The following article was published by Socialist Worker on April 22nd, 2014.
A wave of Islamophobic panic has followed claims that “Islamists” are plotting to take over Birmingham schools.
And in the wake of the controversy, hated schools inspectorate Ofsted has been accused of telling some of the schools they will be failed for “not teaching anti-terrorism”.
The claims of a “takeover” were detailed in an anonymous letter sent to Birmingham council last year. It refers to the alleged plot as “Operation Trojan Horse”.
Teachers and governors say the letter has sparked a rash of sensationalist reporting in the press that bears no relation to reality.
Even Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt jumped into the fray. He welcomed the investigation into the “so called Trojan Horse conspiracy” in a speech to the NASUWT teachers’ union conference.
Springfield primary school is one of those included in the Trojan Horse claims. A Daily Telegraph report last Saturday claimed that Ofsted would rate the school as “requiring improvement” following the allegations.
But Roger King, chair of governors, said Ofsted hasn’t even inspected the school. It was last inspected in October 2011. “We got good with outstanding features,” he told a press conference at the NUT union’s annual conference.
Roger has spoken to NUT members in schools that have recently been inspected. “In one school the Ofsted team told the staff of the school, ‘We’re going to fail you’,” he said.
“They said, ‘You’re not teaching anti-terrorism, therefore there’s a safeguarding issue in the school.’”
Roger added that teachers reported “inappropriate” questions from Ofsted inspectors.
He said some staff were asked if they were homophobic, and girls were asked if they were made to sit separately to boys.
“You do question how objective Ofsted were when they went into those schools,” he added.
Roger said the media focus on Muslims has skewed what is really going on. He said NUT members had “never” raised concerns about girls being segregated from boys.
“Members’ biggest concern is how they’re being treated by Ofsted,” he said.
Tory education secretary Michael Gove has put Peter Clarke in charge of investigating the claims.
Clarke oversaw the investigation following bombings in London in July 2005. Even West Midlands Police boss Chris Sims called the move “desperately unfortunate”.
Mohammed Ishtiaq, a parent in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, told Socialist Worker, “Everyone is feeling victimised.
“People were encouraged to become governors and have given up a lot of time to try and get a better education for all Birmingham children.
“Since all this has happened they’re saying, ‘To hell with being governors’. People are very angry.”
Professor and anti-racist campaigner Gus John said the panic showed up contradictions in the Tories’ education policy.
“It is a logical conclusion from this mess we have where people talk about parental choice in influencing the direction of existing schools,” he told Socialist Worker.
Gus pointed to the fact that academies and free schools don’t have to follow the national curriculum. The Tories have led the trumpeting of the idea that schools should be less regulated.
“You can’t on the one hand provide for that legally and then on the other hand say to a group of parents, you can’t do x, y or z.”
He also questioned why Muslim parents and governors were being singled out and deemed a problem.
“There are many faith schools, such as Catholic schools, that exercise their freedoms in terms of admissions policies. So the question is, why target these people in Birmingham? Why are we having moral panics about Islam?
“There is something Islamophobic about it and there is something deeply racist about it. Everybody, especially faith schools, should rise up against what the Secretary of State is doing.”
The article above was published by Socialist Worker on April 22nd, 2014.