It’s hard not to feel anger when reading Peter Clarke’s report into allegations arising from the Trojan Horse letter: heads hounded out of office; careers wrecked; teachers undermined; children denied their right to a broad, balanced education; women marginalised; non-Muslims abused; the promotion of “grossly intolerant” views…
Clarke provides evidence – transcripts, emails, witness statements – showing a “determined effort” to gain control of governing bodies by a small number of schools by associated people.
For example, Clarke read 3000 messages between the Park View Brotherhood. This all-male group based at Park View School “promoted or failed to challenge bigoted views”. The group’s administrator, Acting Principal Monzoor Hussain, did challenge some postings but these tended to be only when comments criticised other Muslim groups. Clarke said the “numerous endorsements of hyperlinks to extremist speakers betray a collective mind-set” that is intolerant of any way of life or belief, including alternative Islamic thought, that did not conform to the views of the group.
This mindset was often justified on the grounds it reflected the views of the community. But Clarke found this wasn’t true – it was only held by a minority of “articulate and forceful” activists. Muslims who did not agree kept silent for fear of being accused of being disloyal to Islam.
It was also justified on the grounds that schools got good results. Clarke found parents were pleased by high performance but did not want their children to have to conform to “conservative religious behaviour”.
There’s a cost which comes with an obsession with good academic results: a narrowing of the curriculum and a focus on the core, Clarke said. This, of course, applies to many schools which focus excessively on headline results, but it denies children the right to a wide education.
It was claimed complaints against the governors concerned came from disgruntled teachers. Clarke said this was not the case. The witnesses were so numerous and from diverse backgrounds. Many were fearful their coming forward would jeopardize their jobs*.
Clarke expressed concern that efforts by governors and some staff to persuade pupils to adopt a hardline strand of Sunni Islam increased children’s vulnerability to radicalisation.
A policy of appeasement by Birmingham City Council (BCC) worsened the situation
. As at Moseley School (see here
), BCC was too slow to take action. It looked at each incident case-by-case and failed to recognise behaviour patterns. It didn’t offer support to beleaguered heads – instead it offered compromise agreements if they left. In the case of Balwant Bains, head of Saltley School, whose position became intolerable after a sustained campaign against him, BCC officials blamed his inexperience rather than confront the behaviour of the governors. BCC offered Bains a compromise agreement even after it received the first copy of the Trojan Horse letter in November 2013. And his union, the NASUWT, advised him to accept it.
The Department for Education didn’t escape criticism.
Although allegations predated mass academy conversion, academy status made it easier for governing bodies to behave in this way, Clarke said. He criticised the speedy growth of Park View from a single academy to the multi-academy Park View Educational Trust (PVET). And as I write PVET is still on the DfE list** of approved academy sponsors.
Clarke was aware of allegations the DfE had received concerns about Birmingham schools earlier. He said the then Education Secretary had “directed his Permanent Secretary to conduct an inquiry”. Perhaps the new Education Secretary will consider setting up an independent inquiry.
But there were chinks of light in this sombre tale. Governors of Nansen Primary School banned Christmas in December 2013. But the Nativity Play went ahead as planned. Clarke wrote, “…the whole school came together. Neither staff nor parents think that words such as ‘Christmas’ should be banned within the school.” And at Park View School, where girls routinely wore a headscarf, many Year 11 girls arrived at the School Prom with their heads uncovered.
Staff suddenly realised, Clarke wrote, this was the way these girls habitually dressed when not forced by religious conservatives to cover their hair: heads uncovered, not defiantly, but normally. Just normally – and that’s what we should wish for all our children, to be able to live a normal life without being constrained by the narrow views of others or being denied a broad, balanced education.
*Some witnesses would only speak if they could remain anonymous – in these cases their views were respected and this evidence was not shared with Ian Kershaw who was running a parallel investigation. Clarke stressed, however, that most of the evidence was used in both enquiries.
**The approved sponsor list, updated 2 June 2014, can be downloaded here