The "Trojan Horse" story about an alleged plot to Islamise schools in Birmingham has dominated media coverage about British Muslims since the story broke in March 2014. My piece A conspiracy to "Islamise" Birmingham schools? covered the background, in advance of the Ofsted reports.
The Ofsted reports were published on 9 June 2014. The text below gives my reaction to the reports.
Since then, this page has been expanded for additional materials, in the following order:
Ofsted concluded that five of the schools concerned should be placed in "special measures" which is a term taken from Education Act 2005 s.44(1) reproduced below:
44 Categories of schools causing concern
(1) For the purposes of this Part, special measures are required to be taken in relation to a school if—
(a) the school is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education, and
(b) the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing the school are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school.
This can lead to the school having its governing body or senior leadership team being replaced, or the school being closed. However in most cases the goal is to agree an action plan to address the deficiencies. It is the most serious negative outcome from an Ofsted inspection.
The five schools place in special measures are listed below, hyperlinked to their Ofsted reports:
The Oftsed reports should be read in full, to get a balanced picture of what they show. However it is clear that Ofsted regards these as failing schools given the recommendation to place them in special measures. Accordingly I have concentrated on quoting negative comments, particularly since my Conservative Home piece reproduced below explains where I find the reports a bit "nit picking."
The achievement of pupils was overall rated as "good." In particular:
"Students, including those learning English as an additional language, make generally good progress. Over the last three years, the proportion achieving five or more GCSE A* to C grades, including English and mathematics, has been well above the national average. Nearly all students proceed to local sixth forms or colleges with the majority following A-level courses."
Park View has been regularly mentioned in the press as performing well academically. However even in this area of strength, the Ofsted inspectors identified causes for concern:
"By the end of Key Stage 4, progress for middle ability students is outstanding in English and mathematics. However, it is not as strong for the most able, those of lower ability and those supported by school action plus or a statement of educational needs. In 2013, achievement in some subjects, such as home economics, was not as high as in science and history where most able students attained particularly well ....
The most able students make good rather than outstanding progress because they are not always stretched to achieve their full potential. A relatively small proportion of students achieved the highest A*/A grades in 2013 across a range of subjects....
All students are entered early for GCSE examinations in mathematics. In 2013, over 80% of the Year 11 were also entered for the IGCSE in mathematics. While middle ability and less-able students achieved well, too few of the most able students secured the highest grades....
The progress of students in Key Stage 3 is inconsistent. A significant proportion of students in this key stage are not on track to achieve their target grades, including in mathematics."
The school's leadership and management were rated as inadequate with just over two pages of comments. I have reproduced just two of the bullet points:
- The academy’s evaluation of its performance is superficial. It is focused on the academic outcomes at the end of Key Stage 4 and is not linked sufficiently to different student groups or across other year groups. Information about students’ progress, gained from monitoring of teaching, is not used well enough to ensure that teaching meets the needs of all students.
- The lack of rigorous monitoring of all aspects of academy life means that neither senior nor subject leaders can accurately evaluate and plan or take the right actions to bring about improvement. Senior leaders have been overly optimistic and over-estimated the academy’s performance.
The school was rated as inadequate on all four areas that Ofsted report under:
I have quoted just four items from a long list of failings:
- The quality of teaching experienced by students in some classes, particularly in Years 7 to 9, is poor. Frequent changes of teachers have disrupted students’ learning. As a result of this instability, students complained that teachers in mathematics ‘keep changing the topics’.
- The academy does not effectively use its own systems for keeping students safe. For example, inspectors discovered that a serious allegation about a pupils’ safety was not reported in a full and timely manner to local safeguarding authorities.
- A minority of staff, including a number of leaders, expressed serious misgivings about a perceived unfairness and lack of transparency in the recruitment process and the breadth and balance of the curriculum.
- Governors have very recently reviewed and approved all academy policies in a single meeting while giving only cursory consideration to each. The equalities policy it not fit for purpose. It makes no mention of equalities for students and how outcomes will be monitored and reported.
The Ofsted report was very critical of the leadership and management of the school as illustrated by the following comments:
- Pupils in Years 5 and 6 told inspectors that they felt it was unfair that they could not have music lessons. They also told inspectors that there had been a music room where pupils were taught to play a musical instrument before the school became an academy. Since then, this had been taken away. Pupils also said that they would like the opportunity to learn a European language, such as Spanish or French, as they wanted to know more about people from other countries and backgrounds.
- Pupils have only a superficial knowledge and understanding of religions and beliefs other than Islam. The lack of leadership of religious education means that teachers are ill-informed about what to teach and how to teach this subject. Pupils’ cultural development is inadequate because the academy does not help pupils to develop an understanding of the diversity of traditions, religions and customs in modern British society. This leaves pupils at risk of cultural isolation.
- Many staff have little confidence in the multi-academy trust. Some teachers report that a recent staffing re-structure was neither open nor fair. They say that staff were appointed to posts without interviews and with minimal testing of their abilities to fulfil leadership roles. Many staff reported that the academy has imposed changes without sufficient involvement or consultation. For instance, teachers were informed that they would no longer be teaching a class or teaching the full range of subjects but would be required to become a specialist in one subject. Some staff feel that they are not provided with enough training or professional development. Senior school leaders are unaware of what is done with the money deducted from the academy’s budget and paid to the trust.
This school was also rated as inadequate in all four reporting areas. I have reproduced some of the Ofsted comments below:
- Teachers do not use assessments of what students know to help them plan lessons. All students usually complete the same work. This means that work is either too easy or too difficult for many students.
- Safeguarding procedures are inadequate. The school has two different policies for safeguarding of students. It is unclear which policy the school has adopted as they both have the same date of ratification by the governing body. Moreover, although one policy states it has been approved by governors this is not the case.
- The equality policy is out of date. Although a new policy was written by the assistant headteacher, the governing body has insisted it is not circulated. 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.
- The governing body has spent the school budget unwisely. For example, they have paid private investigators to interrogate the emails of senior staff, spent £55,000 unnecessarily on the services of a private solicitor and paid for meals in restaurants. The £12,000 spent on consultancy services did not have sufficient impact on improving the quality of education.
This Ofsted report was very mixed. On two criteria, "Achievement of pupils" and "Quality of teaching", the school received the highest grade of "Outstanding." However on the other two, "Behaviour and safety of pupils" and "Leadership and management" it received the lowest grade of "Inadequate".
I have reproduced some of the critical comments below:
- The academy’s work to keep pupils safe is inadequate. The governing body does not give pupils’ safety a high enough priority. They are unable to ensure that pupils are kept safe from any extreme or radical views they encounter because they do not consider this is an appropriate topic for primary school pupils. Pupils and staff are poorly equipped to understand, respond to or calculate risks associated with extreme or intolerant views.
- Leaders do not take sufficient action to prevent discriminatory language other than the use of racist language. The academy has recently rewritten its policy to tackle this issue but it is not being implemented. As a consequence, the academy does not meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010. Plans are in place to train staff on all issues of equality.
- The curriculum is inadequate because it does not foster an appreciation of, and respect for, pupils’ own or other cultures. It does not promote tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions. In addition, 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.
- Governors have used the academy’s budget to subsidise a trip to Saudi Arabia for only Muslim staff and pupils. The choice of destination meant that pupils from other faiths were not able to join the trip. Governors who accompany the trip are paid for from the academy budget. Inspectors were told that in 2013 a relative of the academy’s governor joined the trip from Pakistan without the necessary checks having been made.
I have no independent knowledge of the schools. As media reporting can be unreliable, I waited to see the Ofsted reports before commenting. Given the controversy surrounding the whole issue, Ofsted will have taken great care over the reports. They show serious failings at each of the schools.
Some Muslim commentators rushed to defend these schools before waiting to see what the reports said. In my view that was unwise.
I wrote a piece for the Conservative Home website after reading the reports. It is reproduced below. My original title for it was "Trojan Horse – The Ofsted reports". As the debate had moved on to discussing British values, and because my piece touched on the values question, the editor applied his prerogative and changed the title to "British values? Here are my suggestions – and a test of them."
Mohammed Amin is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
After publication, I downloaded all 21 of Ofsted’s Birmingham reports. Then I became more realistic about my reading limitations, and read only the reports for the five schools being placed into special measures. These are listed in Mark Wallace’s article here, from where you can also download the reports themselves.
They are relatively short, and I recommend reading them. The reports contain a litany of failings, with some differences from school to school. The summary below is necessarily broad brush.
Given the media reporting of some of the reactions from the governing bodies, it is possible that legal challenges may be mounted. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” However I am confident that Sir Michael Wilshaw will have anticipated the risk of litigation and everyone at Ofsted will have done their best to ensure that the reports are legally watertight. Accordingly I expect any legal challenges to fail.
All I know about the schools comes from the reports themselves plus what I have seen in the media since Trojan Horse first broke. However as I read each report, as a Briton of Muslim belief and Pakistani ethnicity, I inevitably asked myself if I had any bones to pick. There were some.
The law requires all schools to hold a Christian act of worship, unless they have a dispensation. Where the pupils are overwhelmingly Muslim, I would expect this dispensation to be given routinely. The Nansen primary school lists six governance failings, one of which is below:
“Currently, the academy has a weekly whole-school assembly, which is of an Islamic character. The governing body has not received permission from the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from providing a broadly Christian act of worship. This means that governing body fails to meet this aspect of their responsibilities.”
This failing is given parity with the others listed which appears to be nit-picking. If the Inspectors consider that failure to obtain a routine dispensation is symptomatic of a more serious underlying compliance failure, they should say so. Otherwise they risk being accused of chucking in the kitchen sink to ensure that they got a conviction. The same point applies to Oldknow Academy which had a 2008 dispensation which expired in January 2013 which was not renewed. I assume this arose from a failure to apply for a renewal, rather than from DfE turning down a renewal application.
We are told that most pupils at Nansen come from a Pakistani or Somali background, but are not told precisely what proportion of the pupil body are Muslims. The Nansen report also contains the following governance failing:
“The governing body is overly controlling in the day-to-day running of the school. For example, when the teachers in the Early Years Foundation Stage wanted pupils to take part in a nativity play, governors insisted on vetting a copy of the script for its suitability and told staff they must not use a doll as the ‘baby Jesus’.”
While the complaint of overly controlling governors may well be valid, I do not regard the above as appropriate evidence. Unless the teachers have sufficient expertise on Islam themselves, I do not regard it as unreasonable for the governors to seek assurance that the script of a nativity play is appropriate for Muslim pupils. I can also understand why they might object to using a doll to represent Jesus, one of Islam’s holiest prophets.
I have no independent knowledge of any of these five schools. However the overall impression left by the inspection reports is of schools where governance is not working properly, and where there are other serious failings which vary from school to school. I have no reason to doubt that Ofsted has acted properly in judging the schools to be inadequate.
It is a fundamental point that all five schools are not faith schools. Many of the complaints about excessive religious conservatism would fall away if the schools were faith schools, since faith schools are expected by parents and others to give much higher priority to religious matters than do secular schools.
Paradoxically, faith schools often perform better in teaching pupils about other faiths precisely because their status makes them more conscious of the need to do so. They are also well placed to twin with schools of other faiths to help achieve such cross-faith education.
How to fix the schools being placed in special measures is a job for the DfE, hopefully with local Birmingham help.
More broadly, I strongly agree with Michael Gove, and David Cameron, that we need to agree a set of British values that are taught by all schools. These need to be formulated carefully, since the implication of listing British values is that those people who reject them are beyond the pale.
The list Mr Cameron gave in Sweden on 10 June is a good start.
“I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions – those are the sorts of things that I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.”
It is critical that we do not define British values in a way that excludes people of particular religious faiths. In the spirit of Norman Tebbit’s cricket test, let me provide Mohammed Amin’s “David test”. I believe that you must be able to sign up to the list of British values regardless of whether you regard Michelangelo’s David as great art, or consider it to be a violation of the Fourth Commandment, or regard it as sacrilegious since Muslims consider David a prophet.
At the same time however, as I wrote in 2011 in “The Conservative Party, racial equality and national identity” (see link) there must be a hard edge to our definition of British values, so that there are some people who fall outside. If absolutely everyone claims to support the list of British values, we will know that we have produced a list of platitudinous mush.
I plan to write further about the quest to identify "British values."
The report was written by Ian Kershaw who is Managing Director of Northern Education. Eversheds LLP acted as legal advisors. It was commissioned by Birmingham City Council, and is in places heavily redacted. However most of it can be read and understood despite the redactions.
While the report is 214 pages, much of that comprises appendices, and the key parts of the report can be absorbed in one reading session.
Paragraph 15 states "The first part of the Terms of Reference requires us to establish whether or not "there is any substance in the allegations made in the letter?" Accordingly in the following paragraph the report sets out the allegedly "Five Step" plan in the Trojan Horse letter:
- Identify schools in a densely populated Muslim locality that you want to target. Start with the poorest performing first as they will be easiest to influence and take over.
- Select a group of Salafi parents within the school community (this sect of Islam is selected because the Trojan Horse Letter call them 'most committed to Islam' and having the capacity to create sustainable change). When the parents have been identified, start to turn them against the head teacher and leadership team. Tell each parent that the school is corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and take part in mixed swimming and sports.
- Install a governor to 'drip feed' ideals for an Islamic school. Once successful, the governor will be moved on to another school, to distance them from any troubles and to allow them to do the same in a new school.
- Identify 'weak and disgruntled' staff and encourage them to complain to prompt an investigation, preferably an external investigation, so that the head teacher resigns or is sacked.
- Instigate an anonymous and named letter campaign to governors, local MPs, education authorities, Ofsted, Governor Support, the local papers and the DfE, to keep pressure on the head teacher and place doubt in the minds of stakeholders. This will weaken the head teacher’s resolve until they give up.
In paragraph 20 the report contains a fascinating table. For each of the schools covered by the report, the table assesses whether there is evidence of the above steps taking place. In many ways this table contains the very essence of the report.
All of the schools that Ofsted has placed into special measures listed above are included in this table. I have reproduced the table just for those schools but recommend reading the entire table in the full report.
Park View Academy
Golden Hillock School
Nansen Primary School
The above table is of course a summary. The detailed findings later in the report provide the substance behind the above summary conclusions.
The conclusions of the report are twofold. They are obviously very carefully worded.
Paragraph 22 which I have reproduced below in full states:
"What the above analysis confirms is that, whilst elements of the Five Steps were present in a large number of the schools considered as part of the investigation, the evidence collated to date does not support a conclusion that there was a systematic plot to take over schools. There are concerns which require immediate attention, but the evidence is not sufficient to lead me to construe the behaviour to be a coordinated plan to improperly influence the direction and management of schools (or academies) serving students of predominantly Islamic faith or Muslim background."
In my opinion, given the damning evidence cited in the body of the report, the above conclusion is clearly predicated on requiring a very high standard of proof for the existence of "a systematic plot". As I have not seen the detailed evidence, and much of the report is redacted, I am unable to challenge the report's conclusion on this point. Accordingly, unless further evidence emerges, I accept that there was no "systematic plot to take over schools."
The report goes on to detail extensive very bad behaviour. I could quote many paragraphs but will limit myself to just two of them.
Paragraph 26 states:
"The evidence shows that these individuals have been seeking to promote and encourage Islamic principles in the schools with which they are involved, for example, by seeking to introduce Islamic collective worship, or raising objections to elements of the school curriculum that are viewed as anti-Islamic (for example, sex education, mixed physical education or citizenship). There is a concern as to whether this has led to breaches of the relevant schools' statutory obligations.
Paragraph 30 reads:
"It is clear that in some governing bodies there have been individuals who have shown an utter disregard for the Nolan principles and have rejected responsibility for displaying integrity, objectivity and honesty in all matters related to the governance of a school, and as required by regulations. These governing bodies have not seen it as their role to ensure that some members of the board act as the guardians of good behaviour through processes of audit and risk against the range of responsibilities that governors hold."
As mentioned above, as soon as the "Trojan Horse" allegations emerged some Muslim commentators rushed to reject them before awaiting the evidence from the investigations. In my view the evidence shows that the allegations were broadly correct even if no evidence has yet been found of "a systematic plot to take over schools."
I recommend reading the full report.
After the Trojan Horse story broke in the newspapers, the Secretary of State for Education, then the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, appointed Peter Clarke CVO OBE QPM to investigate on behalf of DfE. He is a retired senior police officer with London's Metropolitan Police most notably having served as a Deputy Assistant Commissioner with the Specialist Operations directorate, commanding the Counter Terrorism Command.
Mr Clarke's appointment was criticised by many due to his counter-terrorism background and lack of experience in education. Having read his report in full, I think it shows that he was an excellent choice since his police background obviously gave him an excellent training in assembling and marshalling evidence. The precise terms of reference and the legal powers he was given by virtue of his appointment as Education Commissioner in Birmingham are set out in Annex 1B of the report.
His powers ensured full access to all of Birmingham City Council’s records. To avoid duplication with the Birmingham City Council enquiry carried out by Ian Kershaw (see above), Peter Clarke had full access to all of the evidence gathered by the BCC enquiry. He also shared all of his own evidence with Ian Kershaw except where the witnesses had given evidence to Peter Clarke on the express understanding that their evidence would not be shared with other agencies.
Peter Clarke's report concludes that there was an organised programme by a small group of Birmingham Muslims who shared religious and ideological views to take control of schools in Birmingham. I recommend reading the report in full but have reproduced some excerpts below.
“I then went on to consider whether what has happened is simply a case of the schools looking to respond to the wishes and aspirations of their local communities, or whether it is the case that a group of people who hold a particular ideological position are looking to impose their view of required behaviour for all Muslims into school life. I took particular note of the fact that the schools where it is alleged that this has happened are state non-faith schools and that the local Muslim communities are drawn from various strands of Islam.
There is ample evidence that individuals who hold or have held key positions in the schools have a shared ideological basis to their faith. During the investigation I took possession of the contents of a social media discussion between a group of teachers at Park View School that for much of 2013 was called the ‘Park View Brotherhood’. It was initiated and administered by Mr Monzoor Hussain, the Acting Principal, and was joined by influential teachers within the school. The evidence from more than 3,000 messages spread over 130 pages of transcript shows that this group either promoted or failed to challenge views that are grossly intolerant of beliefs and practices other than their own. The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia; highly offensive comments about British service personnel; a stated ambition to increase segregation in the school; disparagement of strands of Islam; scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings; and a constant undercurrent of anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment. Some postings were challenged by the administrator, Mr Hussain, but generally only where criticism was made of other Muslim groups. The numerous endorsements of hyperlinks to extremist speakers betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach that denies the validity of alternative beliefs, lifestyles and value systems, including within Islam itself.”
“I neither specifically looked for nor found evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham. However, by reference to the definition of extremism in the Prevent strand of the Government’s counter terrorist strategy, CONTEST, and the spectrum of extremism described by the Prime Minister in his Munich speech in February 2011, I found clear evidence that there are a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views.
It has been suggested to me that the ambition of those involved was only to create high achieving schools reflecting the communities they serve, following the wishes of the majority of parents. I do not agree. On the contrary, while the majority of parents welcome the good academic results that some of these schools produce, they do not demand that their children adhere to conservative religious behaviour at school. Indeed, I received evidence that this would be supported by only a minority of parents. I was told how some of those who claimed most loudly that they were acting for the community either protest alone or co-opt relatives to protest with them. I was also told by many witnesses that the majority do not have the confidence to argue against the articulate and forceful activists who seek to impose their views, for fear of being branded as disloyal to their faith or their community.”
“At the centre of what has happened are a number of individuals who have been, or are, associated with either Park View School or the Park View Educational Trust. Time and again, people who have been either teachers or governors at Park View appear to be involved in behaviours at other schools that have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. The tactics used are too similar, the individuals concerned too closely linked, and the behaviour of a few parents and governors too orchestrated for there not to be a degree of co-ordination and organisation behind what has happened. The clear conclusion is that the Park View Educational Trust has, in effect, become the incubator for much of what has happened and the attitudes and behaviours that have driven it.
There has been co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham. This has been achieved by gaining influence on the governing bodies, installing sympathetic headteachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to key positions, and seeking to remove headteachers they do not feel to be sufficiently compliant. Some of these individuals are named in this report; most are not. Whether their motivation reflects a political agenda, a deeply held religious conviction, personal gain or a desire to influence communities, the effect has been to limit the life chances of the young people in their care and to render them more vulnerable to pernicious influences in the future.”
In my view the report has found clear evidence of organised and unacceptable behaviour. Accordingly I welcome the strong action that the DfE is taking to address the situation.
The House of Commons has a number of "select committees" to monitor the work of Government departments. One of these is the Education Committee, normally referred to as the Education Select Committee (ESC).
The ESC began in May 2014 looking at how the DfE and central government agencies such as OFSTED and the Schools Funding Agency were handling "Trojan Horse". They subsequently took oral evidence from the key individuals including Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, Peter Clarke and Ian Kershaw (whose reports are discussed above) and the the Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP the new Secretary of State for Education.
Its report was published in March 2015 and can be read on screen or downloaded as a PDF. It is a concise 37 pages and I recommend reading it in full.
After the report was published, many contended that the ESC had found that there was no evidence of extremism. It is worth reading the reactions of The Guardian, Birmingham Hodgehill MP Liam Byrne, Schools Week, The NASUWT, and tesconnect (part of the Times Educational Supplement).
In my opinion such reactions are not justified by the ESC report. The ESC did not have new independent information; it took read the above reports and took oral evidence from those who wrote them and received written information from Birmingham City Council. It quite rightly finds that the DfE was at first too slow to react to the allegations of improper behaviour, and then there were too many investigations with insufficient coordination.
The media reactions which treat the ESC as effectively exonerating the people involved in the schools concerned appear to be based on the first paragraph of the Summary on page 3 reproduced in full below with emphasis added by me:
The Trojan Horse affair epitomises many of the questions and concerns expressed elsewhere about the changing school landscape and the overlapping roles of the organisations responsible for oversight of schools. No evidence of extremism or radicalisation, apart from a single isolated incident, was found by any of the inquiries and there was no evidence of a sustained plot nor of a similar situation pertaining elsewhere in the country. Our report therefore covers the response of the Department for Education and Ofsted to the situation and wider lessons for the school system.
There is nothing in the above paragraph which is inconsistent with the careful wording of Ian Kershaw's and Peter Clarke's reports discussed above.
It is worth reading what the report actually says about extremism, since the Summary page is just that; a summary. Paragraphs 8 and 9 are reproduced below:
- All our witnesses also accepted that they had found no evidence of extremism in schools. Sir Michael Wilshaw told us: “We did not see extremism in schools. What we did see was the promotion of a culture that would, if that culture continued, have made the children in those schools vulnerable to extremism because of […] the disconnection from wider society and cultural isolation”. Reflecting this, Nicky Morgan told the House on 22 July: “There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism but there is a clear account in the [Clarke] report of people in positions of influence in these schools, who have a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, not promoting British values and failing to challenge the extremist views of others”. We heard only one instance to the contrary: Ian Kershaw told us that he had evidence that a film promoting violent jihadist extremism had been shown to children in one classroom and the teacher had not been disciplined.
- The one example given by Ian Kershaw is clearly unacceptable and action should have been taken by the school to prevent it, but a single instance does not warrant headline claims that students in Birmingham—or elsewhere in England—are being exposed to extremism by their teachers. The Birmingham City Council Trojan Horse Review Group was firm that it did not “support the lazy conflation–frequently characterised in the national media in recent months–of what Ofsted have termed issues around ‘a narrow faith based ideology’ and questions of radicalisation, extremism or terrorism”. We agree.
The Peter Clarke report extract quoted above mentions "co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action, carried out by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools in Birmingham." There is nothing in the ESC's report contradicting that. Instead they echo his concerns in different words: "the promotion of a culture that would, if that culture continued, have made the children in those schools vulnerable to extremism because of […] the disconnection from wider society and cultural isolation".
Again those commenting mentioned above have seized on the comment in the Summary "no evidence of a sustained plot" which is consistent with paragraph 10 of the main report reproduced below:
10. We also note that we have seen no evidence to support claims of an organised plot to take over English schools. We discussed this in some detail with witnesses.
It is worth reading the record of the witness testimony on 2 September 2014 when Peter Clarke and Ian Kershaw appeared together. I have copied some of the questions and answers below:
Q146 Chair: This letter started this whole thing. Why was no-one asked to establish whether it was authentic or not, who the author was and what the purposes of the writer might have been?
Peter Clarke: To follow on from there, I made the decision very early on that the most important thing was to try to establish the central allegation in that letter, which was that there was a deliberate course of action being undertaken to undermine head teachers in schools. That seemed to me the important question. The motivation for whoever wrote it did not seem to me the most important thing at that time.
Q147 Chair: You chose your words very carefully there: “course of action” rather than the more typical word, “plot”.
Peter Clarke: Yes, and I suspect we may return to the question of whether there is a plot or not later on if you so choose to do.
Ian Kershaw: The answer for me lies in the choice of Birmingham City Council, whom I work for, and their focus upon wanting an answer to the question of whether there was any truth in the claims made in the letter rather than who the author was.
Q181 Neil Carmichael: Do you think that the description of the various events that you have just been talking about—the incident with the film and what Mr Clarke has just been talking about—amounts to being exposed to influences that would make someone become more extreme or prone to radical behaviour?
Peter Clarke: As I say in my report, in itself, it might not necessarily lead to people being more extreme, but I was told by several witnesses working within the schools—teaching staff and others—that, in their view, pushing upon the pupils an unquestioning adherence to a particular mindset or ideology was such that it could render them more vulnerable in the future, taking away their natural inquisitiveness.
Q182 Neil Carmichael: Mr Kershaw, would you like to comment on that?
Ian Kershaw: It was not part of my remit to look at and discover extremism in schools. Part of my remit was to look at whether the descriptions in the Trojan horse letter suggesting there was a plot to take over schools was true or not. My focus was, in terms of detail, looking at that as the major question. I cannot really come up with an answer to your question. I can only say that I have not got any evidence that has been given to me to suggest that I am concerned about that in those schools.
Q183 Neil Carmichael: Why do you two disagree on whether there is evidence of a plot to take over the schools in Birmingham? What is the central point of disagreement? Who would like to go first?
Peter Clarke: First, there is the different evidence base. Secondly, perhaps because of my background, I have approached the task in a slightly different way. What I did bring in was an analytical capability, which enables you to explore in greater depths linkages and timelines or events, timelines of people moving into particular positions and events following on from that. Of course, I did then, at the end, have the benefit of the social media discussion of the group of teachers from the Park View Educational Trust. That was important to me because instead of public assertion and denial, this was an insight into the way they were thinking and communicating with each other, and their basic attitudes on a whole range of subjects. If you take all that together, you can say that there is a group of people who are associated with each other, who know each other, who share a common world view and who have been seeking to impose their particular world view within the schools where they have influence either as teachers, head teachers, governors or sometimes both.
Q184 Neil Carmichael: Mr Kershaw?
Ian Kershaw: I think you will find that my report makes clear there were a group of people who knew each other, who coalesced together and influenced schools improperly, or tried to influence schools improperly. I choose not to use the word “plot” because the word as I understand it means that there were a group of people who I could pinpoint who were sitting down at a particular time to plan together quite clearly a programme of events, which I could not find. So I could not say that. Like Peter, I can see the linkages and I can see the crossovers between different people in different schools. I am therefore able to say that there were people who were coalescing together to try to improperly influence schools and to improperly manage the senior leaders of the schools and the senior teams of the schools, and to remove those people if they so chose.
The above questions and answers are consistent with the written text of Mr Kershaw's and Mr Clarke's reports discussed earlier on this page. Both of them are being very careful with the word "plot", and Mr Kershaw in particular is applying a very narrow definition. If one uses the word in its everyday sense, for example "a group of people acting together to achieve a common objective in a way that they do not wish to make publicly known", it is quite clear that within my definition even Mr Kershaw accepts that there was a plot.
After a few months delay, occasioned in part by the general election, the DfE published a response to the report of the Education Select Committee. As with the other documents discussed above, I recommend reading the full 15 pages.
As mentioned above, in my view the ESC report was wrongly "spun" by parts of the media as virtually exonerating the schools and individuals concerned. The DfE response is understandably couched in diplomatic language, but is nevertheless robust, and I have copied a short section below:
- The Select Committee concluded that “no evidence of extremism or radicalisation, apart from a single isolated incident, was found by any of the inquiries and there was no evidence of a sustained plot nor of a similar situation pertaining elsewhere in the country”. This downplays the seriousness of events in Birmingham and risks undermining our efforts to tackle extremism. It is important to state clearly just how damaging these were to the young people in the care of those schools. Peter Clarke was very clear that the situation threatened the ability of young people to integrate into modern British society and develop resistance to extremist or radicalising views. He identified “a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views”.
- The report concluded that:
- a culture of bullying and intimidation of staff who did not share these views emerged;
- groups of teachers at the schools in question encouraged ambitions to increase segregation;
- children learned to be intolerant of difference and diversity and were denied the opportunity to enjoy and exploit to the full the opportunities of a modern multi-cultural Britain; and
- young people were increasingly encouraged to accept unquestioningly a particular hard line strand of Sunni Islam leaving them vulnerable to radicalisation.
- This meant that through concerted and co-ordinated action, the life chances of young people attending these schools was wilfully narrowed, intolerance was permitted and young people were vulnerable to indoctrination by extremist ideologies.
Mr Tahir Alam is named several times in the report by Peter Clarke who states in his Executive Summary that the original "Trojan Horse letter" alleged Mr Alam to be at the heart of the plot. A brief extract from the Executive summary is reproduced below:
The letter states that:
‘Operation Trojan Horse’ has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham’.
It goes on to state that a prime mover behind the plan was Tahir Alam, a well-known figure in education circles in Birmingham and until very recently a director and chair of the Park View Educational Trust, which runs three academies in the city. The supposed author of the document claimed that Mr Alam has:
‘fine-tuned the ‘Trojan Horse’ [operation] so that it is totally invisible to the naked eye and allows us to operate under the radar. I have detailed the plan we have in Birmingham and how well it has worked and you will see how easy the whole process is to get the Head teacher out and our own person in’.
I am not aware of any detailed public response from Mr Alam to the reports until recently. However today I was directed towards two items.
On 28 June 2015 Mr Alam created a WordPress blog posting: "Trojan Horse Hoax- Brief Response by Tahir Alam, Former Chair of Park View Educational Trust." However when I checked on 13 December 2022 that post no longer existed, and the oldest post I could find on his blog was dated September 2015 "Response: Prohibition Order- Banning from Management of Schools" although that item contains links to some older PDFs.
A video "The Trojan horse Hoax by Tahir Alam" was published on YouTube by a Numan Khan on 5 May 2015. I previously embedded the full 70 minute video on this page, but it is no longer watchable as its status has been changed to private, so I have removed it.
These removals are disappointing as they mean readers no longer have the opportunity to assess whether in his video and 25 June blog posting, whether whether Mr Alam has adequately rebutted the detailed allegations in the reports summarised and linked above. I strongly recommend reading the reports in full.
The Park View Educational Trust website is currently not operational and has a "page under construction" placeholder. However Mr Alam has sent me three documents that PVET issued last year:
Of these documents, (1) predates the issue of the Ofsted reports, although I assume PVET had some knowledge of what the Ofsted reports were going to say before they were published. Documents (2) and (3) are dated on the same day as the publication of the Ofsted reports.
As with all of the other material referenced on this page, I encourage readers to read the PVET documents and make up their own minds as to whether they adequately rebut the detailed findings of the Ofsted reports.
On 3 February 2022 the New York Times published a podcast series "The Trojan Horse Affair." I downloaded it and listened to part of the first episode, before deleting the series instead of spending time listening to it.
The reason was that I am very familiar with the history having read all of the reports, and it was clear that the podcast creators had a very one-sided view of this story.
Accordingly I was very pleased to see Policy Exchange publish on 11 December a detailed response to the podcast series and the distortions that have established themselves in the last seven years, in their publication "The Trojan Horse Affair: A Documentary Record — A report from Policy Exchange’s Understanding Islamism project" by Dr Damon L. Perry and Dr Paul Stott with forewords by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Nick Timothy CBE, and Khalid Mahmood MP.
I have downloaded the report. I read in full the introduction and forewords, and the conclusion, while rapidly skipping through the timelines and other data in the rest of the pages as I was familiar with most of it. I encourage any readers who are not convinced by reading the investigation reports above to download and read the Policy Exchange report.
My view, which I consider to also be the overall perspective of the Policy Exchange document, is that some people have actively sought to discredit the investigations and re-write history because they are unwilling to accept that a group of Muslims were seeking to impose their very conservative religious views on the children of other Muslims.