Flanked by his colleagues Park View, Board member, David Hughes, branded the Ofsted inspections ‘a witch hunt’
A “Trojan Horse” saga has dominated our air waves for some time causing charged debates on the issue of “British values”. However, the report on schools suspected of being part of the plot was finally published on June 9 by Ofsted. To the relief of many, especially the Muslim community, the Ofsted report said that there was no evidence of extremism nor of extremists trying to take over schools. However, Ofsted Chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, claimed that there is a climate of fear and intimidation in some of these schools.
Of the 21 Birmingham schools inspected by the Ofsted, five were judged inadequate and consequently will be placed on special measures. This means the governing bodies of these schools will be replaced and senior leadership team may also lose their jobs. The schools that were deemed inadequate are Park View, Golden Hillock, Saltley School, Oldknow School and Nansen Primary Academy. The latter two are primary schools. Of these schools, three had been previously deemed “good” or “outstanding” whilst the other two had not been inspected previously.
The key issues highlighted in the inspection reports, include concerns relating to recruitment policies, segregation in some curricular areas, weaknesses in safeguarding policies, the power and influence exercised by some governors in some schools and how in some cases, a minority of governors seek to assert their version of religious views and practices to alter the “ethos” and “character” of the schools.
The reports also found strengths in these schools, which had been left unreported in the media storm. In most of these schools, the level of achievement and teaching were deemed as good or better. Students were judges as being generally well mannered, proud of their schools and aware of issues around bullying. Reports also found that managing behaviour and support to improve achievement were good or better.
Responding to the reports Shabana Mahmood MP who attended one of the 21 schools and represents constituents attending some of the schools, said, “What these reports do not prove is the central charge being levelled which was that there was an organised effort to import extremism and thereby radicalise pupils within the state system.”
Mahmood correctly reflected the feelings of most Muslims across the country and particularly the parents with children in those schools when she stated, “…problems with governance are not the same as evidence of radicalisation and I am deeply concerned that the focus of the debate over the last few weeks has conflated these two things. As a result of this, the Muslim community in Birmingham and beyond has come under intense scrutiny, which has left people justifiably feeling under siege, demonised and isolated. Muslim parents are in despair that the education of their children is being viewed through the prism of national security.”
In fact, anyone who carefully reads the report will be baffled by decision to judge the five schools inadequate. Ofsted judges schools against four broad criteria: the achievement of pupils, quality of teaching, safety and behaviour and the leadership and management. It seems that the primary concern had been around the lack of provision these schools offered to children to prepare them against threat of extremism and that the schools failed to provide opportunities to learn about other faiths and cultures, which has been critical to the decision to place these schools to special measure.
By the Inspectors’ own admissions, children in these schools demonstrate maturity, behave well, confident and are proud of their school. Inspectors also praised teachers and leadership team for the arrangement and support mechanisms they have created to facilitate improvement. These schools, some of which had failed or achieved single pass rates only a decade ago, are now some of the highest achieving schools.
This raises the question as to whether Ofsted’s judging of these schools as inadequate is fair, proportionate and just. Ofsted has since been accused of playing politics and falling for an agenda driven by Education Secretary, Michel Gove.
Writing in the Guardian, Sir Tim Brighouse, former Director of Education at the Birmingham City Council and later London Commissioner for Education, had harsh words to say about the whole affairs and particularly the Ofsted and the Education Secretary. It is worth noting, that Sir Brighouse had been credited to be the architect behind the major improvement in the achievement of pupils in inner-city Birmingham. Furthermore, he has actively promoted and supported the efforts by governors to encourage participation of parents from the inner-city community in Birmingham. Some of these governors now find themselves at the centre of the storm and singled out for criticism by a section of the media.
Sir Brighouse noted, “The role and power of the Education Secretary needs to be reduced and his relationship with Ofsted clarified – neither can be trusted to act efficiently or fairly.” Concerning the issue of faith and its role in schools, he argues that Ofsted report’s central theme appeared to have been there were too much emphasis on a brand of Islam. Brighouse said: “Recently I watched a presentation at a Catholic secondary school staff training day of its faith mission. As I mentally substituted “Muslim” for “Catholic” and “Allah” for “God” with each slide that appeared on the screen, I had little doubt about what a furore such an amended set of slides would cause in our Islamophobic society. Would inspectors ask whether the children in Catholic schools are being prepared suitably for life in modern Britain?”
Concerning the adverse impact of these Ofsted reports and looking at way forward, Brighouse said: “Incalculable damage has been inflicted on the Birmingham schools caught up in this affair and to their pupils and parents. There are already acute staff shortages which will get worse. The way the affair has been handled is entirely down to Gove and Ofsted. They should provide extra resources and staff to mitigate the damage to the children and community in Birmingham. As they pick up the pieces they will probably never forget what’s been done to them. One hopes they can bring themselves in time to forgive. They will be more likely to do so if they are given some help, in recompense for the injustices they are suffering. What the proud city of Birmingham needs least is to be treated as a colonial outpost of London.”
Professor Brighouse is not alone in expressing these concerns. A letter, published in the Guardian, has been signed by leading voices from education, civil society and the Muslim community and offers scathing condemnation for the way the matter has been dealt with by the Ofsted. “Inspectors were poorly prepared and had an agenda that calls into question Ofsted’s claim to be objective and professional in its appraisal of standards in schools serving predominantly Muslim pupils,” it says.
In a statement, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) observed: “Over the last few months, the Muslim community has been subjected to ridiculous accusations of extremism. But there is scant evidence that the education system or the Muslim community are the reasons for why people turn to terrorism.”
The MCB statement also questioned the fairness of the Ofsted inspection, particularly in relation to criteria applied to these schools and raised concern in relation to its conflating extremism with religious conservatism.
It is worth remembering that the whole episode was triggered by a letter now infamously known as “Trojan Horse”, widely accepted to be a fake. Many are asking who in fact wrote the letter and demand that effort it made to investigate to unearth creator of the letter and the motives behind it. This is key to addressing the mistrust, suspicion and loss of faith parents and the community in Birmingham now feel towards the Education Secretary, Ofsted and the wider establishment.