Inside the Trojan Horse

Park View School in Birmingham which is being investigated as part of allegations of a hardline Islamist takeover plot at a number of Birmingham schools The most high-profile of the schools caught up in the claims, Park View, has rejected the allegations

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Right now, there are four investigations going on into Birmingham schools, following on from the so-called "Trojan Horse" letter. That document claimed to outline a plot by Muslim hardliners to take over some Birmingham schools.

Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE), West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council are, between them, looking at 25 schools. Reports from those investigations are starting to seep out. But it is worth quickly recapping where we now are:

• The focus is not on a "conspiracy". The "Trojan Horse" letter is now widely assumed to be a forgery, and appears to have been written to alarm people. (If the document is genuine, the plotters are not competent). Even so, it highlighted real concerns.

• There is worry - principally among some local liberal Muslims - about the influence of some religious conservatives in schools. In Birmingham, the majority of Muslims are from the relatively relaxed Barelvi grouping. The conservatives attend mosques that are described as Salafi, Wahabi and Deobandi.

• There is also a particular focus on one clique of friends. The chair of governors and head teacher at Park View School are the core of a group of about a dozen people who are local governors and teachers. Inspections will need to deal with claims of nepotism (NB - teachers always think there is nepotism going on).

• Some of the schools are definitely now socially conservative. There is, however, parental support for that attitude. You can see that in how heavily subscribed Park View School is, for example.

• Lots of non-Muslims in the city support the schools. For some, such as their fans at the council, it is because they want schools to cater to what parents want. For others, including some who work in the schools, it is because they think the ethos helps drive up results. And Park View, in particular, gets spectacularly strong results.

• But hardline religious conservatism alone can cause problems. If a school's centre of gravity is far off-centre, it may attract staff with rather odd, extreme views. Newsnight has revealed how some teachers at Park View School had - contrary to school policy - taught creationism as science and that wives had no right to refuse sex to their husbands.

Chris Cook speaks to teachers from Park View School

• There is also concern that hard-line conservatism can create the underpinnings for radicalisation. Newsnight has also revealed that three people at Birmingham schools - two at Park View - were reported to the authorities in 2010 for having crossed into extremism.

• That potential for crossover is also why the authorities do not treat Islam as it does other religions. The past few weeks has reaffirmed that. Recent examples of Jewish creationism, for example, have not fostered the same concerns. They are dealt with in a very different way.

• The government spends a lot of money in the West Midlands on counter-extremism. This machinery has been monitoring some of the people involved in this story for years. That explains part of why there is hostility among officials to Peter Clarke, the DfE's investigator into the issue. He's stepping on a lot of toes. The fact that his background is in counter-terrorism has annoyed local Muslims, too, who see this as an issue about the role of religion in schools.

It is worth pointing out a few other things:

• This is turning into another argument about academies. Labour wants to point out that academies - all 3,849 of them - are monitored from Whitehall. And the DfE is struggling with this role. Some of the schools being investigated, however, are under LA oversight.

• The events in Birmingham highlight a dilemma for school choice advocates. Setting aside the more extreme stuff, the atmosphere at some of these schools is what some parents are after. There is strong demand for a traditional moral core to local schools.

• Parental choice goes beyond the state sector. Some local parents wouldn't trust more liberal schools. This would affect girls, in particular. Blunt secularisation might lead to more pupils going to one of the nine private Muslim girls' schools in Birmingham - which are less liberal.

• The English school system is quite weird. In some cases, what is alleged to be happening would be acceptable or expected in faith state schools, but not in a normal school. In those cases, some of these worries might feel more like legal pedantry than a grand scandal.

Chris Cook Article written by Chris Cook Chris Cook Policy editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Anglerfish -Bear in mind that LAs are not allowed to intervene in academies at all.

    This just deflects the whole thing, as the Trojan style behaviour has been going on for at least ten years that I know of, some of my older colleagues reckon it could be as many as twenty. The Brum Ed people have NEVER stood up to anything that may rock their boat. Big carpet and even bigger broom. Useless to us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    There needs to be better guidance for the behaviour of school governors. School governors can hire and fire headteachers and this power can be abused. Also the recruitment of headteachers can be inadequate even without a hardline religious agenda. I would like governors to have more guidance on how to recruit headteachers adequately and fairly including advice about advertising the post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    There is also the issue according to the Telegraph of alleged discrimination of non-muslim students within these schools. Surely that is a big issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.


    'In my opinion, the bosses at Birmingham Education Authority have to answer for letting this happen. '

    Bear in mind that LAs are not allowed to intervene in academies at all. Whenever one of them gets into trouble, of course, a minister comes on TV and says 'LAs remain responsible for all children in their area.' Weasel words by duplicitous politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    One of the problems with Academies is that the Council is not obliged to over see them or intervene- they are left to their own devices apart from very occasional Ofsted inspections. The Academies are answerable to the Dept of Education which is not really set up to oversee schools in the way that a council might. Not all these schools are academies but a lot of them are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    In my opinion, the bosses at Birmingham Education Authority have to answer for letting this happen. Questions that the BBC SHOULD be asking of them are: How many Senior Teachers from these schools have left over the past five years? How many of these "departures" included some form of gagging order? Appease, sweep under the carpet, move people out, appease again. That sums up Brum Ed bosses, imo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Reply to Peter_Sym who posted 3 HOURS AGO...
    "14-16 Sarah. problem is that its all "From what I've heard" and "Potentially...." and very little hard fact...."

    Try checking out all the articles by Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph, one of the few journalists to actually check out this whole situation.
    You may also want to check out Mr Mahmood, Muslim MP for that area, as he confirms it. Brave man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    #27 Henry Ford got a medal from Hitler for publishing copies....

    Lots of historical precedent for this sort of thing. Frankly I'm amazed no-one on HYS has yet claimed that Islamic school kids are forced to drink the blood of murdered Christian kids yet. The Egypt HYS yesterday was rapidly heading that way......

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" . .

    Yes, I'm aware of this work but had admittedly forgotten.

    Thank you for reminding me about it and so I could read about them again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    24. Sine Wave : its think its quite a catchy phrase Wiki dreamt up. What Sarah is doing if applied to an individual would be libel BTW

    I'd prefer to wait for the facts to confirmed and act based on evidence not act based on what might have happened. This 'Trojan horse' letter rather reminds me of the protocols of the elders of zion (google it). There's still a few say that 'might be genuine'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    #23 Peter_Sym
    "Sarah. Ag.. ..Wikipedia would call these 'weasel words'. I'd suggest wait for the enquiry (.) and find out what.."

    Sadly there is an insoluble problem with the whole way that modern Britain does things. The truth that team size is inversely proportional to intelligence. This explains why a parliament of 650 people is less good at making decisions than a standard monkey t**d.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Wikipedia would call these 'weasel words'
    14-16 Sarah.

    I'm studying Discourse Analysis in my MA. Your description of "weasel words" doesn't appear in the literature (Foucault et al) but it's an interesting reference never the less.

    However, I think what Sarah is actually doing (albeit unconsciously) is contributing to a wider social construction of the issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Sarah. Again... do you actually have any hard facts:
    "There appear to have been..."
    "potentially types of child abuse..."
    "I expect Ofsted...."
    "not necessarily a fake....."

    Wikipedia would call these 'weasel words'. I'd suggest wait for the enquiry (which is taking its sweet time) and find out what ACTUALLY happened rather than dream up things that might have happened. (BBC take note too)

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    There appear to have been a lot of problems at some of these schools-e.g girls being forced to sit at the back of or on the edges of the class, some teachers mainly asking questions to boys, the lack of a broad curriculum, lack of access to sex education, unfair suspensions of children, infiltration of governing bodies by religious hardliners and some governors abusing their powers of hiring etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Ideally, state schools should not be religious atall. The state should be paying for a good, broad, non-discriminatory education not religious indoctrination by hardliners. Private conservative religious schools should also be investigated to see if there is sex discrimination , human rights violations, and potentially types of child abuse going on e.g forced wearing of face veils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    The author of this article has said himself that the majority of Muslims in Birmingham are not hardliners but from the more relaxed Barelvi group. Therefore, Birmingham Council, Ofsted and the Department of Education should not have allowed these hardliners to impose their views and policies on state funded supposedly secular schools. I expect Ofsted is now regretting some of its past reports.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    The Trojan Horse letter is not necessarily a fake. Apparently Tahir Alam, the chair of governors at Park View, has previously written a similar article a few years ago for the Muslim Council of Britain advocating the Islamisation of schools. A clique of religious hardliners appear to have infiltrated the governing bodies of several schools with a hardline Islamisation agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Calling primary children Muslim, Christian or Jewish makes as much sense as calling them Conservative, Socialist or Liberal Democrats. They,are too young to have made their minds up about such complicated matters. The roll of education should be to inform them whilst protecting them from undue influence. No school should be a 'faith' school. It's an oxymoron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    14-16 Sarah. problem is that its all "From what I've heard" and "Potentially...." and very little hard fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    It sounds as if some officials at Birmingham Council have bent over backwards to accomodate people with extreme religious views thinking that they are doing what parents want. However, some of them haven't bothered to find out what the other parents think or if the implementation of these hardline religious views is actually discriminating against girls or people from other religions or none.


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