Join Donate

BHA responds to leaked details of DfE’s report into Birmingham schools

Update, 1.30 pm: Birmingham City Council’s report into the Trojan Horse letter has now been published.

[expand title=”Update, 4.45 pm: We have produced a summary of the Council’s report that can be read by clicking here…” trigclass=”arrowleft”]

The report asks three questions:

1. Do you believe there is any substance in the allegations made in the letter?

This essentially turns into an examination of the ‘five step plan’ for taking over schools outlined in the letter itself, and whether there is evidence for each of the steps at each of the relevant schools. This leads to an interesting table on pages 7-8 checking each school against each of the steps. The conclusion is that the evidence is ‘not sufficient’ to say there is a coordinated plan – but it is of course partial and there is a lot of evidence of a pattern of inappropriate behaviour at a lot of schools. So essentially, don’t know if the letter is real but very serious issues nonetheless.

2. If so, do you believe that Birmingham City Council should take any specific steps to avoid or reverse the implementation of such a targeted takeover?

3. Based on the information obtained during the course of your Inquiry, are there any recommendations that you wish to make to Birmingham City Council in respect of further action or investigations which may be required, in relation to the Trojan Horse letter or otherwise, following the conclusion of your inquiry?

This section (answer both questions) points the finger at lack of oversight (partly due to the schools improvement/governance staff at the council dropping from 300 in 2010 to 174 in 2011 to 20 from 2014!) through lack of monitoring and no coordination of different sources of intelligence, bad complaint handling (either not dealing with issues or even seeking to resolve problems with heads by arranging for them to leave under compromise agreements!), not taking issues seriously due to trying to avoid being seen as racist, no secure whistle blowing process, no overarching policy for schools/Academies together, no coordination of community cohesion and regeneration projects, no coordination between different parts of the council, no coordination with Ofsted/the DfE/the EFA, no induction for heads on good governance, acceptance by officers of bad governance.

Lastly we get to the SACRE. Most of this section is basically about the process of determinations and a bit on inspections of RE, including ‘…a determination to not provide a daily act of Christian worship does not mean that permission has been granted to offer an alternative Islamic, Sikh, Buddhist or any other form of worship in its place every day. This is an area of the law which is unclear and there is no obligation on SACRE when it decides that a daily act of collective worship is not appropriate, to specify what form (if any) the act of worship should take.’

Recommendations:

There are 21 recommendations, including:

    • that BCC ‘insists on access to the teaching of music and sports, and access to comprehensive sex and relationship education… and seek to implement a change of culture to ensure that instances of bad practice are not misinterpreted as race / faith issues. To achieve this BCC needs to have a strong understanding of the difference between issues of culture / tradition, and those of faith / race.’
    • that BCC and the SACRE work out ‘their respective oversight, monitoring and enforcement roles in respect of SACRE determinations’ and share intelligence.
    • ‘BCC, with its partners, should consider leading a debate about the requirements of secular schools to provide a daily act of collective worship in schools which must be “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.”’

Findings/allegations put to the inquiry about the schools:

    • Apparently at Al-Furqan, an Islamic VA school, ‘the only music at the school is drumming.’ And someone whose name is censored wants ‘to introduce Sharia law at the school’. The school lease says the head must be an Usuli Muslim, and there has been gender discrimination in employment. Nepotism, no governing body minutes, staff with no written employment contracts. There was a campaign of harassment to remove some non-Muslim staff, ultimately leading to the police being involved. There was also a petition. There was also physical intimidation.
    • Al-Hijrah, the other Islamic school looked at, also does not teach music. Someone whose identity is censored is quoted as saying that the Instruments of Governance ‘included a core curriculum reciting elements of the Quran. In my view, the instruments were more akin to a Saturday supplementary school than a VA school.’ Serious financial malpractice.
    • Golden Hillock sees evidence of dodgy governance practices, nepotism in appointments, the rejection of an SRE policy by the Governing Body which led to the suspending of the teaching of the subject while it was ‘watered down’, screens around the school referring to ‘The One True God’, an increased focus on prayer, accusations about extremist things happening in assemblies… one person said the agenda was ‘an Islamic faith school in all but name’. ‘Governors attended the school prom to monitor the music and see how male and female pupils were mixing.’ The school has ‘been engaging the services of solicitors and a PR company to manage recent issues relating to the Trojan Horse Letter’ – but even here ‘it is not clear who has been authorising these contracts.’ One governor organised a demonstration outside the school to demand some staff be sacked, due to exam results. The section on inappropriate micromanagement by governors generally describes a nightmare scenario.
    • Nansen also saw religion ‘brought to the forefront’, with a call to prayer, French being replaced by Arabic, staff issued with the MCB Guidance, staff having to cover their shoulders, Christmas and Diwali celebrations not occurring, 28 female teaching assistants dismissed leaving just 15 TAs behind, no music in years 5 and 6.
    • Oldknow saw children told not to send Christmas cards, ‘that Jesus was not born of Mary and that it was unbelievable that Christians believe in the Christmas story; children were encouraged to chant ‘No, we don’t’ when asked questions such as ‘Do we celebrate or believe in Christmas?’ and whether they believed that Jesus was born on Christmas day’.
    • Park View’s application for a determination was made without knowledge of the SMT. Curtains were fitted in the sports hall for girls’ PE lessons. There is description of ‘the brotherhood. The Brotherhood discriminated against a lot of people, especially teachers from a different race or different religion. It was like a gang. Anything that would happen in that school the Brotherhood would know first.’ Nepotism, promotion of friends, ‘segregation in assemblies and some classrooms; racist content in assemblies… school posters which comments such as “if you do not pray you will go to hell”; sex education classes which purported to quote the Quran as stating that “if a woman said no to sex with her husband then the angels would punish her from dusk till dawn,” (there are conflicting reports of whether or not a complaint in relation to this was addressed by the school); discrimination against women’… call to prayer each lunchtime, with some compulsion to take part. ‘We received conflicting statements from various individuals who wished to remain anonymous – some referred to teaching of creationism, compulsory headscarves, biased recruitment of Muslim men and segregation, whilst others denied such allegations.’ Girls were apparently told by teachers to wear headscarves, female pupils could not receive tennis coaching because school policy disallowed it with only a male coach, and other similar incidents. Female staff were treated inferiorly, with complaints not being taken seriously. ‘Children are afraid to speak to staff, that staff have been threatened not to talk to anyone outside of the academy and that those who complain or raise concerns about the academy have been “trolled” on Twitter…’ Whatsapp groups were created by staff.
    • One governor at Satley ‘queried whether the word ‘sex’ had to appear in the Sex and Relationships policy’! Allegedly there were governors involved in ‘harassment, bullying and intimidation’ – ‘hostile’, ‘challenging’, ‘aggressive’, ‘constant undermining’. Governors overturned the sacking of a member of staff and then organised a protest. A PI was commissioned ‘to review the emails of the SLT. It was perceived as being a way to try and find a reason for getting rid of key members of staff.’
    • BCC also produced a report into Washwood Heath in 1999/2000 finding many of the same problems there then as seen now, in terms of religious/racial polarisation and Muslim governors only wanting to appoint Muslim staff.

The Council failed to intervene when they knew there were systemic issues with respect to e.g. Golden Hillock, Moseley and Satley, and once the Trojan Horse letter appeared. There is a whole section on this – the longest of all the sections – going into huge detail for each of the schools, about where the Council failed.

The Council’s response is apologetic, strongly criticises the Park View governors for not being apologetic and commits to various points of action. Council Leader Albert Bore’s quote concludes with ‘I want to apologise to the people of Birmingham for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the reputation of our great city, and particularly the Muslim communities for whom this has raised the spectre of Islamophobia. We have previously shied away from tackling this problem out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism. In a multi-cultural city, tackling the big issues together with all our communities is the only way of ensuring cohesion for all our citizens.’[/expand]

Original story: Parts of a draft of Peter Clarke’s report for the Department for Education (DfE) into various Birmingham schools, including Park View School, have been leaked to the Guardian. The British Humanist Association (BHA) prompted the DfE and Ofsted to investigate Park View School by facilitating three former members of staff to make complaints about their experiences at the school some time before the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ letter appeared in the press, and worked with those members of staff to ensure their concerns were heard across the media. The BHA has expressed its concern at the situation in Birmingham and called for a review of the place of religion in British schools.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘The leaked portions of Peter Clarke’s draft report into the situation in Birmingham make for extremely alarming reading, and like the Ofsted and Education Funding Agency reports into Park View School, appear to confirm the concerns that were put to us by a number of whistleblowers in January. It is hugely important that every state-funded school provides an education that is broad, balanced and inclusive – with no discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, or religious or non-religious beliefs. We hope that the new governing bodies of the Park View academies will ensure that this is the case.

‘More generally, however, the findings with respect to these schools stand in stark contrast to the landscape of Christian and Jewish schools in this country. In some places concern is expressed about practices that are unacceptable in the Birmingham schools simply because they are not “faith” schools, but that would be considered to be permissible in schools legally designated as religious. And more generally it is hard to see that we would arrive at a situation where a certain group of individuals would be so successful in imposing one religious ideology on a group of state schools, were it not for the fact that so many other schools are legally able to religiously discriminate in their admissions, their employment, or their curriculum.

‘There has been no systematic review of the place of religion in schools in modern times. And yet since 2000 the proportion of secondary schools that are legally religious has increased by 20%, with the freedoms and diversity of these schools increasing massively. For such a large change in public service provision to occur without any serious thought is shocking and we are now seeing the sad consequences of this policy.’

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/

Read the BHA’s statement upon the publication of the Ofsted and Education Funding Agency (EFA) reports: https://humanism.org.uk/2014/06/09/34029/

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.

On 9 June Ofsted and the EFA’s reports into 21 schools were published, supporting many of the concerns put to the BHA. And today Peter Clarke’s report has leaked to The Guardian, further backing up those concerns, with Birmingham City Council’s report also due to be published.

Search Humanists UK