Richard Garner, Independent (London), June 9, 2014
Schools will be told they must promote “British values” in the classroom in the wake of the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” investigation into allegations of a takeover of the city’s schools by hard-line Islamists.
Education Secretary Michael Gove made the pledge after chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw warned the activities of some hard-line Muslim governors had led to a culture of fear and intimidation being rife in some of the schools inspected as a result of the investigation.
The head of education standards watchdog Ofsted said its inquiries had produced evidence that there was “an organised campaign to target certain schools in Birmingham in order to alter their character and ethos”.
Yesterday, as a result of Sir Michael’s findings, Education Secretary Michael Gove announced a series of measures to combat the growing “Islamification” of some of the schools concerned- including requiring schools to encourage the promotion of “fundamental British values” in the classroom.
The move immediately sparked controversy with Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt arguing: “Amongst the greatest of British values is an education system which welcomes and integrates migrant communities, builds successful citizens in a multi-cultural society, secures safety and high standards for all and you are failing do so.”
In a statement put out on Monday night, the Department for Education said: “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.”
At present, there was only a requirement on independent schools such as academies and free schools that they should ensure pupils “respect” British values.
Discussions have already started with Ofsted to ensure they consider how effectively schools are introducing the concept in all future inspections–and agreement will be reached on how inspectors can assess how well they are performing this functions. The new regulations will come into force in September.
Attempts to define British values have proved difficult in the past with then Prime Minister Gordon Brown having to drop an idea to have a national day set aside to celebrate Britishness.
On Monday Ofsted published the reports of schools inspected as a result of the “Trojan Horse” allegations. Five were declared inadequate, 11 told they need to improve and four given a clean of health. One had already been declared inadequate before the inspections started.
The five declared inadequate–four of which are academies–are Park View, Golden Hillock and Nansen primary, all run by the Park View Educational Trust, Oldknow–also a primary academy–and Saltley, a local authority comprehensive. A sixth, Alston primary, had already been declared inadequate before the Trojan Horse inquiry.
The inspections were ordered by Mr Gove after the infamous “Trojan Horse” letter became public. It indicated there was a plot by hard-line Islamists to take over the running of Birmingham schools. Although widely regarded as a fake, it is now believed to have been written by someone who wanted to draw attention to the problem.
The schools judged inadequate rejected Ofsted’s findings with the Park View Educational Trust, responsible for three of them, indicating it would take legal action to declare the reports null and void.
Dave Hughes, vice-chairman of the Trust, said: “Our schools do not tolerate or promote extremism of any kind.
“We believe the decision to place our schools in special measures was the result of undue political influence–to allow the Secretary of State to interfere in their running.”
Mark Rogers, Birmingham City Council’s chief executive, said Ofsted had uncovered “poor governance–I have yet to hear anyone suggest that anyone has broken the law.”
Mr Gove, however, told the four academies involved he is minded to terminate their agreements–in effect sacking the trusts who run them and imposing his own new sponsors on the schools. They have until July 4 to put their houses in order. Alternative sponsors are understood to be waiting in the wings, though, if he does
In the case of the local authority school, the governors will be sacked and an interim board sent in to run the school. The school already declared inadequate will be turned into an academy.
Mr Gove told MPs that in one school terms such as “white prostitute”–unsuitable for primary pupils to hear–were used in an assembly run exclusively by Muslim staff.
In another, the school invited an outside speaker Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman despite the fact he had been reported to say: “Give victory to the Muslims in Afghanistan .. give victory to all the Mujahideen all over the world. Oh Allah, prepare us for the jihad.”
The Ofsted report on one of the schools, Saltley, also revealed how governors had hired private investigators to go through senior staff members’ emails.
Mr Gove announced he was setting up an inquiry–to be conducted by the DfE’s Permanent Secretary–to look at how his department had handled the affair in the wake of claims it had been told of the problem four years ago..
He also announced teachers who invited extremist speakers into a school would be barred from the profession for life–and said new tough regulations allowing governors to be banned for life if they promoted extremism would also be introduced. The prospect of no notice inspections was also held out.
In his report, Sir Michael said: “Some headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards, said they have been marginalised or forced out of their jobs.
“As a result some schools previously judged to be good or outstanding have experienced high levels of staff turbulence, low staff morale and a rapid decline in their overall effectiveness.”
He added: “In several schools there has been a breakdown in trust between governors and staff, including senior staff. Many staff and some headteachers told Her Majesty’s Inspectors that they were frightened of expressing views contrary to those promoted by governors.
“In one school, a school leader was so anxious about the consequences of speaking to Her Majesty’s Inspectors that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket car park.”
Sir Michael added that the curriculum in some of the schools was “too narrow” and that boys and girls were not treated equally.
“For example, in one school, some members of staff actively discourage girls from speaking to boys and from taking part in extra-curricular activities and visits,” he said. “In another, music has been removed from the curriculum against the wishes of pupils.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “The reports reveal weaknesses in oversight, governance and support.
“Let us be clear these findings are serious if isolated. The majority of schools inspected have been cleared of any serious failings. Nonetheless, unacceptable practice has been reported.
“Given that autonomy has actually been encouraged and vigilance relaxed, in all but the most serious cases schools should first be offered the chance to put their own house in order.”
What the report found
Nansen primary school
Pupils have limited knowledge of any religion other than Islam, according to the report.
It says, too, that the governing body and senior leaders at the school do not adopt effective strategies to develop pupil awareness of the risks of extremism and that “governance, safety, pupils’ cultural development, equal opportunities and the teaching of religious education are all inadequate”.
It says the academy has been hampered by being led by two acting principals since it was established.
The school said it was taking steps to improve music education–and that the children who had complained were getting extra maths and English lessons to prepare for national curriculum tests,
Saltley School and Specialist Science College
Many of the school’s governors refuse to accept that the school is in a state of crisis, says the report.
“The governing body interferes with the day-to-day running of the school and undermines the work of senior leaders,” it says.
It is particularly critical of what it calls the unwise spending of the school budget; paying private investigators to investigate the emails of senior staff and paying for meals in restaurants.
It adds: “The chair and vice-chair of the governing body are unaware that staff are divided, that morale is low and that an increasing number of staff have decided to leave.”
The school is ranked inadequate for all four categories inspected: teaching quality, pupil performance, behaviour and leadership.
Oldknow Primary Academy
A small group of governors is making significant changes to the ethos and culture of the academy without full consultation, says the report.
“They are endeavouring to promote a particular and narrow faith-based ideology in what is a maintained and non-faith academy,” it adds. “Many members of staff are afraid to speak out against the changes taking place in the academy.”
An urgent check on the suitability of governors to continue in their positions is recommended.
Meanwhile, the curriculum is said to be inadequate because it does not promote tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions.
A special Christmas assembly was cancelled and governors arranged a subsidised trip to Saudi Arabia just for Muslim pupils and staff. A madrasa–paid for from its own budget–is being established in the school.
It was rated inadequate for behaviour and governance, but still outstanding for pupil achievement and teaching quality.
Park View School Academy of Mathematics and Science
The report dismisses efforts to raise students’ awareness of extremism as “inadequate”, adding that external speakers had not been vetted properly.
“Students are not taught citizenship well enough or prepared properly for life in a multi-cultural and diverse society,” it adds.
Significant numbers of staff, it says, said they had no confidence in either senior leaders or governors.
Boys and girls, it added, were taught separately in religious education and personal development lessons. “In a mixed-sex school, this is a missed opportunity for girls and boys to share opinions and discuss together some important matters that are part of their daily lives,” it adds. However, the school was rated “good” for pupil achievement and the quality of teaching.
Golden Hillock school
Inspectors concluded that “too little is done to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views”.
They also said that there was a “perceived unfairness and lack of transparency” over appointments to the school and female members of staff had said they felt intimidated about raising issues with the senior management.
School leaders and governors are “not doing enough to mitigate against cultural isolation”.
The governing body is described as weak and meets infrequently. The school, one of three run by the Park View Educational Trust to be declared inadequate, is challenging the report’s findings.
Getting tough: Gove’s plan
* Four academies face the termination of their operating agreements.
* All schools required to encourage British values.
* Teachers who bring in extremist speakers are to be banned from the profession.
* Inquiry into Department for Education following claims that ministers were alerted four years ago.
* All schools could face unannounced inspections.