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BHA responds to publication of Government report into Birmingham schools

Today has seen the publication of Peter Clarke’s report for the Department for Education (DfE) into the Birmingham schools at the centre of the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ plot. The report has found ‘co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham.’ The British Humanist Association (BHA), which in January facilitated a number of whistleblowers making complaints about Park View School, has called for a reassessment of the place of religion in schools.

The report found that ‘young people, instead of enjoying a broadening and enriching experience in school, are having their horizons narrowed. They are not being equipped to flourish in the inevitably diverse environments of further education, the workplace or indeed any environment outside predominantly Muslim communities. They are thus potentially denied the opportunity to enjoy and exploit to the full the opportunities of a modern multi-cultural Britain.’ It also found ‘very clear evidence that young people are being encouraged to accept unquestioningly a particular hardline strand of Sunni Islam’ which ‘raises concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future. I have heard evidence to the effect that there are real fears that their current experiences will make it harder for them to question or challenge radical influences.’

The report concludes that ‘At the centre of what has happened are a number of individuals who have been, or are, associated with either Park View School or the Park View Educational Trust. Time and again, people who have been either teachers or governors at Park View appear to be involved in behaviours at other schools that have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. The tactics used are too similar, the individuals concerned too closely linked, and the behaviour of a few parents and governors too orchestrated for there not to be a degree of co-ordination and organisation behind what has happened. The clear conclusion is that the Park View Educational Trust has, in effect, become the incubator for much of what has happened and the attitudes and behaviours that have driven it.

‘There has been co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham. This has been achieved by gaining influence on the governing bodies, installing sympathetic headteachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to key positions, and seeking to remove headteachers they do not feel to be sufficiently compliant. Some of these individuals are named in this report; most are not. Whether their motivation reflects a political agenda, a deeply held religious conviction, personal gain or a desire to influence communities, the effect has been to limit the life chances of the young people in their care and to render them more vulnerable to pernicious influences in the future.’

Speaking on Friday upon the publication of Birmingham City Council’s own review, Sir Albert Bore, Leader of the Council, admitted ‘We have previously shied away from tackling this problem out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism.’ And the report itself found ‘a culture within BCC of not wanting to address difficult issues and problems with school governance where there is a risk that BCC may be accused of being racist or Islamophobic.’ The Clarke report concurs with these findings, quoting a witness as saying that ‘Authorities have prioritised the pleasing and appeasing of groups of adults - who are not necessarily representative of the wider parent bodies - over the entitlement of children’.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is deeply worrying that a fear of Islamophobia has actually led to the very discrimination against Muslims that those in positions of responsibility at the Council should be seeking to prevent. This strongly demonstrates the need for a principled conversation about the place of religion in schools, so as to ensure that there is clarity amongst all parties about the entitlement of every young person to a broad and balanced curriculum, in an inclusive setting that treats everyone equally regardless of religion, belief gender or sexual orientation. If such a reassessment is not made then we will only see the problems that have occurred in Birmingham repeat themselves elsewhere.’

 


 

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 07738 435059.

Read today’s report: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/335243/Report_into_allegations_concerning_Birmingham_schools_arising_from_the_Trojan_Horse_letter-web.pdf

The report states that ‘Organisations such as the British Humanist Association contacted the Department for Education in early 2014 with concerns about the activity and behaviour of the senior management team and governing body at Park View School: The Academy of Mathematics and Science’. It goes on to note in the timeline that on 31 January, ‘The British Humanist Association contacts DfE saying that they have received allegations about “inappropriate teaching and leadership behaviour” at Park View School from former members of staff.’ On 3 February ‘The British Humanist Association complaint about Park View School is forwarded to Ofsted by DfE.’ On 5 February ‘DfE official talks directly to whistleblower about concerns that they raised via the British Humanist Association about Park View School.’ It wasn’t until 23 February that ‘Sunday Times publishes first story on the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter.’

Read the BHA’s previous statement setting out the allegations of the former members of staff that contacted it: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/04/24/revealed-former-staff-outline-concerns-park-view-school-birmingham/

Read the BHA’s statement upon the publication of the Ofsted and Education Funding Agency (EFA) reports: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/09/34029/

Read the BHA’s statement upon the publication of the Council’s report: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/04/24/revealed-former-staff-outline-concerns-park-view-school-birmingham/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Chronology

A number of allegations about Park View School were first made to the BHA in 2011 but the former member of staff who made the allegations decided at that time that they did not want anything to be done with them.

In mid January 2014 other former members of staff contacted the BHA about the school, and contact was re-established with the original complainant. The BHA gathered the complaints and did its own investigation into the school’s RE, passing all of this on to the Department for Education and Ofsted on 31 January. The DfE committed to investigating the allegations. A few days after first contacting us, the former staff also contacted Liam Byrne MP, who has also reported being aware of the allegations before the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter appeared in the media.

Some of the allegations the BHA passed to the DfE and Ofsted were leaked to Sunday Times and formed the main basis of an article it published on 23 February. The article also reported that a current member of staff had also made a complaint to Ofsted last year ‘that the school in effect excluded female students from after-school tennis classes by ruling that they could not be taught tennis by male teachers.’

The ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter was apparently authored in 2013 and sent to Birmingham City Council late in the year. However, it first leaked to the Sunday Times and numerous other sources after the Sunday Times first reported on the allegations about Park View School that the BHA had passed on. The first story about ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ appeared on 2 March. On 9 March the Sunday Telegraph announced that it had been conducting its own parallel investigation into the school.

On 20 April the Sunday Telegraph reported that six of the schools were to be put in special measures, with the paper subsequently publishing extracts from a draft Education Funding Agency report that had been leaked to it.

On 24 April the BHA published a statement setting out the former members of staff’s concerns.

On 2 May the NAHT said that it believed a number of schools had ‘experienced concerted efforts to alter their character in line with the Islamic faith… We have supported around 30 of our members throughout this incident, with detailed case work in around a dozen schools and serious concerns in half that.’

On 5 June Ofsted’s report into Golden Hillock School, another school in the Park View Academy chain, was leaked, and it was widely reported that the school is to be put in special measures. On 7 June Ofsted’s report into Park View School itself also leaked, with the school similarly being found to require special measures.

On 9 June Ofsted and the EFA’s reports into 21 schools were published, supporting many of the concerns put to the BHA. On Friday Peter Clarke’s report has leaked to The Guardian, further backing up those concerns, with Birmingham City Council’s report also published.

Today sees the publication of Peter Clarke’s report.

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