Inequality and gender discrimination, homophobia, alleged extremist views, creationism, bullying, and unfair employment and disciplinary practices: these are just some of the wide range of allegations made by the initial whistleblowers – several former members of staff from Park View School, an Academy with no religious character in Birmingham – to the British Humanist Association (BHA) in January. After receiving these allegations, which are now being published for the first time, the BHA referred them all to the Department for Education and Ofsted. Since that time, the school has also come under investigation by the Education Funding Agency, Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police.
The school has been at the centre of controversy since some of these allegations leaked to the Sunday Times in late February, with issues heightened after the later appearance of ‘Operation Trojan Horse’, an alleged ‘jihadist plot to take over Birmingham schools’ including Park View, and further accusations subsequently being made in the Sunday Telegraph, Birmingham Mail and other media. Ofsted has conducted two ‘section 8’ inspections and its leadership and management has been reported to have been found inadequate. The Education Funding Agency has also inspected the school.
The former members of staff initially requested the BHA not publish these allegations. However, as the school has repeatedly and publicly denied many of the allegations, the former members of staff have asked the BHA to publish most of the issues they raised then. The BHA is doing so in line with its own concerns that too much public attention is being focussed on the narrow issue of political extremism and not enough on the allegedly unbalanced religious environment at the school.
The allegations made include:
- Creationism and intelligent design have been taught in science lessons by at least one science teacher. There have been rumours that in sex education lessons given by the same teacher that boys were told that ‘girls must obey their husbands’ and that ‘wives are not allowed to say “no”’. A worksheet was handed out to year 11 boys with a section ‘The Wife Obeying Her Husband’, which says ‘A woman must obey her husband as long as he does not tell her to perform any haraam (unlawful) acts. Allah says (what means), “…the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in absence what Allah would have them guard.” (Al-Nisa 4:34)… Marriage also acts as an outlet for physical needs and regulates it as well… A woman is normally sought as a wife for her wealth, beauty, nobility, or religiousness (adherence to Islam), but choose a religious woman and you will prosper. (Muslim). A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. You should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a loser… The whole world is a provision, and the best object of benefit of the world is the pious woman.’
- Some pupils have demonstrated positive views regarding 7/7 and 9/11, which are not challenged due to ‘cultural sensitivity’, and members of staff have been advised not to bring soldiers to the school for visits. One recently recruited member of staff has said he ‘wants an Islamic state’.
- In RE, pupils were given a list of non-Muslim members of staff and set homework to try and convert them.
- The school has legally determined to have Islamic instead of Christian collective worship, with students sitting segregated side-by-side based on gender. It has also encouraged students to pray by putting posters up in school corridors. Some of these read ‘If you do not pray you are worse than a Kafir’ (i.e. non-Muslim). There is a call to prayer every lunch time.
- Certain male teachers expect boys to be at the front of the class and girls at the back, and ignore girls when they want to answer a question. A teacher apparently agreed when one pupil commented ‘women should not be allowed to drive’, and another told pupils that females belong in the kitchen. Members of staff have shown prejudice against girls not wearing a headscarf, with some girls being forced by staff to do so. If a boy and girl are seen together more than once parents are called in. Female members of staff and pupils are often treated as inferior by male Muslim staff members. Complaints about this behaviour are not taken seriously.
- Many pupils have expressed homophobic views and these are not challenged. One teacher said to a boy wearing a bracelet, ‘Why are you wearing these, are you one of those gays?’ Other teachers who have wanted to try and address the homophobia have been told they are not allowed to.
- The school nurse is not allowed to discuss sexual health issues with pupils.
- Girls are not allowed to take part in PE or sport activities with boys, even non-contact sports or where a male coach is present, the reason given for this being it makes male Muslims feel uncomfortable.
- There are various allegations about ‘cheating’ by the school during its 2012 Ofsted inspection. For example, one teacher told pupils the answers in Urdu (which the inspector could not speak) and then got them to repeat them back in English. Another teacher was drafted in specifically to work at the school for two days during the inspection. Pupils were taught about religions other than Islam when usually they are not.
- Recently (particularly since becoming an Academy in 2012), the school has recruited a large number of male Muslim staff with extreme religious views. Certain male Muslim staff members who are friends with the governors and senior staff have been promoted despite being less qualified than other candidates, sometimes with them being told about the jobs before being generally advertised, other times without the jobs being properly advertised at all. Other non-Muslim members of staff have been sidelined. One job was effectively religiously restricted as the job description required the staff member to run the after school Madrassah that had been established.
- Staff who complained about these issues to the senior leadership team had their complaints ignored and some have had investigations into their behaviour and have been accused of attempting to discredit Muslim members of staff and being disrespectful. Some have resigned as a result.
The BHA’s own research has demonstrated that the RE syllabus includes ‘Discuss Allah as Creator of the universe. Muslims could never accept that the universe came by chance. Big bang, evolution.’ ‘What is a just war? When can Muslims take up arms? Conditions of jihad. Media stereotyping’. ‘Islamic living- dress code for both men & women (including hijab)’. ‘Discuss reasons that lead to atheism and agnosticism and the Muslim response. Big bang/evolution’. ‘Issues such as euthanasia & abortion Are they given fair treatment or is there an element of bias in the different forms of media’. ‘understand Islamic teachings on polygamy & are aware of the issues surrounding polygamy’. ‘How has the legal status of homosexuals changed in the UK? Understand Islamic teaching on same gender relationships’. ‘Understand the role of the man and women in a Muslim family’.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘It is vital that all our state schools – publicly funded by the community at large – teach a broad and balanced curriculum, actively contribute to community cohesion and foster an environment inclusive of every child, parent and member of staff, regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs. Education is an opportunity to broaden children’s horizons and should not just reflect back to them the possible prejudices and opinions of their or their peers’ parents, regardless of their religion or belief.
‘These deeply serious allegations have been made to us by a number of former staff; they corroborate each other and with other reports we have seen. They are seriously alarming and we hope that the inspections and investigations under way will comprehensively explore every single one of them.’
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.
A number of the above 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 (as discussed above), passing them 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 Sian Griffiths and Richard Kerbaj at the 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.