Birmingham: what is going on in the schools that are alleged to have been targeted by Islamic extremists?

FJM's picture
by FJM
Reports of the alleged attempts by some hard-line Muslims to take over some schools in Birmingham have been around for several weeks, initially reported by Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph. In the past few days, they have stirred wider interest. It sounds disturbing to me, and I am slightly surprised that I am the first to raise this on the LSN network, unless I have missed something posted already.
There seems to be a reluctance on the part of some at the LEA, and the NUT, to inflame 'the community' (aka, Muslims), though much concern has in fact been expressed by Muslims and a local Muslim MP who do not like the Salafis/Wahabi brand that seems to be at the heart of this. Given all the opposition expressed to church schools, why the silence about what seems to be far more divisive?
It could be a hoax, but that currently seems unlikely.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 23/04/2014 - 16:47

Investigations are ongoing - that's the reason for the "silence". It's a bit like commenting on a police investigation while it's taking place - apportioning blame, assuming guilt, adding more unverified accusations (often anonymous).

However, there are legitimate general questions which can be asked without commenting on the specifics of the case:

1 How did the Ofsted reports find their way into the media? Ofsted is investigating the leak - whether it was an Ofsted employee breaching his/her duties under the Official Secrets Act or whether it was someone in the schools. Until the reports are officially published they should not be relied upon. An Ofsted spokeswoman told me it could be a breach of copyright to quote from an unpublished Ofsted so the warning I published yesterday still stands. Posters shouldn't quote from the unpublished Ofsted (or EFA) reports for legal reasons.

2 How far does Government policy lead to the situation being investigated in B'Ham? LAs have no power to intervene in academies and free school. If academies/free schools cause problems, then all an LA can do is inform the DfE or, presumably, the police if criminal activity is suspected.

3 Is it legitimate for DfE spokespeople to comment on reports which are not yet in the public domain? A less serious example was Lord Nash commenting on an unpublished Outstanding judgement for a free school. Should DfE spokespeople (and ministers) refuse to comment until reports are officially published?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 23/04/2014 - 17:52

FJM - I tend to agree with you but Janet is right that should wait for the outcome of the investigations before we jump to conclusions.

My personal position is very clear. No religions or religious organisations should be allowed to run schools for the purpose of proselytisation in any form. This is not in any a way a radical position. The education systems in almost all developed countries are essentially secular in nature including many countries where religious belief is much stronger and more widespread than in the UK. There is nothing anti-religious about this. It is the only way children brought up in different religious and non-religious traditions can be expected to share the same schools, which seems to me to be self evidently a desirable state of affairs. If parents don't want their children to mix with children whose parents are of other faiths or none, then that is a problem and a pretty big one that cannot ultimately be fudged in an inclusive society.

The government is indeed to blame for any problems that arise. It will be very difficult to exclude Muslim organisations from running schools, having their own curriculum and religious instruction lessons and religion-based admissions policies if C of E, RC and various shades of evangelical Christian Academies and Free Schools are allowed so to do.

Encouraging all faith based institutions to adopt significant roles in providing essential public services that should be the responsibility of secular central or local government bodies is asking for trouble.

I understand that the Church of Scientology is now allowed to conduct civil weddings.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 25/04/2014 - 09:17

The possible true depth of the problem of Islamic schools in the UK, independent and state is revealed by this new post by Iftikhar Ahmad (24/04/14) on this old thread.

I say 'possible' because we do not know how representative of the Islamic community
Iftikhar Ahmad is. We are led to believe that the 'mainstream' Islamic community and its religious leaders preach tolerance and condemnation of 'extreme' views. However it is rare to hear any talk of the need for inclusivity in the education system from such moderate sources.

However Iftikhar is right to the extent that as Christian schools with their own sectarian (priority to RC/Anglican church attending parents) admission rules and powers over religious education are allowed (even encouraged) by law then the same rights must apply to the Islamic community.

The nettle must be grasped. The only solution is to enact a legal, secular, statutory framework for admissions and the curriculum that prevents discrimination and proselytising in any form. Frankly I find Iftikhar's educational views so objectionable I am not happy about their being promoted in any schools, state funded or independent.

The English liberal establishment frequently takes great pleasure in criticising our French neighbours. However in the area of discriminatory practices in public life they are right. All state schools in this staunch Roman Catholic country are firmly secular in all respects, and independent schools are few in number.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 25/04/2014 - 10:06

Roger - the same rights to set admission criteria apply to all academies, free schools, foundation schools and Voluntary Aided Schools. This applies to Muslim academies, free schools etc as well as CofE and RC ones. So the rights to discriminate against certain children on grounds of faith are available to any faith school that is its own admission authority. The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has ruled against several faith schools for their admission criteria. And the Al-Madinah case raised the question about how far schools can impose uniform requirements which would discriminate against children of other faiths or none (ie by requiring them to wear clothes allegedly required by a certain religion).

Iftikhar Ahmad, as I said on the other thread, bombards internet forums with cut-and-pasted articles (even the pasted website link no longer works). His London School of Islamics Trust is no longer a charity - it was removed in 1991 which is a three years before the Iftikhar Ahmad from the Trust, commenting on this thread as a 19-year-old this month, would have been born.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 27/04/2014 - 07:04

Andy - point taken. There were, as you say, far worse examples of discrimination at Al-Madinah than their uniform requirements. And Al-Madinah (as well as other free schools) had too many unqualified and/or untrained teachers. But I was addressing the point in Roger's thread that implied only schools with a designated "Christian" label could discriminate on grounds of faith. This isn't so - any designated faith school can also privilege children from the faith group. In free schools, 50% of places are supposed to be available irrespective of faith, but if this 50% fails to attract enough applications then the spare places can be awarded to children from the faith group).

Andy V's picture
Sat, 26/04/2014 - 16:30

Janet, In addition to what you say about Al-Madinah it is also well to remember that DFE and Ofsted Inspectors found unambiguous gender and religious discrimination alongside too many unsupported and unsupervised unqualifed and newly qualified staff who were teaching. These are rather more significant that breaches and admissions criteria.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 30/04/2014 - 20:35

Janet - I am sorry not to have been sufficiently clear. You are making the very point I was trying to make. The rights and privileges gained by Christian schools have pushed open a door that all sorts of other mainstream religions together with oddball sectarians can now march through. It is very difficult to see how it can now be shut, but shut it needs to be.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 23/04/2014 - 16:51

This was discussed on yesterday's Today programme. A B'Ham MP (don't know which one) said LAs appointed governors to schools. But this isn't the case with academies which are under no obligation to have LA governors and it's the academy trust, not the LA, who appoints governors to academies.

You'd think an MP would know that. And the interviewer didn't pull him up so I suppose he didn't know either.

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