Why Liam Byrne is wrong about the “Trojan Horse” schools.

Fiona Millar's picture
I am sure I am not alone in being unsure of what to think about the Birmingham “Trojan Horse “ story. I daresay we will find out more tomorrow when Ofsted publishes some of the reports into the schools implicated in the alleged plot to radicalise pupils in the area.

The key questions seem to me to be:

1. Have there been attempts to organise and pack the governing bodies of the schools? Someone with very good inside knowledge of the Birmingham situation told me that what has gone on in some of the schools is akin to the entryism of the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party in the 1980s

2. If there has been this sort of organisation - to what end? Is this because Islamic organisations want to radicalise pupils? Or is it, as some of the teachers and leaders in the schools have suggested, because they want to get involved and ensure that a previously marginalised and underperforming group get the best possible education? Some of the schools concerned do demonstrate outstanding achievement and progress for their pupils so there has been obviously been effective governance on one level.

3. But does the best education for this particular group of students, who make up almost 100% of the intake in some of the schools concerned, require a degree of “Islamification”.

Lee Donaghy , assistant principle of the Park View Academy, which is at the centre of the storm, was quoted in today's Observer saying: “Part of raising achievement is schools acknowledging children’s faith and accommodating it”

But is that right? And if it is, how far should that accommodation go? I thought Tristram Hunt got it right on the Radio 4 Today programme yesterday. His message was that of course we want the highest standards, especially for previously underachieving ethnic groups, but we don’t want education excessively tailored to any one religious group in our state comprehensive schools and we do need better local oversight of schools than we have at present.

It has always been possible to “pack” governing bodies, even under the soon-to-be defunct stakeholder model of governance, which the recent Gove reforms to governing body constitutions seek to water down.

But there is no doubt that this process is made easier with independent state schools like academies and free schools, contracted to the Secretary of State but with little local accountability and with governing bodies effectively chosen by the sponsors.

As we have always said on this site, it is ridiculous to think that Whitehall can oversee thousands of schools from the centre, so some chickens may be coming home to roost for successive governments that have promoted this model of schooling.

But one of the more worrying reactions, that also emerged today, was that of local Birmingham Labour MP Liam Byrne who suggests in the same Observer story that Park View Academy should now be turned into a faith school to enable Muslim parents to bring up their children in the spirit of their faith.

This is dangerous talk in my view and I suspect that many of Mr Byrne’s comrades in the Labour Party would join me in robustly opposing the idea that we should be creating more faith schools. This would surely be the logical conclusion of allowing one school to change status for these reasons.

If we were not starting from here, the most sensible basis for any education system must be one in which state schools and religion are kept firmly apart, as they are in many other countries.

However the history of faith education in England is complicated. The 1944 Education Act brought existing church (mostly C of E and Catholic) schools into the state sector. These schools have long established roots, which are hard to dislodge and it is understandable that parents of other emerging religions can’t understand why they shouldn’t also have their own schools.

But this isn’t the solution to the problems being thrown up by single faith schools established under law or those that are being ushered in through the back door via the residential geography of some of our large cities.

If anything we should be trying to mix the intakes of our schools more subtly, opening more existing faith schools to non believers and to pupils of different faiths, and using local admissions criteria (which may involve banding and bussing to neighbouring schools) to get more balanced intakes in terms of social class, faith, ethnicity and ability in all schools. This, and the belief in a broad and balanced curriculum, is after all the underlying principle behind comprehensive education.

Last week I chaired a very interesting conference organised by the National Education Trust. It was opened by one of my heroes – the headteacher Geoff Barton  who blogs, broadcasts and writes about current school issues. In his opening remarks Geoff stated plainly his pride in being the head of a “state, comprehensive school”. You don’t choose who you sit next to in life, he explained, therefore the best start in school must come in institutions that are open to all, regardless of background.

I agree, our school system is segregated enough as it is without introducing more silos. So whatever the Trojan Horse investigation throws up, I hope the idea of more single faith schools is swiftly shown the door. In its place we could have a sensible debate about admissions, the best way to achieve the comprehensive ideal and comprehensive intakes in all schools and what constitutes a basic, secular curriculum entitlement for all children.

Share on Twitter

Be notified by email of each new post.


Rob Smith's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 13:39

Hello Fiona, I understand your position & agree with comprehensive education as you have articulated it. We do have to focus on the real issue here though. While there may have been some gb packing, I do not believe in the existence of an extremist plot to indoctrinate the children in these schools. As a parent, teacher and school governor in Birmingham, I am extremely concerned about Ofsted's role in this. It seems increasingly clear that this furore is as much about Gove's ambition as about anything else. Along with Wilshaw who called this city the worst place in the developed world for children to grow up in, he is damaging the prospects of these children. I refute Wilshaw's assertion & regard Ofsted's involvement in this as a serious miscalculation. Any claim they make for 'objective' assessment - were such a thing possible - is henceforth busted. As for faith schools, I couldn't agree more. I am sure we could easily find lots of alarming examples of inappropriate messages and values emanating from C of E and Catholic schools as well. It is depressing (for me) that some parents of many faith backgrounds seek out these schools within the current marketised landscape thinking that they offer higher standards. Faith schools like grammar schools contribute to the current patchwork of hierarchised provision. If we want to prevent groups of socially conservative parents from promoting models of education that segregate the sexes and lead to social division, then we need to break up the King Edwards Foundation of grammar schools.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 14:03

Fiona - I very much agree with you. Rob makes some fair points about other faith schools as does Catherine Bennett in today's Observer who spells out the issues, inconsistencies and hypocrisies very powerfully.


The really difficult issue is when a majority of local parents support the sort of religious domination of faith schools that you and I find completely unacceptable. This was the case with the Derby Muslim Free School.

Liam Byrne's view must be strongly opposed. Parents must NOT think they are entitled to state schools that separate their children from the children of other faiths and none. This is the road to the tragedy of Ulster. Allowing exclusively Muslim schools would not be the end of separation - Sunni and Shia factionalism would come next. Unfortunately some Christian faith schools have pushed the door ajar, through which others are now marching as Catherine Bennett points out.

This does not have to happen and London has schools where it does not, even where there are majority Muslim communities. This also used to be true of Birmingham, my city of birth. I think Bethnal Green Academy may be a case in point but you locals will know better. The electoral goings on in Bethnal Green however seem worrying.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 14:40

Hi Rob, I don't really feel able to comment on the first part of your response. I do agree with you that Michael Gove's handling of the situation has been remarkably inept, right down to his misjudged lunch with the Times at which he freely dumped on a cabinet colleague. And we are all used to his sweeping and insulting generalisations about particular types of schools, areas of the country, local authorities, teachers, governors, members of the "Blob" etc.But you don't really answer my point about the extent to which some tailoring of the provision, cultural and curriculum, in a local school should be manipulated by a particular religious viewpoint. If it is the case that Ofsted has found the balance has tipped over too far into trying to assert Islamic values into non-denominational schools, would you agree this is a worry?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 14:04

I mean the electoral goings on in Tower Hamlets.

Rob Smith's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 08:03

Hello Fiona, I'm afraid I can't regard Ofsted's contribution as valid. It concerns me greatly that responses to your post are already railing against the possibility of a Muslim faith school coming out of this. One respondent even prefacing this by commenting that Catholic schooling was acceptable. If there are faith schools, then Muslims should be free to establish theirs. The state school / faith-based school distinction is pretty meaningless to me as I pay for both - being a taxpayer. I would prefer that we didn't have them. I am also concerned about reports that Gove will use this to propose a ban on headscarves - following France's disgraceful example. My position on this is straightforward: We will damage children's education if we expect them o leave their cultural identity at the gate.
IN addition to these concerns: the intervention by OFsted is on the basis that there is an extremist plot. It now emerges that the schools will be found inadequate on the basis that children have not been sufficintly safeguarded from extremist views.
If this is supposed to defuse or address the issue of nascent extremism, I would suggest that the effect will be to stoke the fires.
So a big loss for everyone - except for the politicians!

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 08:51

Fiona - your'e right that Gove has handled this situation very badly. The Trojan Horse allegations needed calm leadership and statesmanlike behaviour. Instead, we got Gung-ho Gove galloping in with all guns blazing attacking not just the schools at the centre of the alleged plot but the local authority as well. He sent in a former counter-terrorism chief and briefed against the Home Secretary to the Times.

It was right to investigate the claims. But it appears these claims were made much earlier and the DfE had been told in 2010. This also needs investigating.

FJM's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 22:30

The tragedy of Ulster is the final act of the Anglo-Irish difficulties that began 800 years ago, and to invoke it to attack faith schools is rather desperate. Let us be frank: the problem lies not with Catholics, or Jews or Anglicans, but with Muslims, a sizable number of whom do not share enough of the outlook of the indigenous population to make co-existence as comfortable as it should be. I fully accept that you are not one of those on the left who excuses any Muslim misbehaviour, but the likes of Livingstone and various others have embraced them as part of their 'rainbow coalition' and we are paying the price. In some parts of London, I feel like I am an alien, with so many women wearing black sacks, and don't get me on to the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets. It is no surprise that the anti-faith schools brigade have leapt on the Birmingham problems to renew their attacks. The problem for you seems to be when a majority of local parents want faith schools, but you find that ';completely unacceptable'. Democracy can be a real nuisance at times.

Chris Manners's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 18:58

As of now, 2 people have been arrested.

And a party with mainly Bengali candidates won more a lot of council seats, but fewer than Labour. The leader of that party used to be Labour's leader in TH.

Not sure what that's got to do with anything, Roger. Nor why it's particularly worrying.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/06/2014 - 12:19

FJM - The problem of having a majority of parents that are in favour of unacceptable educational practices is nothing new to those that have worked in white working class schools. There is no democratic deficit here. State schools are (or should be) regulated according to principles set out by the democratically elected government. The idea that groups of parents should have the right and power to run their own state schools according to their religious or other views and prejudices is dangerous lunacy.

As we are seeing.

Chris Manners's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 13:17

"don’t get me on to the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets"

I won't, don't worry.

Because like everyone else you'll know nothing at all about it.

It's surprisingly easy to buy alcohol for an Islamic Republic. And lots of well off white people are moving there and sending their kids to local schools.

The director of education, appointed by the mayor, is a former advisor to Eric Pickles.

Bet Gilligan didn't tell you that.

Chris Manners's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 13:19

What pressure to vote according to ethnicity and religion?

16 year olds? They can't vote. Faith schools? Quasi-faith schools?

Sorry, Roger. You're flailing around here trying to find something to beat Tower Hamlets with.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 19:41

It has obvious implications for 16 year-old pupils voting in elections with ballot boxes in faith schools, which is the subject of my thread. Any introduction of pressure on people to vote according to religion or ethnicity is deeply worrying for democracy. Ultimately it reduces the outcome of elections to demography, as in Northern Ireland.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 14:23

Chris - I have no interest in beating Tower Hamlets with anything. I understand that there are alleged issues of electoral malpractice in the May elections. Correct me if I am wrong.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 14:36

Chris, Is that Robert.McCulloch-Graham, and if so did he feature on Newsnight when the guano hit the fan on 4 Jun? I recall a cameo interview with Paxman that was woven into the programme and it was evident from what the Tower Hamlets speaker said that the measures followed by the authority would stop 'radicalisation' e.g. the Education Business Partnership. Indeed, it struck me that initiatives such as this may be a reason why many people are upbeat about the future (for the area and more importantly the pupils/students).

It left me thinking, if one LA can do this so can others.

Chris Manners's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 21:48

Andy, that's absolutely him.

Lots of very positive stuff feeling around schools in Tower Hamlets. It's got an obvious advantage over some of the much poorer "Muslim" areas in terms of attracting governors and teachers. But the LA are important too, and much could be learnt from us.

Chris Manners's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 21:51

Two people have been arrested in Tower Hamlets. The count took an incredibly long time, partly because votes were being checked very carefully.
I don't believe the reports of intimidation- Gilligan, Golds and the others never remember to take a camera phone with them.
There was a police officer in every polling station.

Apologies, for saying you wanted to beat Tower Hamlets. Out of order.

Shaun Whitfield's picture
Thu, 23/04/2015 - 12:32


Chris, looks like Roger has now plenty to 'beat Tower Hamlets with' (although I understand this has nothing to do with the education system in the Borough). Care to comment?

Patrick Hadley's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 17:59

Is Liam Byrne the biggest idiot in the Labour party? He was the one who left the " I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left" message when he left the Treasury. That is the gift that keeps on giving for the Conservatives - you will see it on billboards and in party political broadcasts before the next election.

Now he wants more Muslim faith schools? Is he crazy. I am a supporter of Catholic education, but would advocate a complete ban on new faith schools of any description rather than see more Muslim faith schools.

Parental choice in our cities results in highly segregated schools on racial and religious lines. While I used to support the right of parents to express a preference surely we should now do what we can to prevent mono-culture schools.

Brian's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 18:14

Do you mean that you support Catholic education available in all state schools or schools segregated on religious grounds, which will include Catholic schools? Surely the latter view only strengthens the hand of those wanting separate, state funded, Islamic schools. There can't be one rule for one religion and one for another. Gove's passion for academies, free schools and being Conservative leader has opened a very dangerous can of worms which will lead to an increasingly divided society. It seems the Labour party is unable to think of reversing the trend.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 18:25

Brian I would say that there should be no new faith schools of any denomination. Those faith schools that already exist should be allowed to remain provided they can show that they are not contributing to social disunity. If any Catholic school anywhere in the country is a cause of division and conflict then it should either reform or be closed.

I certainly agree that Gove's policies have made things worse, but it was Labour who started it by introducing the academy schools, the existence of which weakened the power of LEAs to intervene, since any school that did not like what they heard from the LEA could apply for academy status.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 19:26

Brian - I think there is a step by step approach possible. Instead of banning or abolishing faith schools.

I advocate insisting that all schools implement a clarified National Curriculum, policed by a reformed Ofsted composed of HMIs actually inspecting what goes on in classrooms by asking pupils what they have been taught.

I would include the same factually based compulsory Religious Education curriculum in all schools. I know I usually argue against purely knowledge based teaching but in this case the knowledge is vital and nothing else is needed. The state RE course should simply comprise factual information about the origins and core beliefs of all the religions of the world, including their major sects and factions and nothing else - no comment or analysis of any kind needed in order to fully comply. This could be set out in comparative tabular form in double page spreads in the national text book.

Obviously the various religions would be consulted to ensure the national text book got its facts right. Faith schools would be allowed to teach more about their own faith but only if they covered all the others fully and properly in accordance with the national curriculum. No opt outs allowed.

We have some devout RC close friends. I am surprised about how little they know of the core religious beliefs of other long standing Christian groups - Quakers, Unitarians, Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons etc. let alone other world religions. From my own schooling I was taught (not in a faith school) about the old testament prophets all predicting the arrival of Jesus, but I was never taught the mainstream Christian doctrine that Jesus was sent to earth by God to absolve the whole of humanity from their sins so that everyone can go to heaven instead of hell when they die, or how this was this to be achieved by means of fulfilling a prediction of a horrible human sacrifice followed by a miraculous resurrection. I certainly wasn't taught that some other Christian groups differed from this doctrine either.

All this would be enormously interesting to children. I wish I knew the core facts about all the other world religions. Children too need to know these things so they grow up understanding and respecting the beliefs of others and their right as adults to hold such beliefs.

Ofsted would apply the same test of asking pupils what they had been taught in order to ensure all schools taught the same facts about other core parts of a broad and balanced National Curriculum. For example that to threaten to kill people for renouncing their faith (apostasy) is a crime. That FGM, forced marriage, honour killings, ironing girls' breasts and general gender discrimination are also crimes.

This approach would also apply to the rest of the National Curriculum including the whole of the core theorems of science obviously including the origins of our planet and the evolution of life on it.

There would be lots of Christian teachers and educators who would be quite happy with all of that. The great Victorian Christian teacher and educator the Reverend Richard Dawes would have had no problem with it.


So long as they all strictly comply with a beefed up National Curriculum and the law I see no need to restrict or ban faith schools.

Obviously they would not be allowed to have discriminatory Admissions Policies, but why would they want to?

FJM's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 22:31

Yes there can, if one religion sometimes manifests itself in a way that is inimical to our way of life. If that is Islamophobic, then so be it, I can live with it.

Brian's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 18:36

I certainly agree with much of what you say, Patrick, especially your points about LEA intervention. However the basic issue is that religious segregation in schools is either a good thing for society or it isn't. I can't agree that retrospectively it is broadly beneficial but in future it isn't. That sounds too much like a position taken to prevent certain religions setting up segregated schools.

Brian's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 20:11

As always Roger you present a reasonable, inclusive and manageable solution. But in reality where are we going? I notice on the British Humanist Society website that they report that they are receiving 'more and more requests for advice from parents whose children’s Church school is increasingly evangelistic.' I can't think of leading politicians who would speak out about this. If it's acceptable for one faith it's acceptable for all.

Chris Manners's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 19:02

I thought Tristram Hunt got it badly wrong. He had no idea what the reports were going to say, and shouldn't have accused anyone of failing to act before he did.

Gove published new safeguarding guidelines in Apr 2014. Radicalisation is mentioned. Don't think it was before, in the 2006 guidance the Coalition reaffirmed.

To me this looks like a massive scandal. Hunt and Cooper are woefully under par to expose it.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 19:31

Chris - I don't this is fundamentally about radicalisation. See my post above.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 19:41

It is unlikely that Hunt has no idea what the reports are going to say since they are circulated to governing bodies under embargo weeks before they are officially published. Since the invention of the photocopier and the scanner it is very hard to stop copies from getting out.

I agree that it is a big scandal, but I am dubious about using Ofsted to get to the heart of it. The issue of safeguarding, which had previously been about the safety of the pupils from any harm in school premises or on trips, is being stretched to the point where being exposed to any fundamentalist religious views is regarded as a breach of safeguarding. I wonder if that will stand up to scrutiny in court - because the school will argue that speakers were only advocating peaceful adherence to the words of the prophet. I do not see that it can be proved that merely hearing strict Islamic teaching is dangerous. If it is dangerous then surely all the Mosques where the same speakers preach should be closed down.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 08/06/2014 - 19:44

I agree with you Patrick. That is why I think the solution is to insist that certain things MUST be taught rather than other things must not.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 08:25

The problem is certain kinds of Muslim, not all, see themselves in a war with non-Muslims. Any activity by them to control schools is jihad, a conflict with what is not Islam and consequently values and behaviours flow from that.

So this problem is to some extent rooted in a particular faith group. The problem is that secular is a faith position too even if you don't acknowledge it.

You have to argue that one position is superior to another purely on faith.

It's a good job this happened in local authority schools though, because if it was in free schools or academies I am sure everyone would have been all over Gove like a rash and the lack of accountability etc.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 13:38

Ben - I think Muslims like everybody else must be allowed to think what they like (no-one can control what someone thinks or believes anyway). Public statements and actions are different. They must be lawful. Jihadist preaching and teaching seems to me to conflict with longstanding UK laws, which should be enforced. I have already posted what I believe should apply in schools. A reformed National Curriculum taught in its entirety to all pupils in all schools. Faith schools can teach what they like (within the law) in addition to that but not instead of it.

Freedom is a precious principle, but ignorance is the jailor most to be feared.

I don't like the term 'radicalisation' used pejoratively . The American 'Founding Fathers' were all radicals especially Thomas Paine. So too most of the great scientists and engineers that comprised the Lunar Society. They met in Birmingham and will be turning in their graves at being described using the same language that is being applied to religious zealots.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 16:41

Ben - 21 Birmingham schools were targeted. Six have been put into Special Measures. In one of these schools it was nothing to do with allegations of extremism. That leaves five schools. Four of these were academies. It's quite legitimate to ask how far lack of accountability and lack of supervision by the LA contributed to the disturbing situation described by Ofsted. That said, the Park View Education Trust, which runs three of the schools, categorically denies Ofsted's findings.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 13:52

Ben - To be clear 'secularism' has nothing to do with the truth or otherwise of religious faith. Secularism is merely the insistence that all public institutions must be free from religious control or influence. There are lots of religious secularists.

Secularism is often confused with atheism. Atheism is simply the post-enlightenment insistence that the test of truth always lies in the principles and methods of science and reason. Faith and tradition must count for nothing in judging whether something is true or not. This is self evidently the case because every 'faith' position trumps every other faith position on the basis that one's own faith position is true and everybody else's is false.

So it is logically impossible for secularism or atheism to be 'faith' positions.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 16:48

Park View Academy Trust came into being in 2012 and the Trojan Horse letter (hoax or not) originated in 2010. It follows that the lack of supervision has its roots in pre and post Academy status.


Additionally, this is compounded by an assertion that several HTs lodged complaints/ misgivings with the LA is 2008. It is then not quite that clear cut.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 17:10


" ignoring warnings dating back as far as 2008."


"It was also claimed today that city education bosses ignored the wider problem, whistleblower Keith Townsend has revealed he went to officials about the issue in 2008."


Birmingham City Council was Labour during 1984-2003, No overall control 2003-12 and back to Labour 2012 onwards. So if one is looking at political culpability Labour was in Government from 2008 -10, the Coalition 2010 to present and at LA level, No control 2008-12 followed by Labour 2012 onwards.

So if guano is to be thrown and smeared it should be a politicians in general not specific parties. No one comes out of this or any other educational fiasco smelling of roses, not even Tristram Hunt and he hasn't even made SoS Educ yet!

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 00:28

The problem is that secularism has its own set of dogmatic values. They are not necessarily useless but say what they are

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 05:42

Andy - you're right, the whole affair is compounded with assertions and allegations about when the so-called Trojan Horse plot was reported. These need investigating. When was the DfE told? When was the LA told? If they were told before the Trojan Horse letter appeared in March 2014, why did they not investigate?

That said, evidence so far from Ofsted said that at one of the schools at the centre of the allegations, Oldknow, concerns had been expressed about “rapid changes in the leadership team” by staff and some parents from Jan 2013. This was, of course, after Oldknow became an academy in April 2012.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 08:15

Andy - There are deep implications in all of this for our democracy. There are very large Muslim populations in many Labour Wards in Birmingham that presently vote Labour. (The same used to be true in Tower Hamlets.) We don't yet have full information on what the Birmingham LA did or didn't do, however it would not be surprising to find timidity in tackling these issues on the part of the democratically elected Council.

Islam has a political dimension. If local people start voting in accordance with directions from religious community leaders, then secular Moslems, of which there are many, won't be elected on a Labour ticket. This opens the door to the formation of a Moslem political party like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This reduces democracy to demographics.

In so far as schools are concerned the only protection can come from national secular government legislation in regard to governance and a compulsory National Curriculum regulated by a reformed Ofsted. This is what Tristram Hunt is (I hope) hinting at.

Gove and Wilshaw seem to be saying the same thing but at present Academies and Free Schools are not bound by the National Curriculum and anyway cannot be effectively regulated from Whitehall, so to implement his promises, Gove will have to do an ideological U-turn which is unlikely.

This mess well therefore need a Labour government to sort out. Let us hope they are up for it.

Rob Smith's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 13:14

Hello Roger, this sounds worryingly like it's leading towards the French position of banning headscarves. I would be against such a move - however attractive it is to politicians. Not sure that the faith / secularism division is quite so straightforward.
We can only cite historical examples and none of them can easily be transplanted into 21st century England. Furthermore, the Dawkins brand is almost as rabid in its orthodoxy as some of the socially conservative attitudes this saga has stirred up. As for SMW, I can't agree - in my view, claims that Ofsted produces objective data to inform market judgement rang hollowing long ago. The first bullet point in SMW's statement about fear & intimidation could have applied to many schools & colleges in the context of the run up to an inspection. So: are fear & intimidation (& low morale - remember SMW's comment on that?) acceptable unless it's a school with Muslim governors? No. But marketisation makes fear a feature. Very glad that T Hunt attacked that aspect of the situation. But take little comfort from the rest of his contribution.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 09:01

"This mess well therefore need a Labour government to sort out. Let us hope they are up for it." To borrow from the late great Eric Morecombe, "rubbish". Hunt was blatantly contradictory on Newsnight last night:

1. He started by agreeing with Gove on the issue of British values and several sentences later commented along the lines of, 'whatever British values are or mean'.

2. Assuming they win the GE he mentioned the local monitoring but failed to declare that these appointees would be chose from a Labour led SoS Educ approved list (ala the Blunkett report)

3. He accepted that Labour has driven the sponsored academy programme but then went on to say the difference was academies working collectively. What rot. Just as Gove's version the collective is rooted in chain groups so too the Labour collectives were chain sponsor led.

What he totally missed out on was pressing home the advantage of the London Challenge project. Yes, he mentioned its success BUT NO he didn't focus on the reason (e.g. inter-school collaboration/partnership and resources).

If Labour win it will be status quo at and slower pace and false hope of revived LA style monitoring that will still be driven by the centre.

If anyone came out of yesterday relatively well it was Wilshaw. He is not in favour of academies and free schools being free from the national curriculum and he always promoted no notice inspections. A well run, well led, stable school performing well should not need any notice. He was clearly over-ruled/ignored by Gove. With regard to no notice, it has always been my position that the strenngth of a HT can amongst other indicators be gauged by the mentoring and cpd of their SLT and DHT post holder(s) in particular.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 09:02

It would be nice to see my other posts released from moderation. One of them provides linked to the 2008 and 2010 disclosures to BCC.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 10:28

I agree that Wilshaw came out of it well. I disagree with him about 'zero tolerance' behaviour policies, but he is strong on defending the comprehensive system. I hope the next Labour government retains him in post.

As for your comments about Tristram you will not be surprised that I disagree.

1. There is no contradiction here. You can uphold British standards of tolerant secular democracy, while still expressing a need for them to be examined, extended and clarified.

2. As you know I advocate local control through restored LEAs. This is an area of Labour policy that is fast developing.

3. Yes Labour's Academies policy was a huge mistake, like the invasion of Iraq and much else besides. All of Labours really bad policies and decisions were strongly supported by the Conservative opposition. Without Conservative support most of them, including Academies, would never have come about. But Ed is not a prisoner of the past and should be judged on present policies and intentions.

Tristram talks about inter school collaboration all the time. His latest Commons speech was far more critical than ever before of many aspects of the marketised education system. Labour education policy is in a state of transition. It is even possible that LSN may be influencing it.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 11:04

Ben - Secularism is not a belief system, just an Administrative policy. Its only value position is that religion must be kept entirely out of public governance and administration. The main reason for this is to safeguard the right to freedom of religious belief and practise. This is only ever guaranteed by secular democracies. Look what is happening in Turkey where the principle of secular governance is being eroded.

In 1969 I took part in a two month overland university mountaineering expedition to the 'Pontic Alps' in North East Turkey bordering on the then USSR. We drove from the Black Sea coast inland up the Kavron Valley in a long wheelbase Land Rover and an ex-Army Morris Commercial 4x4 truck full of food and equipment. Our base camp was below Kackar Dag near the foot of the Kackar glacier. It could only be reached by hiring pack horses from the highest village below. We spent one evening in the village with the local 'lads' taking pot shots with their various guns at tin cans on a wall. They never stopped asking us where our guns were. We told them that we hadn't got any, but I don't think we were believed. During the expedition our leader, who was a technician in the Mechanical Engineering department of the university, and I completed a 30 mile round trip to the other side of the main mountain range. We were welcomed with enthusiastic hospitality in all the villages we passed through. These were all remote and not accessible by motor vehicles. We camped overnight in a small tent. Throughout the entire expedition we never felt threatened in any way by the local Muslim population. There was not a Burka in sight. Lots of women and girls did not wear headscarves either. This trip would be inconceivable today. How the world has changed for the worse since the 1960s.

Sorry about the digression, but to me it illustrates how secularism is essentially and fundamentally liberating. This is why there are so many religious secularists from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faiths. Ghandi is an example that come to mind.

I make no apology for going on about secularism here. The concept of the 'aggressive secularist' is a myth in all respects except in the defence of the sanctity of the public space. No apology for that either.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 11:07

The vehicles containing supplies for our journey back to the UK were left unguarded in the village for three weeks. Nothing was nicked.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 15:07

Rob - I am certainly very discomforted at the TV images of lines of girls sitting together all wearing identical white headscarves. This looks very much like a religious school uniform for girls in a secular school. How would a non-headscarf-wearing girl feel in such a class - or would she be made to wear a headscarf out of 'respect' for the Muslim pupils? My attitude to headscarves is much like my attitude to compulsory wearing of poppies and compulsory public weeping when Princess Diana died.

I do wonder how much popular resentment there actually is on the part of Muslim girls (rather than religious leaders) in France not being allowed to wear headscarves in school. I suspect that a lot of girls are very pleased about it. Do Muslim girls in UK schools wear their headscarves in PE or swimming lessons? What if protestant parents in Ireland of Scotland sent their kids to school wearing orange cravats. What about ordinary scarves? Would a Manchester school allow City and United supporters to wear their team's colours in school? Now you really are talking about strong cultural feelings.

So on balance, I am with the French. I think banning headscarves probably results in less trouble in the end. I think that all schools should in general seek to emphasise what pupils of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds have in common and what they can celebrate together. What educational value is there in children wearing prominent divisive badges?

Rob Smith's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 16:21

How about turbans Roger? I have lived and worked amongst Muslims, Sikhs and people of many different cultures all my life. Forgive me for saying so but as someone from non conformist stock, I would resist your normative policy proposal very fiercely on behalf of my neighbours as much as on my own behalf. France has got it wrong. Our society should be able to tackle extremism without attempting to impose a bogus and counter productive norm. The idea that by forcing changes on minority groups will lead to increased harmony is mistaken.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 16:58

Rob - I think turbans are a special case on the grounds of the very long established tradition in the UK in the armed services, the police, in schools and in respect of motor cycle crash helmets. There was a Kenyan Asian boy who wore a turban in my class at school in the 1960s. Wasn't there a turban wearing pupil at Billy Bunter's fictional Greyfriar's School in the 1930s?

Regarding headscarves, I have to ask who is doing the imposing and how recent is it? I grew up in Birmingham throughout a long period of Asian immigration and don't remember ever seeing a woman or a girl wearing a headscarf. I spent two months in Turkey in 1969 and don't recall seeing many, if any, women wearing headscarves in Istanbul, Ankara or anywhere else that I recall.

I also taught in Leicester and Leicestershire schools in the 1970s and 80s and girl's headscarves were never worn, nor was it ever mentioned as an issue. In the 1990s a large number of Muslim Kosovo refugees were admitted to our school. The girls did not wear headscarves nor was it ever raised as an issue by their parents.

The Muslim journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown has written at length on the subject. She does not wear a headscarf and maintains that there is no Islamic requirement for a Muslim girl or woman to wear one.

So we have to ask why this recent 'cultural practice' has assumed such importance and who is making all the fuss? I don't actually believe it to be a big issue in France at all.

Rob Smith's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 17:20

I'm afraid such an exception makes the position completely untenable. How could you argue it when challenged through the Equality Act? Don't think Billy Bunter would swing it. To return to the issue: no evidence of a extremist conspiracy of any significance has been found; it's worrying then that Gove's little home made crusade has people on the left talking openly about banning the headscarf. Incidentally, I was teaching Bosnian refugees in the 1990's, they were as 'western' as I am but at least two of the young women started wearing headscarves and becoming more Muslim in their dress and way of life after arriving here. It was down to their experiences in Bosnia, an assertion of ethnic identity as well as it being a response to their perception of a general pervasive dislike of Islam. I'm not sure that this was a definitive change - I suspect they may no longer be dressing like that. That would be through choice. I do not share your confidence that every Muslim girl / woman in a headscarf is being forced to wear it. How the level of choice / parental influence is different from Sikh boys wearing turbans is nit clear to me at all.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 17:48

Rob - Isn't the Sikh issue one of not cutting the hair for religious reasons? Isn't the turban just a mechanical solution to managing all that hair? I am suggesting that there is no equivalently deep reason for Muslim headscarves to be worn by pupils in schools. But what would I know? Why now, but not in the past?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 10/06/2014 - 17:51

Rob - Regarding the law, Sikh's do have a legal exemption from wearing motor cycle crash helmets. Moslem women don't - or does a crash helmet count as a headscarf for religious purposes?

Chris Manners's picture
Thu, 12/06/2014 - 22:03

Headscarves are worn by the majority of Tower Hamlets Asian women and female students. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's opinion is irrelevant. They've been seen as a requirement of their faith by enough of them for as long as I can remember. The older women wear them too.

It's unthinkable to me that they'd be stopped from wearing them to school, and think it was a bad thing for France to do, based on a completely novel interpretation of secularism.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.