Ruby Kundi, head of Highfield School, one of the 25 investigated in Ian Kershaw’s probe, said she thought the differing accounts could create more confusion.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Perry Barr, Birmingham said he agreed with Mr Kershaw’s finding that identified the issue as a “minority problem” caused by a handful of disruptive governors, but said there was “still more to look at” and called for Birmingham City Council to be held to account.

Shabina Bano, chair of Oldknow Academy Parents’ Association and has two daughters at Oldknow Academy, one of five schools placed into special measures by education watchdog Ofsted. “First they were out to isolate us, now they are out to divide us by talking about different forms of Islam,” she said. “The Birmingham city council report totally contradicts what Peter Clarke is saying.” It’s all going to end with no apology; it’s all going to end with children paying the price.”

Trojan Horse report finds ‘aggressive Islamist ethos’ in schools

July 22, 2014

A leaked report into the so-called “Trojan Horse” plot has found evidence there was an agenda to introduce “an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos” into some Birmingham schools. The report, revealed in The Guardian, was ordered by the government after claims some Muslim groups were trying to take control in some schools. The Department for Education (DfE) has said it will not comment on the leaks.

We must acknowledge today that Ian Kershaw’s report shows we have serious governance issues in a small number of schools in east Birmingham because of serious malpractice by members of governing bodies. This has been compounded by the inability of head teachers and other governors to counter this behaviour and by the failure of the city council to intervene to instil proper governance.

The government’s report was compiled by retired senior police officer Peter Clarke, the former head of the Met Police’s counter-terrorism unit. It is due to be published next week. It says he found evidence of “sustained and co-ordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hard-line and politicised strain of Sunni Islam”. He also found evidence of a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city”.

A spokesman for the DfE said: “The allegations made in relation to some schools in Birmingham are very serious and we are investigating all evidence put to us in conjunction with Ofsted and Birmingham City Council.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his union was disturbed by the Clarke review findings but not surprised.

On Tuesday, the board of trustees resigned at Park View Education Trust, which has been at the centre of claims, stating they had been the victims of a “co-ordinated and vicious” attack. The trust has been the focus of allegations made in the anonymous Trojan Horse letter alleging the existence of a clique of hard-line Muslims attempting to seize control of Birmingham schools. The origin of the letter and the intentions behind it has never been determined.

School heads warn of Trojan Horse overreaction

August 12, 2014

Anti-extremism measures for schools in the wake of the Trojan Horse inquiries are rushed and could have unintended consequences, head teachers warn. They claim proposed regulations could inhibit “free discussion” and are calling for a longer time for consultation. The rules apply to England’s academies, independent and free schools. A Department for Education spokeswoman said they promoted “tolerance and respect of all faiths and cultures”.

These updated regulations, intended to reduce the threat of extremism and intolerance, include calls for schools to promote “British values”, such as “mutual respect and tolerance”. But head teachers have also raised concerns about the proposed requirements.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education rejected the concerns. “The Independent School Standards are designed to ensure every school prepares children for life in modern Britain. We make no apology for demanding high standards and the promotion of tolerance and respect of all faiths and cultures. It is simply untrue to say that the proposed changes – which received 1400 responses and last six weeks – would prevent teachers using gender-specific terms or require schools to downgrade Christian festivals.”

The British Muslim is truly one among us – and proud to be so

April 3, 2014

Those who believe in a clash of civilisations, in which British values are pitted against those of the Muslim world, have not been short of examples in the past few days. The BBC reports on an “Islamic takeover plot” by hardliners to seize control of several Birmingham state schools. Two Morrisons workers are suing the supermarket for not being able to take holiday during Ramadan, after being told that they submitted their applications too late. Such stories do make the blood boil, and may lead the less charitable to ask if such people should move to a country that better reflects their prejudices.

But one hears such complaints rarely, and this is what marks us out in a Europe that is paranoid about Islam and identity. Britain is, through empire, the original multi-ethnic state. When Churchill was writing for The Daily Telegraph as a war correspondent, his criticism of the Afghan tribesmen was that their behaviour was un-Islamic. “Their religion – fanatic though they are – is only respected when it incites to bloodshed and murder,” he wrote in December 1897. Then, the Queen had tens of millions of Islamic subjects and her ministers boasted of running the greatest Muslim power on earth. The integration of Muslims can now be seen as one of the great success stories of modern Britain. While the Dutch and the French have huge troubles with integration, and are caught in agonised struggles about their national identities, Britain is marked out by the trouble that we are not having. Dig a little deeper, and the real story is the striking amount of harmony.

Last year, for example, the Jews of Bradford were facing the closure of their synagogue. Its roof was leaking, and the few dozen remaining regulars could not afford the repairs. Its chairman, Rudi Leavor, made the decision to sell the building and face up to it being transformed into luxury flats. As things turned out, the synagogue was saved after a fundraising campaign led by a local mosque. Zulfi Karim, the secretary of Bradford’s Council of Mosques, now refers to Leavor – who fled the Nazis – as his “newfound brother”. He gave his support, he says, to protect the diversity of Bradford.

Such stories can be found the length and breadth of Britain, for those with an eye to see them. St John’s Episcopal Church in Aberdeen last year agreed to accommodate neighbouring Muslims, who had outgrown their mosque and had taken to worshipping outside it. The Rev Isaac Poobalan said that allowing Muslims to pray in the wind and rain would mean abandoning “what the Bible teaches us about how we should treat our neighbours”. He argued that his church was empty on a Friday lunchtime, when Muslims needed to pray.

Anyone serious about either religion will know that they both worship the same God – and their stronger ties are, in part, forged by the knowledge that they have a common enemy in secularism. The kind of secularism that would stop people wearing crucifixes and skullcaps in public, as well as the niqab. When the Council of Europe came out against religious circumcision, it was natural that Manchester’s sizeable Jewish community would protest. But less expected for Manchester’s Muslims to join them.

The attempts by extremists to speak for Muslims in Britain is made a lot easier by the lack of an Islamic hierarchy, it’s also made easier by the understandable reluctance of ordinary British Muslims to get involved in the political side of their religion. When Channel 4 said that its 2006 Christmas message would be given by a Muslim in a full-face veil, it fitted the BNP narrative of a clash of civilisations. This is all the more surprising given the serious problems that Britain still faces with integration. British Muslims don’t really feel a sense of otherness. In fact, polls show they’re much more likely to identify with Britishness than the general population. The Citizenship Survey found that most Muslims agree with two propositions: that Islam is the most important thing in their life, and that their primary loyalty lies with the British state. Most are baffled by the idea of a tension between the two.

‘Trojan Horse schools plot’: What was the Trojan Horse letter?

July 6, 2014

 

In March, an anonymous letter was made public that claimed to be a template illustrating how state schools could be taken over and pushed into adopting a more Islamic culture. The document – now thought to be a hoax – proposed a campaign of installing governors and undermining and then replacing school leaders with staff who would be more sympathetic to their religious agenda.

It refers to “Operation Trojan Horse” as the name of the alleged conspiracy. This classical allusion refers to using a device to get past the defences and to take over the school system from within. It was apparently intended for schools serving areas with a large Muslim population. The tactics it proposed had already been used in Birmingham, the Operation Trojan Horse letter claimed. It has emerged that Birmingham City Council, the Department for Education’s Extremist Unit, the West Midlands Police Counter-Terrorism Unit and the National Association of Head Teachers were already aware of the letter.

A former head teacher at a Birmingham school said that such religiously-motivated, concerted attempts at forcing out heads had been taking place since the 1990s. Another head teacher said he had told the Department for Education (DfE) about the problem in 2010.

 

What are the claims?

There have been claims that boys and girls are being taught separately, assemblies have put forward extremist Islamist views and that a culture is created in which other religions are downgraded. Schools have rejected claims of extremism. There are also claims that teachers and head teachers have been discredited and undermined.

 

How seriously are claims of takeover plots being taken?

Michael Gove appointed former counter-terror chief, Peter Clarke, to investigate “the background behind many of the broader allegations in the Trojan Horse letter” for the DfE. Mr Gove says he expects to publish these findings in July. This appointment has created a controversy of its own, with the chief constable of West Midlands police calling it “desperately unfortunate” as people could draw “unwarranted conclusions” from Mr Clarke’s former role in counter terrorism. Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw took personal charge of the education watchdog’s investigations.

Khalid Mahmood, MP for Perry Barr, believes there are reasons to be concerned. “All the information I’m getting… is there has been a serious bid to take over most of the schools in the east and south of the city,” he said.

The National Association of Head Teachers says it takes the claims “extremely seriously”.

Tahir Alam, chair of governors at Park View School, says claims are “ridiculous”

How are the claims being investigated?

Including Ofsted’s, there are four investigations – carried out by Birmingham City Council, the DfE and the Education Funding Agency.

Ofsted said this was “new territory” – when it launched its biggest ever co-ordinated set of inspections over fears of extremism. It inspected 21 schools – a mix of primary, secondary, local authority and academies. They carried out unannounced inspections of a type which focuses on a single concern, rather than the overall quality of teaching and learning. When inspectors do not like what they find they have wide-ranging powers to intervene and order a change of direction.

The city council says that it is investigating 25 schools – prompted by more than 200 contacts from the public. An adviser has been appointed and there will be a review group of MPs, councillors, teachers’ organisations, police and faith leaders. But the politics of education have also become involved, with the council saying it is frustrated that it cannot investigate academies which operate outside of local authority control.

The government and Ofsted have produced an array of proposed changes to school governance after the publication of an inspection report on 21 Birmingham schools. Ofsted found “a culture of fear and intimidation” had taken grip in schools at the centre of the so-called Trojan Horse allegations.

The inspections followed claims in an anonymous letter that hard-line Muslims were trying to impose their views on some of the city’s schools.

Five have been placed in special measures, among them three academies from the Park View Educational Trust.

 

What are the main proposals?

Mr Gove said the government would require all schools to “promote British values” and would back Ofsted’s plan to introduce no-notice school inspections in England.

The chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, recommended:

  • Mandatory training for school governors
  • Changes to funding agreements for academies and free schools
  • An end to the exemption of free schools and academies from the national curriculum

 

What will happen to the five schools in special measures?

In his speech to the House of Commons, Mr Gove said the need for action was “urgent”.

Michael Gove Michael Gove says no pupil should be exposed to extremist views. “Academies will receive letters saying I am minded to terminate funding agreements,” he told MPs.

If this goes ahead, it would mean that Park View Education Trust, which runs Park View and two primary schools, would no longer receive funding to run the schools. The same will apply to Oldknow Academy. A DfE spokesman said this would be the first time this had happened. The DfE is awaiting a response from the trust and would have to find new sponsors for the three schools.

Mr Gove said the governors at local authority run Saltley School would be replaced. The Department for Education said Birmingham City Council had already started the process of imposing an interim executive board at Saltley. A sixth school, local authority run Alston Primary which has been in special measures since May, is already in the process of being turned into an academy “under a strong sponsor”, said the DfE.

 

How does the government define British values?

The prime minister defined British values as “freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions”. David Cameron said he hoped these values would be inculcated in any school in Britain “whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else”.

The Department for Education added: “We want to create and enforce a clear and rigorous expectation on all schools to promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”

 

How will British values be applied to all schools?

The Department for Education says the Independent School Standards, which apply to private schools, academies and free schools, already require schools to “respect” British values. It plans to consult shortly on tighter wording that will require schools to actively “promote” British values. The DfE says it is working with Ofsted on how inspectors will assess the new requirement. Ofsted will also update its training and guidance of inspectors.

School governors will be expected to play a role “in setting and securing an appropriate ethos and monitoring practice” in schools, says the DfE.

 

How might governors’ training change?

Training for governors is currently optional. It can be provided by local authorities or by the National College of Teaching and Leadership. The Department for Education and the National Governors’ Association (NGA) have both produced handbooks. The NGA says training is essential to help governors understand their complex and challenging role and responsibilities. Governors are expected to develop the ethos of the school, hold the head teacher to account and have financial oversight.

The NGA says the academies programme has brought more autonomy to schools so governing boards have more responsibility than ever and need training. “If a governor fails persistently to do this, then they will be in breach of the code of conduct and may bring the governing body or the office of a governor into disrepute – and as such provide grounds for the governing body to consider suspension,” said a spokesman.

 

How could the oversight of academies change?

Traditionally, local authorities have had a role in monitoring standards in the schools they control, acting as a “middle tier” between schools and the Department for Education. Now more than half of secondary schools are academies, funded directly by central government, free of local authority control and able to decide their own curriculum. Concerns have been expressed about the viability of Whitehall monitoring thousands of academies. The government is introducing regional schools commissioners and Head Teacher Boards to improve oversight of academies, while the Labour party proposes a network of regional school standards directors.

 

How did Home Secretary Theresa May become involved?

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Mrs May has raised concerns about the DfE’s handling of the allegations of extremism. She said concerns had been raised about the “inability” of local and central government to tackle the alleged problem in Birmingham’s schools. She also questioned whether Mr Gove’s department was warned about the allegations in 2010 and asked: “If so, why did nobody act?”

The two senior Cabinet members have now moved to dampen down speculation of a rift. They have taken the unusual step of issuing a joint statement insisting they are “working together” on the issue. Commentators are seeing the row as two Conservative heavy-weights jostling for position should there be any change to the party’s leadership.

 

How widespread is this problem?

The biggest inquiry so far is the council’s, which is looking at 25 schools in Birmingham, out of more than 400 in the city. The council says that it will also be talking to local authorities in Bradford and Manchester.

 

Sources:

The Guardian 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/06/michael-gove-defend-liberal-values-islamist-extremism

The BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-27020970

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-26482599

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27024881

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-27012861

The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/trojan-horse-row-teachers-suspended-for-refusing-to-impose-strict-islamic-model-9530535.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/trojan-horse-school-when-i-go-to-college-people-are-going-to-say-is-he-carrying-a-bomb-9517826.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/trojan-horse-row-theresa-may-accused-of-writing-letter-slating-department-of-eduction-just-to-leak-it-9517286.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/trojan-horse-schools-ofsted-finds-culture-of-fear-and-intimidation-9515306.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/trojan-horse-schools-tried-to-fool-inspectors-ofsted-report-reveals-9511895.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/trojan-horse-row-theresa-may-breached-ministerial-code-in-feud-with-michael-gove-over-extremism-in-schools-labour-claims-9509342.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/trojan-horse-row-michael-gove-ordered-to-apologise-to-cameron-for-times-briefing-9507170.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/michael-gove-promises-to-push-on-with-controversial-school-reforms-9503822.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/gross-negligence-tristram-hunt-challenges-goves-handling-of-trojan-horse-schools-crisis-9503534.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/trojan-horse-pupils-not-safe-from-extreme-views-claims-ofsted-report-9494642.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/michael-gove-denies-war-with-theresa-may-over-antiextremism-strategy-9492098.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/lib-dems-in-call-for-all-state-teachers-to-be-qualified-9533271.html

The Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/10963620/Trojan-Horse-hardliner-runs-teacher-recruiting-agency.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10956859/Ofsted-tougher-inspections-in-wake-of-Trojan-Horse-plot.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10949131/Trojan-Horse-plot-school-pays-campaigner-5000-in-public-money-to-thwart-Ofsted.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10949930/Trojan-Horse-Birmingham-council-ignored-warnings-for-12-years.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10892606/Trojan-Horse-debate-We-were-wrong-all-cultures-are-not-equal.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/10883151/Trojan-Horse-plot-school-criticised-in-Ofsted-report.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10899804/Trojan-Horse-how-we-revealed-the-truth-behind-the-plot.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10900683/Ofsted-head-to-meet-parents-in-Trojan-Horse-plot.html