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Theresa May challenges Michael Gove over Birmingham Muslim schools

06 June 2014


Need to know: the Home Secretary, Teresa May, talking to Chuka Umunna MP at the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday

Need to know: the Home Secretary, Teresa May, talking to Chuka Umunna MP at the State Opening of Parliament on Wednesday

DEVELOPMENTS in the current investigation into "Trojan Horse" attempted takeovers of some Birmingham schools by Muslim conservatives this week sparked open disagreement between the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, and the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

The dispute was sparked by the revelation by a Birmingham head teacher that he had warned the city council in 2008 of attempts by some conservative Islamist governors to exercise undue influence in city schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils. Because no action was taken, the head took his concerns to the Department for Education (DfE) in 2010, he said.

In a leaked letter to Mr Gove, the Home Secretary asked: "Is it true that Birmingham city council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the DfE was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act?

"We will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools."

The letter is reportedly a continuation of a long standing disagreement between Mr Gove and Mrs May over approaches to extremism. Both are members of the Cabinet's Extremist Task Force, where, reportedly, Mrs May advocates a softer approach while Mr Gove takes a stronger line.

He reportedly wanted a code of practice, which is being drawn up for religious supplementary schools, such as madrassas, to be made mandatory, against Mrs May's wishes.

A government statement said on Wednesday that Mr Gove and Mrs May were working together on the issues.

The departmental dispute comes days before OSTED is due to publish the findings of its inspections of 21 of the city's schools in connection with the allegations. It coincided with a letter strongly critical of OFSTED's approach in Birmingham by SirTim Brighouse, a widely respected educationist and former chief education officer for the city.

The letter, also signed by Tim Wylie, former head of the Runnymede Trust, and Salma Yaqoob, a former Birmingham councillor and prominent member of the Respect party, accuses OFSTED of being guided by a new ideology "at odds with traditional British values of fairness, justice, and respect for others".

On Thursday, the Prime Minister vowed to resolve the dispute between the two minister. 

"I will get to the bottom of who has said what and what has happened and I will sort it all out, once I have finished these important meetings I am having here," he told reporters at the G7 meeting in Brussells.

He said: "I think it's very important that you recognise that we have got to deal not only with violent extremism but also the sink of extremism, of tolerating extremist views from which violence can grow."

Mr Cameron has appointed the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to investigate the causes of the row within the Cabinet. 

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