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Park View governor defends school against critics

11 April 2014

richard haughton

City of Troy? Pupils and staff outside Park View Academy, in Birmingham

City of Troy? Pupils and staff outside Park View Academy, in Birmingham

AN ANGLICAN governor of Park View Academy, the Birmingham school suspected of being infiltrated by religious extremists, has hit back at critics.

David Hughes, the vice-chairman of Park View Academy Trust and a practising Anglican, has defended the trust against the allegations contained in the so-called "Trojan horse" document, which have sparked an intensive investigation by OFSTED and officials from the Department for Education.

The document, which was sent to a city councillor last month, alleges the existence of "Operation Trojan Horse", an organised plot by extremist Muslims to Islamicise several Muslim-majority schools by planting sympathisers on teaching staffs and governing bodies. It accuses some staff and governors of spreading pro-extremist propaganda, anti-Christian teaching, and the hounding of non-Muslim heads and teachers.

The accusation has been described as malicious by the leaderof Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bloor.

Tahir Alam, who chairs Park View Academy Trust, says that the allegations are a "complete fabrication". It is understood that the trust is considering legal action.

The claims are being investigated, none the less, by government officials, who have now extended their investigations to a further eight schools in the city. None of those involved is a Church of England school.

In open letter sent on Tuesday to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, Mr Hughes, a Park View governor for 15 years and a former head of governor-support for the city, writes: "In all my time as a governor, we have not received a single complaint about extremism or radicalism. If we had, we would have investigated it openly and thoroughly."

He deplores what is, he writes,"a witch hunt against the most successful school in England in its kind of neighbourhood". His letter criticises two former members of staff who have complained about extremism at Park View. Neither had made these allegations when they left the school several years ago after disciplinary inquiries, he writes.

Mr Hughes also turns his fire on Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, for making allegations without having visited Park View.In an interview for The Times this week, Mr Mahmood said he had received complaints that people associated with Park View Trust had become governors at other Birmingham schools, and were pressing for stricter Islamic observance.

He accused Wahabist and Salafist hardliners of attempting to indoctrinate children from the majority Sunni community into a philosophy of religion not held by their parents. They hoped to achieve their aims "by stealth", he alleged.

Mr Hughes's defence was supported by a joint statement from the leaders of Birmingham's faith communities, which expressed a "profound concern that some of the public media had distorted the discussion of what has become known as 'Operation Trojan Horse', demonising sections of the community in a completely unacceptable way".

Birmingham diocese's director of interfaith relations, Dr Andrew Smith, said: "In every community there are those who seek to exert undue influence on a school's agenda, making it difficult for staff, parents and pupils." He insisted, however, that community relationships were generally good, and Christians and Muslims worked together on many local initiatives.

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who is a co-signatory, with Sir Albert Bloor, of Birmingham's social-inclusion contract, called for a multifaith conversation on issues of school governance, leadership, and mutual expressions of faith in schools. The Church of England would take a lead in establishing the talks, because "the best possible education for every child is vital for community cohesion."

A DfE statement said that officials were working closely with the city council and West Midlands police. "It would be inappropriate to comment at this stage, but the Department would not hesitate to act if standards were found to be unacceptable."

ST SAVIOUR's C of E Primary School in Alum Rock, the most ethnically mixed part of Birmingham, and economically one ofthe poorest, sends pupils to Park View Academy, writes Margaret Holness.

The briefest visit to St Saviour's tells you why the OFSTED inspectors judged it an outstanding school. Its rankings put St Saviour's among the best 250 schools in the country (based on pupil progress from Key Stage 1 to 2). C of E inspectors also gave it top marks for its clear Christian identity.

St Saviour's has a further, unofficial accolade: as an outstanding example of interfaith co-operation. Of the 420 pupils, only five arenot Muslim. There are Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and several Muslims on the staff. About 60 per cent of governors are Muslim, though they are chaired by the Vicar of St Mark with Saviour, Saltley, the Revd Alan Thompson.

Christine Evans is in her 18th year as head teacher. Sitting in her office, Mr Thompson and two Muslim governors, Mahmood Hussein and Ashya Begum, explain why it works so well.

"We don't play politics or religion at school; we send our children here to be educated," Mr Hussein, 20 years a governor, says. His five children went to Saviour's.

"We don't play theology either," Mr Thompson says. "We do it. We only celebrate what unites us, and that is a very great deal."

Mrs Begum, a family project worker, says: "This school has got it just right." One of the Muslim pupils, Simrah Malik (aged ten), gave the same message when she spoke for the school at Mr Thompson's induction in January. "God is taken seriously at St Saviour's," she told the congregation. "We are a big, happy family."

On the table outside Mrs Evan's door are the Bible and the Qur'an. "It's all about common values - and our community's determination to help our children go as far as they can," she says.

Mrs Begum describes the consternation in the community aroused by the "Trojan Horse" letter. She fears that the affair may have a destabilising effect on the area and its schools. This view is shared by Birmingham's diocesan director of education, the Revd Jackie Hughes. "Schools in this area have really struggled to improve - and have succeeded. Now that success is being questioned."


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