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BHA: Birmingham schools findings reflect need for wider review of place of religion in schools

Update, 20:00 pm: Schools Minister Lord Nash has now written to Park View Educational Trust and Oldknow Academy Trust to inform them that the Secretary of State intends to terminate the funding agreements of Park View School and Nansen Primary School, and is minded to do likewise with respect to Golden Hillock School and Oldknow Academy.

Update, 15:00 pm: Ofsted’s 21 reports, Michael Wilshaw’s supporting advice note for Michael Gove, and the Education Funding Agency’s reports into the Park View Academy chain and Oldknow Academy Trust have all now been published. Michael Wilshaw has also made a video statement.

[expand title=”In terms of the relevant findings, click to show…” trigclass=”arrowleft”]

In Michael Wilshaw’s advice to Michael Gove:

  • ‘A culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of the schools since their previous inspection. Some headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards, said that they have been marginalised or forced out of their jobs. As a result, some schools previously judged to be good or outstanding have experienced high levels of staff turbulence, low staff morale and a rapid decline in their overall effectiveness.’
  • ‘The evidence shows that governors have recently exerted inappropriate influence on policy and the day-to-day running of several schools in Birmingham. In other schools, leaders have struggled to resist attempts by governing bodies to use their powers to change the school in line with governors’ personal views.’
  • ‘In several of the schools inspected, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain.’
  • ‘Many staff and some headteachers told Her Majesty’s Inspectors that they were frightened of expressing views contrary to those promoted by governors. Some staff said that they were fearful of losing their jobs or being blocked from promotion if they spoke out against the changes that were being pursued. In one instance, a school leader was so anxious about the consequences of speaking to Her Majesty’s Inspectors that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket car park.’
  • Staff ‘testified that they have been treated unfairly because of their gender or religious belief. For example, in one school, female members of staff complained to Her Majesty’s Inspectors that they were intimidated by the way some male members of the school community spoke to them.’
  • ‘In some schools, leaders and governors have not adequately addressed the risks specific to their community. In particular, they have not focused on how children may be vulnerable to extremist influences, or to female genital mutilation or forced marriage.’
  • ‘In several schools, staff reported that recruitment was neither fair nor transparent. Her Majesty’s Inspectors found specific examples of family members being appointed to unadvertised senior leadership posts and candidates being appointed to senior leadership positions in spite of poor references and contrary to the wishes of the headteacher.’
  • ‘Her Majesty’s Inspectors found that governors in some schools have sought to make or have made changes to policies and the curriculum on the basis of their own personal beliefs, irrespective of the school’s stated ethos and values. For example, in one primary school, governors opposed the headteacher’s commitment to mixed-gender swimming lessons. The Chair of Governors in another school, against the wishes of the headteacher, introduced madrasa programmes of study into the personal, health and social education curriculum.’
  • ‘Inspection evidence and headteachers’ testimonies indicate that governors have exerted inappropriate influence on policy and the day-to-day running of several schools in the city. Some governors are trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools. They have sought to do this by: n narrowing the curriculum n manipulating staff appointments n using school funds inappropriately.’
  • ‘A number of the academies inspected are in breach of aspects of their funding agreements with the Education Funding Agency. Some of the academies inspected, for example, did not meet the requirement to provide a broad and balanced curriculum or to provide the appropriate balance in religious education. In several of these academies, the general requirement to promote community cohesion was not being met.’
  • In many of the schools ‘the curriculum has become too narrow and pupils are not being prepared well enough for life in modern Britain. It is my view that the active promotion of a narrow set of values and beliefs in some of the schools is making children vulnerable to segregation and emotional dislocation from wider society.’ The curriculum does ‘not ensure that a broad and balanced curriculum equips pupils to live and work in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and democratic Britain. As a result, children are not being encouraged to develop tolerant attitudes towards all faiths and all cultures.’
  • ‘in one school, there are separate faith-based singing clubs. In another, music has been removed from the curriculum against the wishes of the children. In this school, pupils have few opportunities to study different European languages other than English.’
  • ‘I am also concerned that in a few schools boys and girls are not being treated equally. For example, in one school, some members of staff actively discourage girls from speaking to boys and from taking part in extra-curricular visits and activities. In this school, boys and girls are also taught separately in religious education and personal development lessons.’ (This is Park View.)
  • ‘In some schools, the religious education curriculum is now being taught in a way that isolates the pupils from a fuller understanding of different religious and cultural traditions. These non-faith schools are not meeting their statutory responsibilities to provide a balanced curriculum and are not meeting the terms of their funding agreements.’

In terms of commitments, Ofsted will ‘consult on introducing a new graded judgement on the wider curriculum as part of its changes to school inspection from 1 September 2015’ and ‘work with government to review the current exemption that applies to the routine inspection of outstanding schools.’

In terms of recommendations, there are various recommendations around how to ensure schools fulfil their statutory duties/Academies their funding agreements, to ensure safeguarding from radicalisation, professionalism/mandatory training of governors and a compulsory register of interests, better whistleblower procedures, ‘ensure that governors in all schools are bound by, and follow, the prescribed procedures if they wish to change the status or character of a school’ and ‘provide much greater clarity to all schools (including academies and free schools) on what should be taught in a broad and balanced curriculum’.

In the Education Funding Agency’s report into Park View Educational Trust:

  • ‘The curriculum provided by Nansen Primary School is not broad and balanced and the Trust has not taken into account the guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to sex and relationship education. Some elements of the curriculum, including the social, moral, spiritual and cultural provision at Park View School, Golden Hillock School and Nansen Primary School are restricted to a conservative Islamic perspective.’
  • ‘There is insufficient evidence that Park View School is welcoming to all faiths and none. It is not faith designated, but has an apparent Islamic focus and collective acts of worship are delivered at Park View School and Golden Hillock School that are not in keeping with the requirements of the funding agreement. There are also examples of non-compliance with the Equality Act 2010 and the Independent School Standards, for example the practice of segregating girls and boys in some classes in a manner which could constitute less favourable treatment of girls. There is evidence of an inappropriate external speaker being invited into Park View School to speak to children.’
  • ‘The Chair of the Trust has an inappropriate role in the day to day running of Park View School. In interview, the Chair reflected that he had been in the school every day in the last four weeks dealing with ‘issues’.’
  • ‘At Golden Hillock school three members of staff reported separately and adversely on the manner in which the local governing body meetings were conducted. For example, some governors will not shake the hands of female senior leaders and are reportedly rude to women and dismissive of their input regardless of whether they are a member of staff or a school governor.’
  • ‘There is insufficient evidence that the Trust is promoting community cohesion as required by the funding agreement. An inappropriate external speaker has been allowed to address students at the school. Sheikh Shady Al-Suleiman has spoken at the school (on 28 November 2013) and he is known to have previously extolled extremist views.’
  • ‘We did not see sufficient evidence that Park View School was making active efforts to make the school attractive to all faith denominations including pupils of no faith. The school is not faith-designated, but has an Islamic focus. In interview, a senior member of staff expressed the view that some members of staff at the academy had, through some of the activities, namely the introduction of a Madrassa curriculum in Personal Development, taken the Islamic focus too far. We observed posters written in Arabic in most of the classrooms visited by the team and in corridors, advertising the virtues of prayer and promoting the Friday prayers (Jummah). Staff we spoke to said that the loudspeakers in the school were used to broadcast the call to prayer (Adhan) across the school, but were turned off on our visit because of a malfunction.’
  • ‘There were posters in some classrooms at Park View School, such as the maths room, which encouraged pupils to begin and end each lesson with a short prayer (dua). Teachers told us that it was the pupil’s decision whether they wanted to read the prayers or not. Approximately 80% of girls at the school were wearing white hijabs although there was no evidence to suggest a strict Islamic dress code was being enforced.’
  • ‘Collective Islamic worship is offered at all three schools in the Trust, and on a daily basis at Park View School. None of the schools in the Trust have an active determination in place to lift the requirement set out in the funding agreement that acts of collective worship should be of a broadly Christian character.’
  • ‘There was gender segregation in some classes at Park View School and Golden Hillock School. Some classes observed had boys sitting at the front of the class and girls around the edges. There were also lessons where boys and girls sat at the same table but on opposite sides. We also observed lessons where boys and girls were mixed. Boys and girls are taught separately for PE lessons, which is not unusual. At Park View School we also observed boys and girls being taught separately in other lessons such as PSHE and RE. Teachers were asked if the separation took place in every year group for these two subjects but their answers were evasive.’
  • At Nansen ‘The timetable in year 6 does not include any lessons in the humanities, arts, music or PSHE.’
  • ‘At Park View School we saw schemes of work for PSHE, Biology, and Sex and Relationship Education that had been restricted to comply with a conservative Islamic teaching. In Biology, GCSE year 11, discussion with pupils indicated that the teacher had briefly delivered the theory of evolution to comply with the syllabus, but had told students that `This is not what we believe`. Pupils had been told to read the section in the text book on reproduction at home on their own. Therefore, topics such as body structure, function and the menstrual cycle were not covered in class, although pupils needed to familiarise themselves at home in preparation for the GCSE exam. Students told us that as Muslims they were not allowed to study matters such as reproduction with the opposite sex. They also told us that their teachers gave them seats in which to sit in class by gender to avoid having to mix. Students spoke openly about their belief as Muslims that boys and girls should not study certain materials together.’
  • ‘RE is compulsory for all year groups at both Golden Hillock School and Park View School. At Golden Hillock School, the vast majority complete the Islamic Studies paper and follow Edexcel specification units 4 and 11. The head of department stated that there are students in year 11 who are not Muslim and five of these also wish sit the Christian GCSE paper. These students study from different texts. We were told that these students attend the same class as those who study the Islamic course but they have to teach themselves because the teacher has to give his/her time to the vast majority of students in the lesson who are doing a different course.’
  • ‘At Golden Hillock School we were told by senior staff and by 2 heads of department that staff had been given instructions by governors banning discussion with students on any matters regarding sexual orientation and intimacy. Therefore heads of department have had to change schemes of work to ensure they comply with governors’ requests. Such changes mean that they have to restrict their use of resources and the information which is provided for and discussed with students. Such limitations affect the broad and balanced teaching of many subjects including art, English, RE and PSHE. The ban also precludes staff from teaching Sex and Relationships Education honestly and openly.’
  • ‘The lead practitioner in Science at Golden Hillock School (<redacted> <redacted>) is also the brother of Park View School’s headteacher. Discussions with staff at the school revealed that his teaching had been rated as inadequate by the lead practitioner for Teaching and Learning at the academy, but no action had been taken as a result. A review of the lead practitioner in Science’s personnel file revealed that his experience was not commensurate with his responsibility.’ The report then alleges inappropriate recruitment practices in another specific case.

In terms of recommendations:

  • ‘The curriculum, including that for social, moral, spiritual and cultural provision at each of the Academies, must be changed to ensure that it complies with legislation and the requirements of the funding agreement, the Independent School Standards and S.1(5) of the Academies Act 2010.’
  • ‘Park View School must continue to develop its community engagement plan to demonstrate how it will engage further with the broader community and ensure that it is welcoming to those of all faiths and none.’
  • ‘The Trust must submit a request for collective determination for Park View School, Nansen Primary School and Golden Hillock School in relation to their collective Islamic worship, if they wish to maintain it. Such a request may not be granted, and the Secretary of State has power to revoke any determination which is made.’
  • ‘The Trust must ensure that any inappropriate gender segregation is eliminated.’
  • ‘The Trust should give consideration to developing a policy to vet external speakers.’
  • ‘The Trust is required to meet all Independent School Standards (‘Standards’) and in particular must take steps to ensure that it meets the following standards: 5a (ii) – enable pupils to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law; 5a (v) – assist pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions; 5a (vi) – encourage pupils to respect the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; 5b – precludes the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school; 7a – Arrangements are made to safeguard and promote the welfare of pupils at the school…’

In Ofsted’s report on Park View Academy:

‘The behaviour and safety of pupils are inadequate:’

  • ‘The academy’s work to keep students safe and secure is inadequate. The academy is not doing enough to keep students safe, including raising students’ awareness of the risks of extremism. Use, in liaison with the police, of the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy to identify and avoid extremism has only taken place for students in Years 7 and 8. Moreover, most staff have not received training in the ‘Prevent’ programme, although there are now plans for this to take place.’
  • ‘Students say that incidents of bullying are rare and that it is dealt with effectively when it does occur. However, their understanding of all the different types of bullying and how to stay safe on the internet is very limited. Not all aspects of how to live a healthy lifestyle are covered. Students who have concerns about health issues, including sexual health, are not confident about who to turn to if they need to talk to someone. Not all staff are sufficiently trained to deal with concerns raised by students. These shortcomings compromise students’ safety and wellbeing, both in and outside of the academy.’
  • ‘Boys and girls are taught separately in religious education and personal development lessons. In a mixed-sex school, this is a missed opportunity for girls and boys to share opinions and discuss together some important matters that are part of their daily lives.’
  • ‘The management of behaviour is effective and systems are in place to monitor and support individual students, especially those at risk from exclusions and in alternative provision. Staff have received training on how to manage students’ behaviour, including how they should react to girls and boys mixing. However, girls who spoke with inspectors say that some staff overreact or actively discourage them from speaking to boys and from participating in extracurricular activities, both on and off the academy site.’

‘The leadership and management are inadequate:’

  • ‘A significant number of staff say they have no confidence in either the senior leaders or the governing body. They believe that the academy is poorly led and managed and that neither staff nor students are treated equally and fairly. Some staff were keen to share with inspectors their concern that recruitment practices were unfair. Others were very anxious about the possible consequences of expressing their views openly to inspectors.’
  • ‘Leaders and managers have not ensured that safeguarding requirements are met or that statutory guidance is fully adhered to. Details of checks for staff not directly employed by the academy were only added to the single central register during the first inspection visit. The recruitment process, including for promotion, is opaque and is insufficiently monitored to ensure equality of opportunity.’
  • ‘A significant number of staff had not received training in child protection when inspectors first arrived at the academy. Training has not been tailored to the particular safeguarding context of the students in this academy, such as awareness of forced marriage or the early signs of extremist behaviour.’
  • ‘The academy’s policy for child protection, revised between the first and last days of this inspection, has significant omissions. It does not promote a strong culture of safeguarding because: expectations for the training of staff and designated persons are missing; details for dealing with allegations against staff do not reflect updated statutory guidance; the arrangements for dealing with allegations of abuse against members of staff at all levels of seniority are not stated adequately; no reference is made to any wider safeguarding issues such as forced marriage or to the use of ‘Prevent’ strategies to keep students safe; it is not clear how the policy will be reviewed and revised; the policy lacks detail about the role of the governing body in ensuring that safeguarding meets requirements.’
  • ‘Key Stage 4 teaching starts in Year 9. The range of academic subjects offered has a strong focus on literacy and numeracy development. The current religious education programme in Years 7 and 8 enables students to develop limited understanding of different religions and cultures and how to stay safe. However, from Year 9 onwards students focus almost entirely on Islam, with very few opportunities to explore other religions and cultures. Inspectors were told that the academy has plans to change this.’
  • ‘The academy has a programme of personal development, and spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, alongside opportunities to develop leadership skills. Students are invited to develop moral understanding through the weekly themed Islamic assemblies. However, no opportunities exist for non-Muslims to attend alternative assemblies. Leaders do not sufficiently review the opportunities offered to ensure breadth, balance, choice and coverage.’
  • ‘Students’ understanding of the arts, different cultures and other beliefs are limited. This together with their superficial understanding of how to stay safe and awareness of life in different parts of the United Kingdom mean that students are not well prepared for life in wider society.’
  • ‘There is very little evidence that any external support provided to the academy is having an impact. Some links with the police are in place but these are not sufficiently embedded to ensure that all staff and students are aware of the risk of extremism.’

‘The governance of the school:

  • ‘Governance is inadequate. The governing body of Park View and the trust have not ensured that they are properly informed about the effectiveness of all aspects of academy life. They do not check with sufficient rigour that statutory duties, including safeguarding, are met.’
  • ‘The governing body has not ensured that systems are fair and transparent, including recruitment. Some individual governors are seen by a significant proportion of staff to have too much direct influence on academy life, including on the curriculum and the day-to-day running of the school.’

In Ofsted’s other reports:

  • Golden Hillock School – A Park View Academy – found inadequate across the board, much as was reported last week. In the report proper, ‘Students’ understanding of other religions is scant as the religious education curriculum focuses primarily on the study of Islam.’
  • Nansen Primary School – A Park View Academy – found inadequate. ‘Governance, safety, pupils’ cultural development, equal opportunities and the teaching of religious education are all inadequate.’ ‘The governing body and senior leaders do not adopt effective strategies that develop pupils’ awareness of the risks of extremism or radicalisation.’ ‘Leaders do not sufficiently develop pupils’ understanding of the different customs, traditions or religions that exist in Britain. This does not prepare pupils adequately for life in modern Britain.’ ‘Pupils do not get a broad education. The governing body has removed some subjects, such as music, from the timetable.’ ‘Pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam.’
  • Oldknow Academy – found inadequate. The summary says ‘A small group of governors is making significant changes to the ethos and culture of the academy without full consultation. They are endeavouring to promote a particular and narrow faith-based ideology in what is a maintained and non-faith academy.’ and ‘The academy is not adequately ensuring that pupils have opportunities to learn about faith in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultural and religious traditions.’
  • Saltley School and Specialist Science College – found inadequate across the board. The governors ‘paid private investigators to interrogate the emails of senior staff’. In the report proper, ‘Some members of staff told Her Majesty’s Inspectors that they are treated unequally because of their beliefs, religion or background. Governors have not addressed this significant concern.’

None of the other schools had a section 5 inspection and so they did not receive new overall ratings. Some concerns were picked up in some areas but nothing as serious as these five schools (although one was in special measures already).[/expand]

Update, 11:00 am: Ofsted’s full inspection report into Park View School is now available.

Today will see the publication of Ofsted’s reports into 21 schools in Birmingham where concerns have been expressed about an Islamically conservative environment and curriculum being taught. The British Humanist Association (BHA) was instrumental in enabling the initial whistleblowers about Park View School, the school at the centre of the allegations, to make their complaints to the Department for Education and Ofsted, prompting both organisations to launch their investigations into the school some time before the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ letter was mentioned in the press. The BHA has also supported those individuals in speaking out across the media. Today the BHA has called for a wider review of the place of religion in state-funded schools.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It is vital that every young person receives a broad and balanced education in an environment that is free from discrimination on the basis of religion, gender or sexual orientation and that prepares them for life in wider British society. It is only if schools provide such an education in such an environment that we can live in a society where everyone is treated equally with tolerance and respect. Park View has been failing to do this, and we are pleased that that is now set to change.

‘However, these issues speak more widely to the need for a thorough review of the place of religion in schools. While controversy has raged about these admittedly serious problems, there has been no similar level of concern expressed about the all-too-common situation where a pupil is unable to get into their local Church of England school because their parents are not Christian; a teacher is unable to find employment at a Catholic school because they are not Catholic; or a child is left distressed or sidelined because of Christian proselytising in an assembly in a school with no religious character. While these situations are allowed to continue, it is no surprise that some people of another faith will take existing schools of no religious character and effectively treat them as their own “faith” schools. This kind of behaviour will only be stopped once no school is legally able to discriminate against any pupil, parent or member of staff.’

What has been found about Park View

In today’s Ofsted report into Park View, serious concerns are identified, such as that ‘Students are not prepared properly for life in a diverse and multicultural society’; that ‘A significant number of staff reported to inspectors that they have no confidence in either senior leaders or governors; Staff feel intimidated and fearful of speaking out, while some believe the governors involve themselves inappropriately in the running of the school; During the inspection, some staff were very uneasy about speaking to inspectors for fear of recrimination’; that ‘The school has not followed fair and transparent recruitment practices when appointing or promoting staff’. ‘There are few opportunities for students to learn about different types of beliefs and cultures in the older year groups. Students are not taught citizenship well enough or prepared for life in a diverse and multi-cultural society.’ Students ‘are not taught sex and relationships education effectively.’ And ‘Equality of opportunity is not promoted. Some staff actively discourage girls from speaking to boys and taking part in extra-curricular visits and activities.’ Parts of the Education Funding Agency’s draft report into Park View and another Academy have also appeared in the media. Amongst other things, the draft report says that Park View Educational Trust had ‘taken the Islamic focus too far’, and that girls and boys had been segregated in some classes.

Notes

For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson at richy@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3072 or Pavan Dhaliwal at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 020 7324 3065.

Read the BHA’s previous statement setting out the allegations of the former members of staff that contacted it: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/04/24/revealed-former-staff-outline-concerns-park-view-school-birmingham/

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.

Chronology

A number of 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, passing all of this 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 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.

On 20 April the Sunday Telegraph reported that six of the schools were to be put in special measures, with the paper subsequently publishing extracts from a draft Education Funding Agency report that had been leaked to it.

On 24 April the BHA published a statement setting out the former members of staff’s concerns.

On 2 May the NAHT said that it believed a number of schools had ‘experienced concerted efforts to alter their character in line with the Islamic faith… We have supported around 30 of our members throughout this incident, with detailed case work in around a dozen schools and serious concerns in half that.’

On 5 June Ofsted’s report into Golden Hillock School, another school in the Park View Academy chain, was leaked, and it was widely reported that the school is to be put in special measures. On 7 June Ofsted’s report into Park View School itself also leaked, with the school similarly being found to require special measures.

Today Ofsted’s reports into the schools are to be published, supporting a number of the allegations put to the BHA.

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