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Report on ‘Trojan horse’ letter finds claims justified

25 July 2014

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"Disturbing": the Education Secret­ary, Nicky Morgan, speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday about the Clarke report

"Disturbing": the Education Secret­ary, Nicky Morgan, speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday about the Clarke report

ALLEGATIONS in the so-called "Trojan horse" letter of an organised attempt by some governors and senior staff to impose a hardline, politicised Islamic agenda on a group of Birmingham schools were largely true, the report of a top-level investigation into the letter's claims, published on Tuesday, says.

Sent anonymously to Birmingham City Council last November, and leaked to the press earlier this year, the letter was originally dismissed by the council as a hoax designed to disturb community relations in the city. The allegations were comprehensively denied by those involved.

But, as further complaints surfaced, a former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, commissioned Peter Clarke, a former head of counter-terrorism in the UK, to conduct an inquiry.

His report says that the council took a wrong approach to the letter: "The important issue is not who wrote it, or whether it is a genuine letter between co-conspirators, but whether the events and behaviours described actually happened. It quickly became apparent to me that, although there are some factual inaccuracies in the letter, there is also a great deal that is true, some of which had not previously been in the public domain."

After examining 2000 documents, including council emails and social-media exchanges, and interviewing 50 witnesses, Mr Clarke concluded: "I neither looked for nor found evidence of terrorism, radicalisation, or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham. However . . . I found clear evidence that there are a number of people associated with each other, and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, sympathise with, or fail to challenge extremist views.

"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 governing bodies, installing sympathetic head teachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to senior positions, and seeking to remove head teachers they do not feel to be sufficiently compliant."

Mr Clarke rejected the view that they were responding to the demands of the local Muslim community. "On the contrary, I received evidence that, while the majority of parents welcome the good academic results some of these schools produce, they are not demanding that their children adhere to conservative religious behaviour at school. . .

"I have been told by many witnesses that most parents do not have the confidence to argue against the articulate and forceful people who seek their imposition, for fear of being branded disloyal to their faith or their community."

Evidence from teachers expressed their concern that children were learning to be intolerant of difference and diversity, and were not being prepared for life outside predominantly Muslim communities. Moreover, the report says, the fact that it found "very clear evidence that young people are being encouraged to adopt an unquestioning attitude to a particular hardline strand of Sunni Islam raises real concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future. . . There are real fears that their current experiences will make it harder for them to . . . challenge."

The Park View Academy and its associated Educational Trust are cited as "the incubator for much of what has happened". People who have been either teachers or governors at Park View were involved in behaviour at other schools which had destabilised head teachers, who had resigned or been removed.

The report says: "The tactics are too similar, the individuals too closely linked, and the behaviour of a few parents and governors too orchestrated for there not to be a a degree of co-ordination and organisation behind what has happened."

The report also reveals the existence of the Park View Brotherhood, an all-male social media group that included the Acting Principal of Park View academy, Monzoor Hussain, and influential teachers. Among the 3000 messages were disparagement of some strands of Islam; scepticism about the Boston bombings and the murder of Lee Rigby; offensive comments about British service personnel; and a "constant undercurrent of anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment".

"The numerous endorsement of hyperlinks to extremist speakers betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant and Islamist approach that denies the validity of alternative beliefs, lifestyles, and value systems, including from within Islam itself," the report says.

Mr Clarke's report strongly criticises Birmingham City Council for its failure to act on complaints from head teachers and others as early as 2011. "During interviews with officers, it became apparent that each complaint was dealt with on a case-by-case basis. There was never a serious attempt to see if there was a pattern to what was happening in school governing bodies."

In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Michael Gove's successor as Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, said that the success of efforts to encourage more Muslims to take up governing roles had been damaged by the actions of a few. A new Schools Commissioner for Birmingham would be appointed to help the council address fundamental criticisms of the part it played, made in the Clarke report.

The Education Funding Agency would end its contract with the Oldknow Trust, which runs one of the academies named in the report, and governors at the local-authority-run Saltley School would be replaced by an interim executive board. The National College of Teaching and School Leadership's misconduct panel would consider whether the behaviour of some teachers justified a ban from teaching.

Interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme on Wednesday, Tahir Alam, the long-time chairman of Park View trustees, who resigned last week, continued to deny the allegations. He said that he had not known of the existence of the Park View Brotherhood until he read the Clarke report.

 

BIRMINGHAM City Council's own review of the "Trojan horse" allegations, led by the widely respected educationist Ian Kershaw, re-ported last week.

It found no evidence of an anti-British agenda, but clear patterns of behaviour that supported "a determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, to influence educational and religious provision".

In a comprehensive statement, the council's leader, Sir Albert Bore, conceded: "The report has highlighted areas where we have taken no action, acted too slowly, or simply have done the wrong thing . . . often because of the risk of being seen as racist or Islamophobic. Our proper commitment to cohesion in communities sometimes overrode the need to tackle difficult questions about what was happening in a small number of schools."

Sir Albert promised the council's full co-operation with the Department for Education and OFSTED to deliver "a radically new way of working". Changes, including new procedures for appointing and training governors, would be in place by 2015, he said.

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, described the Clarke and Kershaw reports as thorough and hard-hitting. "This has been a time of untold anxiety for thousands of our fellow citizens, both Muslims and others. We now seek to achieve even greater cohesion in our city that has the potential to lead the world in human flourishing," he said. A council-backed forum to discuss the city effects of the Trojan horse allegations, of which the Bishop is a member, has proposed setting up an independently chaired civic leadership group, the Bishop said.

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