'Trojan horse' scandal - extreme or diverse?

Park View school

Where does diversity stop and extremism begin? That, it seems to me, is the central question posed by the so-called "Trojan horse" affair.

It is official government policy to create a "more diverse school system" with academies and free schools liberated from some state controls. They don't have to follow the national curriculum and they operate independently from the local education authority.

A substantial proportion of the free schools created under Education Secretary Michael Gove's reforms appear to have a strong cultural or religious character.

Look in the classrooms of the new "free" state-funded primary schools, for example, and you will find a higher proportion of pupils come from an Asian background (35%) than a white British heritage (32%).

Mr Gove has spoken of his enthusiasm for schools to be liberated from the "moral and cultural relativism" imposed by some local authority educationalists. The education secretary has explained how the freedoms that come with academy status would mean a religious school "can place itself permanently out of range of any such unsympathetic meddling" and be true to its religious traditions.

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What about the free school in Lancashire that includes daily mandatory transcendental meditation - is that extreme? ”

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There is, though, clearly a limit on how far free-thinking can go. "It's a free country and we're not going to attempt to police what people believe," Mr Gove has said. "But we are determined to ensure that those who receive public funding - and especially those who are shaping young minds - do not peddle an extremist agenda."

So, when does a religious tradition become an extremist agenda? For example, would a Christian school that tells its pupils that homosexuality is sinful, be traditional or extreme? What about the free school in Lancashire that includes daily mandatory transcendental meditation - is that extreme?

The inspectors from the Educational Funding Agency noted how some felt the school at the centre of the "Trojan horse" affair, Park View Academy, had "taken the Islamic focus too far". Although it enjoys the freedoms of an academy, it is not specifically designated a faith school, and so the sight of posters in Koranic Arabic "advertising the virtues of prayer" was a cause for concern.

Almost all the pupils at Park View are Muslims but technically, the school is not currently allowed to conduct an Islamic form of collective worship. Special permission from the secretary of state to do so expired last summer which means, by law, it must conduct a daily act of collective worship that is "wholly or mainly of a Christian character".

Incidentally, if Park View had wanted to become a faith school academy, the rules prevented it from doing so. Despite its intake, it was obliged to maintain a default Christian tradition.

Reading the EFA review, it appears almost that the Muslim ethos of a school is evidence of "extremism". The loudspeakers which broadcast the call to prayer, the fact that 80% of girls were wearing white headscarves, the school fundraiser for Syria - even though these were not necessarily a cause for concern in themselves, they were listed under a heading that suggested the Park View Trust schools were not doing enough to promote community cohesion.

But how different is that from a school that rings a bell ahead of hymn singing in assembly, where pupils are obliged to wear caps or boaters, where the school charity is Christian Aid?

"It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. Time and again, people equate the two," David Cameron said in a speech in 2011.

"They talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong," the Prime Minister declared. "We need to be clear. Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing."

The evidence of Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools appears thin. The schools themselves say Ofsted has made "absolutely no suggestion, nor did they find any evidence, that Park View schools either promote or tolerate extremism or radicalisation".

What there may well have been is an attempt by some conservative Muslims to encourage an ethos within Birmingham schools that is true to their religious tradition. But is that very different from Michael Gove's encouragement of parents in Catholic academies to be true to their religious tradition?

If, like 629 other state-funded English secondaries, Park View had been allowed to become a faith school, then one presumes the Islamic ethos would no longer be regarded as a threat to the welfare of the pupils. Conservative Muslims would be no different from conservative Catholics looking to escape from moral and cultural relativism.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    I believe that everyone should be allowed to practise their faith but that education should not include religion in any form. All children, boys and girls, should have equal opportunities and should not be brainwashed. Many children get enough brainwashing by their parents outside school without extra in school. Religion should be a personal informed choice preferably made by an adult.

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    ..Maybe the local Pakistani Moslem community in some parts of Birmingham do support schools which rubbish Christianity .. discriminate against non Moslem students..discriminate against girl students..after all that's what happens in Pakistan. But this is England where we should be teaching equality and tolerance.
    2014/06/10 06:26:36am

    Sent from my HTC

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    I don't see any mention of the £900,000 overspend, ( Loss, Debt whatever you want to call it ) spent at one, yes just ONE Birmingham school.
    Where has this the taxpayers money gone?
    Goes very quiet on the BBC Channel Four and ITV on this question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    What a typical biased BBC article, that fails to mention parents of some of these schools who have been on loacl media who deliberately chose them as they were not faith schools and wanted a secular education without religous dogma.
    It seems this dogma has crept in via Govoners and this is being ignored by the BBC and ITV trying to twist facts.
    This is a none religous school, end of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    Tolerance is surely subjective, I have no issues with anybody’s faith although I have none myself, where I have zero tolerance is the brainwashing of children towards a set of beliefs whose only evidence is a couple of books patiently authored by several people and that any number of other people believe them to be factual. Faith as fact has no place in education; faith is in essence a hobby


Comments 5 of 311



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