The first event of the New Centre was a panel discussion about the Trojan horse debacle that engulfed Birmingham Schools. We were fortunate to have a panel of academics, activists and community members to discuss the issues bought up by the scandal. The panel was made up of Professor John Holmwood, President of the British Sociological Association; Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students Campaign; Dan Whisker, Lecturer at Newman University; Mohammed Ashraf, Governor at Golden Hillock School; and Afroze Xaidi Jivraj, Post-Graduate Researcher on Islam and its relationship to the West. As Academic Directors of the New Centre what we offer here is our own take on the Trojan Horse debacle, informed by the discussion and debate which took place at The Drum on July 31st 2014.
The so-called Trojan Horse scandal, which when started as a hoax letter doing the rounds, but being rightly ignored, was passed up the chain to Westminster and became the smoking gun that has been used to justify the Secretary of State of Education using his newly acquired powers to make a statement on the nature of education. If the message you take from the manufactured crisis is that we need to be wary of Islamification eroding ‘British’ values, then you have missed the point. The real story is a cautionary tale for anyone supporting Gove’s systematic dismantling of state schooling and the whole episode makes a mockery of the shared values that are apparently missing in the moral panic created by the issue. A cursory analysis of the Ofsted reports of the most serious ‘offending’ schools, who were put into special measures shows the problem that lies at the heart of this issue.
School governing bodies have been given too much power
The Tories aversion to Local Education Authorities (LEA) has led them to create schools as individual companies run by the governing bodies. Even though some of the schools under scrutiny are not (yet) academies, and are therefore technically still accountable to the LEA, successive governments have given more power and autonomy to the governing bodies. From looking at the Ofsted reports from the schools it is clear the central issue is the overreach of the governing bodies into the running of the school and in some instances how they are allocating resources. Oldknow School received an outstanding for children’s achievement and behaviours, and Park View achieved a rating of good for both; however both were put into special measures because of governance.
Of Oldknow School Ofsted reported that ‘leadership and management are inadequate. The chair and other governors exert too much control over operational matters in the academy’. The example used in the report were of the governing body banning the use of tombolas as un-Islamic and instituting Islamic assemblies. The real issue here is not the content of the changes but that governing bodies have the power to interfere in the day to day operations of the school.
The Ofsted reports clearly demonstrate the increasing power of the governing bodies and the potential implications. For example, at Saltley Specialist School Ofsted found that:
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 kind of hyper surveillance, distrust of the workforce and misallocation of public funds has nothing to do with Islam but is an example of what can happen when you bring in the corporate world into the state education system. Given the commercialisation of schooling that is taking place it is unlikely that a handful of school in Birmingham with large population s Muslim children are the worst offenders when it comes to misallocation of state resources in this new system (http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jan/12/taxpayer-funded-academy-paying-millions-private-firms-schools-education-revealed-education)
The irony of all the outrage of Gove and the Tories is that the problem they are up in arms about is a direct result of their changes to the education system. The Trojan Horse here should not be seen as the fake Islamic plot but rather this posturing and overreach by Gove. In making a meal of this story he has tried to assert his control over the school system. However, hopefully this will backfire as the country realises that the chaos he has created in the school system and the extent of the powers he has handed himself. This story has also revealed some truly worrying discourse in relation to how we relate the Muslim community in Britain
Is Islamophobia a British value?
The moral panic that has erupted based on an anonymous hoax demonstrates the latent Islamophobia of society. There is no plot and no evidence of one, yet the state and the media have created feeding frenzy drawing on our prejudices. Actions such as segregating boys and girls; and the teaching of faith, which are accepted in other contexts, are portrayed as a betrayal of British values. Some of the schools in question have certainly acted inappropriately, banning activities and separating the children, but it is farcical to suggest this is somehow un-British because Muslims are doing it. Something that stood out from all the Ofsted reports was how the schools were in breach of the duties because they ‘had not received permission from the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from providing a broadly Christian act of worship’ in assembly. I, for one, was completely unaware that this was a requirement of schools and is surely complete hypocrisy to lament certain schools from being too religious, when the Christian faith is a requirement in schools… unless you get an exemption. The objection here isn’t about faith in schools, but rather rejection of the Islamic faith in schools. The most segregated group in society is the White middle class, by a distance. Given the objections I have personally heard numerous times from leaders in mono-culturally White schools that ‘it isn’t necessary to teach multiculturalism in our school’, I would be amazed if there aren’t any number of schools with over 90 per cent White students, enjoying their ‘broadly Christian acts of worship’ who learn very little about other cultures. Activists in education have been raising this issue for decades, we were obviously taking the wrong approach and should have faked a letter and sent it to the education authorities!
The other extremely worrying feature that is on all of these Ofsted reports is demonstrated in this section from Parkview’s report accusing the school of
not doing enough to keep students safe, including raising students’ awareness of the risks of extremism. Use, in liaison with the police, of the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy to identify and avoid extremism has only taken place for students in Years 7 and 8. Moreover, most staff have not received training in the ‘Prevent’ programme, although there are now plans for this to take place
Apparently, all Muslim children are now vulnerable to extremism and it is a safeguarding role of the schools to ensure that they are aware of the dangers. It wasn’t even enough that Parkview had worked with the police and the controversial ‘Prevent’ agenda and had plans to train staff. Schools now being forced to engage with a morally bankrupt and practically dubious government agenda that uses law enforcement and surveillance as a method to ‘prevent violent extremism’ and supposedly reach out to communities. No to fully comply with the state apparatus is to be in so-called ‘breach’ of a school’s safeguarding duty and was used to castigate all of the school now placed in special measures. This is a damning indictment of the values towards Muslim children as the community is essentially viewed as a hotbed of extremism that schools are the first line of defence against. It is now official that schools with large Muslim populations are judged by different standard than the rest.
The Trojan Horse affair tells us little about Muslim communities in Britain, other than there exist zealots in the community who will take advantage of the dismantling of state schooling and aim to push their agenda. The same is true for that sentence if you substitute Muslim for any number of groups and identities. The real lessons of the moral panic are the chaos it has demonstrated is being caused by this government changes and the mirror it has held up to Britain’s core Islamophobic values.