'Trojan Horse': Reasons to be pessimistic
- 13 June 2014
- From the section Education & Family
On Monday, Ofsted released reports into 21 Birmingham schools, and the Department for Education into four.
These followed the revelation of the "Trojan Horse" letter - a document that detailed an alleged conspiracy to take over Birmingham schools by conservative Muslims.
That document is, one can be pretty certain, a hoax, but it spoke to concerns that some state comprehensive schools were being "Islamicised".
Over this week, a lot of evidence and interpretation has emerged on this theme.
Six schools are now in special measures. Of these, two were fairly ordinary, bad schools and four were very unusual.
Those were the three Park View Educational Trust schools - Park View, Nansen and Golden Hillock - and Oldknow.
The impression of the reports is that Islam certainly informed decisions in ways that might not have been appropriate for ostensibly secular institutions.
Should Koranic Arabic have been on the walls? Should a primary school use Islamic banking?
The concern has been that hardline social conservatism can, in some situations and without precautions, create an atmosphere where extreme views might emerge.
Newsnight found teachers working at the schools harbouring concerns about extremism, and were able to give examples of worrying incidents.
So what now?
As Chris Husbands, director of the Institute of Education, said in the IOE London blog, Birmingham needs "commitment to working through local tensions and developing… trust amongst all those involved. They need the heat taken out of the situation".
But the heat persists. The BBC has encountered local people who feared to speak out in favour of reform in the schools.
There is continuing unwillingness to compromise or acknowledge concerns on all sides - and the content of the reports is disputed.
Will things improve? Well, the lawyers are already involved. And the DfE's review of the issues, conducted by Peter Clarke, a former police officer, is still to come.
His appointment was controversial to begin with; he is a former counter-terrorism officer.
Some people in the area are enraged. On Wednesday, about 120 people showed up to a meeting.
It was chaired by a local National Union of Teachers and Socialist Workers Party organiser; neither organisation has a reputation for conciliation.
At the meeting, there was a lot of understandable concern about the conflation of Islam, extremism and terrorism.
Many Muslims are alarmed at the idea that hardline conservative Islam might be seen as a step from extremism.
Still, at the same meeting, there were hints that some members of staff have attitudes that might not be reconcilable to life within a secular state primary school.
A male teacher at Oldknow told the meeting on Wednesday that an inspector from the DfE made him feel his personal integrity had been impugned.
Why? She, a woman, had sought to shake his hand. He refused on account of her gender. And the audience reaction was not unsympathetic.
Will things get better? Maybe the anger will dissipate; much will depend on how the new leaders of the four schools at the centre of this handle the situation. But there are grounds for pessimism.