The Trojan Horse case, as it’s being known, as gripped educational analysts and commentators for the last few months now, as the Department for Education investigates claims of religious takeovers and coups in schools in the Birmingham area. The alleged plot was focussed on 5 schools – of which three were owned by the Park View Educational Trust – in order to instil leadership changes that would allow more ‘hardline Islamic’ approaches to teaching. All five have been placed in ‘special measures’ by Ofsted and a sixth was deemed to be inadequate.
All in all, the investigation went further – 21 schools were inspected by Ofsted to find out what was really going on behind closed doors. Meanwhile, the Department for Education drafted in Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former Anti-Terrorism Chief, to analyse what was going on and come to some judgements. I always found that pretty unnerving, the idea that a former member of the police who specifically dealt with terrorism should be bought in to handle such a delicate situation. However, I will admit that the investigation makes for a surprising read – perhaps showing us that not everything is how it seems.
The results? Pretty shocking if we’re honest – all of it was plainly laid out for us by Sir Michael in a letter to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.
- Sir Michael writes that a “culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of the schools since their previous inspection. Some headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards, said that they have been marginalised or forced out of their jobs.”
- Some headteachers reported that there “has been an organised campaign to target certain schools in Birmingham in order to alter their character and ethos.” In particular, there is evidence to suggest that governors are attempting to introduce “narrow, faith-based ideology” in non-faith schools. Methods for this included the inappropriate use of school funds, the manipulation staff hire and the narrowing of the curriculum.
What was noted, however, was that not all schools were in the same situation – some headteachers and staff had resisted such changes.
- There were further claims that governors had exerted “inappropriate influence” in the running of several schools in the investigation. In other instances, leaders of schools have been struggling to resist attempts to change policies – those coming from governors and were in line with personal beliefs.
- There were reports of breakdowns in trust between staff and governors, with many staff saying that they were unable to express views if they were not the same held by the governors. This continued throughout, with many teachers reported they were ‘bullied’ to make changes against their views or wishes. Some reported that this was because of their gender or religious beliefs.
- Safeguarding policies were judged to be inadequate in several locations, with even the basics such as Child Protection policies being out of date.
- Leaders and governors did not correctly address community-specific risks that might arise in Islamic areas, such as forced marriage or how to deal with extremist views.
- It was not just the schools who went under the spotlight – Birmingham City Council was lambasted freely in the reported as having “failed to support a number of schools in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalisation and extremism.” This is quite damning stuff, as it would appear that even the council has no control over what the governors are doing.
What’s also quite interesting is that several academies caught up in all this knowingly broke funding agreements – including imbalances in general education and failings in religious education.
Not only that, but the fifth major section simply reads “In several of the schools inspected, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain.” The section them notes the following:
- “The active promotion of a narrow set of values and beliefs in some of the schools is making children vulnerable to segregation and emotional dislocation from wider society.”
- Sir Michael reports that, whilst the curriculum on offer at many places reflect the views and beliefs of a small number of governors, they do not represent the wider majority of Birmingham. Children, it is claimed, are not taught to be tolerant of other faiths.
- Pupil’s experiences, rather than being broadened, are actually in several cases being restricted. According to the report, “some members of staff actively discourage girls from speaking to boys and from taking part in extra-curricular visits and activities.”
In my view, this not only show how reactionary some people are in society and how keen they are for this to be passed on to others, but it also shows a clear lack of control over schools. I mean, do we still live in a day and age where girls and boys are still encouraged to be kept apart, or do I live in the 21st century?
The recommendations that were listed are, thankfully, rather robust – here are some of the highlights:
- Ensuring that local authorities and others responsible carry out their responsibilities for safeguarding children and protecting children from radicalisation – something I thought was a given.
- There should be mandatory training for governors, the introduction of professional governors where performance is weak, and the legal requirement for all schools to publish a ‘Register of Interests’ for all governors.
- Ensuring that governors actually follow procedures to change the status and nature of a school.
- Ensuring that people can still perform whistleblowing if they feel the need to.
Ofsted has promised to ensure that the inspections are robust and conform to certain standards expected with the national curriculum changes in 2015. Moreover, there’s going to be policy change on inspections. This will be certain useful in the case of Outstanding schools, where exemptions are provided. Indeed, one of the schools caught up in this was graded as Outstanding and another as Good – so much for that when they’re now in the special measures…
There has been quite the reaction to all of this:
- Back in April, as the investigation was coming to light, the Park View Educational Trust described it as a “witch-hunt.”
- The leaders in charge of the Park View school, one of those involved, has firmly denied all of the claims.
- David Hughes, vice-chairman of of the Park View Educational Trust has attacked the government’s ‘knee-jerk reaction’ and argued that extremism was not a part of the schools. According to Mr Hughes, there was no evidence at all.
- Education Secretary Michael Gove has backed calls for inspections of schools to be made without warning, and has called for school leaders who have brought in extremists to talk to be banned. Indeed, Mr Gove currently has a lot on his plate, as he recently locked horns with the Home Secretary Theresa May over the issue. After Mr Gove accused the Home Office of failing to act on extremism, whilst the Home Office accused him of being complacent and not dealing with the issue effectively. This embarrassing public fallout has resulted in the resignation of Mrs May’s advisers, a very angry Prime Minister… oh, and a forced apology from Mr Gove.
I’m glad these findings have come out and we’re somewhere near finding a solution to all of this. I’ve always felt as though religion has to take a very careful position in schools and really shouldn’t come down to policy – rather a case of personal choice.
Moreover, it only goes to confirm that the system of academies and free schools just don’t work. For that matter, Birmingham City Council failed to stop this and Ofsted really has to pull its head out of the sand during inspections. I’ve written on the state of inspections and the like before… This really is only going to prove my point.
At least Ofsted, the Department for Education, the government and the general pubic seem to realise what’s going on here. Let’s just hope they act on it now.