‘Trojan Horse’ brings a Packhorse of British Values into Every School

Est. read time: 20 min
Prime-Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Prime-Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove open the new Perry Beeches III Free School. Credits: Number 10/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

David Cameron made a jingoistic statement about ‘British values’ last weekend in the wake of the ‘Trojan Horse’ debacle and Ofsted’s ‘extremism’ inspection findings on 21 schools in Birmingham, findings in respect of 5 of them that were described by the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, as ‘deeply worrying’.

Increasingly, I find myself wondering whether some leaders of state have lost the capacity to listen to themselves and understand what is coming out of their mouths, or whether they are just plain stupid.

The Prime Minister said:

This week there has been a big debate about British values following the Trojan Horse controversy in some Birmingham schools  – about what these  values are, and the role they should play in education.

I’m clear about what these values are – and I’m equally clear that they should be promoted in every school and to every child in our country.

The values I’m talking about – a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law – are the things we should try to live by every day.

I am an African. I have lived in Britain 50 years. During that time I have campaigned relentlessly for racial equality, human rights and social justice and against structural, cultural, institutional and personal manifestations of racism and discrimination. Campaigned against:  racist murders by neo-fascists and racist extremists; the protection given to such organised bands of extremists by the police and the state; police practice of harassing bereaved Asian families about their immigration status when called to the scene of racist murders, rather than pursuing the murderers; police brutality, too often with fatal consequences for their victims; the deaths of African people while in the custody of the state without anyone being held to account; police huddling together to concoct ‘evidence’, hide the truth and pervert the course of justice, thereby denying justice to the relatives of the dead; police abuse of power and wanton criminalisation of black young people with the endorsement of the courts;  wrongful arrests, malicious prosecution, gross misconduct and massive cover-ups, all with the full knowledge of their senior command.

I have witnessed police surveillance, harassment and wrongful imprisonment of community activists campaigning for justice, campaigning for a more accountable police service, campaigning for a less racist media, campaigning against perennially disproportionate levels of black youth unemployment and commensurately high levels of illegal stops and searches by the police, campaigning against the ruining of black students’ life chances through school exclusions and the dumping of the excluded into containment centres and ‘sin bins’, latterly known as pupil referral units.

I have witnessed ‘white flight’ and the abandonment of whole areas by white folk only because they wanted nothing to do with black folk whose presence they felt would depress the value of their properties, the status of their neighbourhoods and the quality of schooling outcomes for their children.

This is the same Britain in which David Cameron grew up and received his mis-education about British values. This is the same Britain that despite the bedrock of ‘Magna Carta’ colonised more than half the globe, enslaved millions, barbarically indulged in genocide and the extermination of indigenous peoples and built an Empire on the blood of those rendered less than human and psychologically programmed to see themselves as such. Christianity was nurtured in that cradle of sin and provided its biblical justification. As the famous colonial hymn writer pronounced:

‘O’er heathen lands afar

Thick darkness broodeth yet

Arise, O Morning Star,

Arise and never set’.

And of course the likes of me were taught and made to believe that ‘the sun never set’ on the British Empire while ‘Britannia ruled the waves’.

David Cameron and people like me see the world through different eyes. We see our combined history through different lenses and therefore I have a take on the legacy of Empire and what Britain should have been doing about these last 50 years that differs fundamentally from that of Mr Cameron and the roots of his ‘British values’.

He claims to be:

‘…clear about what these values are – and I’m equally clear that they should be promoted in every school and to every child in our country.

The values I’m talking about – a belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law – are the things we should try to live by every day.  To me they’re as British as the Union flag, as football, as fish and chips.  Of course, people will say that these values are vital to other people in other countries. And, of course, they’re right.  But what sets Britain apart are the traditions and history that anchors them and allows them to continue to flourish and develop….

And taken together, I believe this combination – our values and our respect for the history that helped deliver them and the institutions that uphold them – forms the bedrock of Britishness.  Without it, we wouldn’t be able to walk down the street freely, to say what we think, to be who we are, or do what we want’.

So, how has the ‘Trojan Horse’ come to lead this packhorse of Cameron’s values into every school?

Why now?

Why were those values not packaged and laid at the door of every school when Asians in Seven Kings, in Newham, in Manchester, Oldham, Bradford and elsewhere were having their homes firebombed by the National Front  and other race hate-mongers ?  Why were they not made compulsory in every school when Nick Griffin and the British National Party were seeking to convince the electorate that it would be in their interest to let them run our town halls and deal with the blacks, the dispossessed and the homosexuals?

Cameron was adamant as to where the problem lay:

So I believe we need to be far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them. That’s what a genuinely liberal country does: it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. It says to its citizens: this is what defines us as a society.

What does that mean in practice? We have already taken some big steps.

We are making sure new immigrants can speak English, because it will be more difficult for them to understand these values, and the history of our institutions, if they can’t speak our language. 

We are bringing proper narrative history back to the curriculum, so our children really learn our island’s story – and where our freedoms and things like our Parliament and constitutional monarchy came from.

And as we announced this week, we are changing our approach further in schools. We are saying it isn’t enough simply to respect these values in schools – we’re saying that teachers should actively promote them.

They’re not optional; they’re the core of what it is to live in Britain. 

I see no evidence that speaking English was/is a problem for the National Front, the British National Party, the English Defence League, or UKIP for that matter. They can ‘speak our language’ alright, but their brand of ‘British values’ is more reflective of ‘the history of our institutions’ than the somewhat sanitised version of those values David Cameron wishes to see taught in every school.

Cameron’s language gives the game away and provides the answer to the question ‘Why Now’:

‘This week there has been a big debate about British values following the Trojan Horse controversy in some Birmingham schools ….

In recent years we have been in danger of sending out a worrying message: that if you don’t want to believe in democracy, that’s fine; that if equality isn’t your bag, don’t worry about it; that if you’re completely intolerant of others, we will still tolerate you. As I’ve said before, this has not just led to division, it has also allowed extremism – of both the violent and non-violent kind – to flourish…

We are making sure new immigrants can speak English, because it will be more difficult for them to understand these values, and the history of our institutions, if they can’t speak our language. 

Separating and Problematising ‘the Other’

It would appear that the only way David Cameron and Michael Gove could understand and respond to the farcical situation in Birmingham is by distancing the government and the rest of the society from that alien race called ‘Muslims’, with all their foreign and un-British values, foreign and un-British ways, foreign languages, foreign belief systems and all the rest of it. Cameron appears to want to make the entire Muslim population in the UK responsible for ‘standing up’ to Muslim clerics who ‘inflame terrorism by denouncing free speech, equality and democracy’. As far as he is concerned, ‘the failure to stand up to such firebrands has allowed extremism – both the violent and non-violent kind – to flourish’.

Yet, the 2011 census revealed that there are some 3 million Muslims in the UK, or 5% of the population, with those numbers set to grow. It is estimated that 1 in 10 children aged 4 years and under is Muslim. Some 1600 mosques serve the Muslim population and 136 schools are Muslim, 125 of those in the private sector. The majority of Muslims attend those 1600 mosques and go about their business week by week without encountering any ‘firebrands’ preaching extremism and inflaming terrorism. That majority are as opposed to such ideologies and the destructive practices that are encouraged by them as are the rest of us. They run their schools in pretty much the same way that Roman Catholic, Church of England and Jewish schools are run, i.e., according to the beliefs and practices of the particular faith.

Despite that, however, Cameron and Gove make it their business to focus the entire nation on the activities of a minority of deviants and to make the entire Muslim population accountable for them. That process of ‘othering’, projecting ‘the other’ as not belonging to you or among you, e.g., their practices in our society, leads inexorably to an even more pernicious form of marginalisation and exclusion, i.e., essentialising, seeing the activities or beliefs of a few as being characteristic of the group or population as a whole. Hence, the police use of stop and search powers under the Terrorism Act results in 125,000 people being searched, although just about 1% of those led to an arrest.

Ofsted appears to be now poised to use its own ‘pounce and search without notice’ powers to catch schools that are laxed in their efforts to ensure that children are put at risk of being tainted with extremism. This is clearly a ‘post-Trojan horse’ preoccupation on Ofsted’s part and it has led the schools involved to charge that amidst all the hysteria, Gove and Ofsted were simply making up the rules and the inspection framework as they went along. The latter’s default position seemed to be that schools that did not actively demonstrate measures for tackling extremism or preventing students from having exposure to extremism were either colluding with fundamentalist extremists or failing to prevent them from contaminating young minds.

The way this whole debate has unfolded would lead one to believe that schools everywhere had been given a definition by the government of what ‘extremism’ is and clear guidance by the DfE in relation to preventing or dealing with extremism. Yet, as my colleague Robin Richardson rightly reminded some of us, the new DfE publication entitled Keeping Children Safe in Education: statutory guidance for schools and colleges, published in April 2014, only 2 months ago, contains not one reference to extremism, terrorism, or to the government’s ‘prevent’ strategy.

Given that the government and Ofsted were so exercised about the ‘Trojan Horse’ claims, to the extent that investigations and inspections were being put in train, one would have thought that the new guidance would have included ‘guidance’ on ‘keeping children safe’ from extremism and would have given a clear indication to schools and colleges as to what Ofsted would be looking for when judging whether or not a school is safe from actual or potential threats of extremism.

Yet, that guidance not only fails to mention extremism, it provides no indication as to what good practice in schools might look like. There is a passing reference to ‘radicalisation’ and even that is in the context of guidance on the Channel programme, rather than a recommended DfE approach to the matter.

Both Gove and Ofsted were therefore criticising schools for not following non-existent guidelines. 

One of the other things Gove and Ofsted appear to take for granted is the extent to which schools not mixed up in this Trojan Horse affair are dealing appropriately with the business of preparing children for life in this increasingly complex society where structural, cultural, institutional and personalised forms of discrimination are so much part of the fabric of the society.

Extremism and radicalisation, actual or potential, among Muslim students are a scourge that must be eradicated. Racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, class bigotry and allied forms of oppression are equally to be combated and eradicated. The current regime for ensuring that all schools are tackling those, irrespective of context and demographic background, is as porous as a wicker basket. There have been no indications from Cameron and Gove as yet, however, that they would reverse their plans to neuter the Equality Act 2010 and get rid of the Public Sector Equality Duty in the light of the ‘Trojan Horse’ saga.

The idea that all Muslim children should from now on see themselves as being potentially susceptible to ‘radicalisation‘ and as recruits to ‘Islamic extremism‘ and ‘jihad‘, as well as having the label ‘ethnic minority’ forever etched into your forehead is deeply offensive, Islamophobic and racist. So is the notion that they and their schools should consider themselves guilty until Ofsted wades in and gives them a clean bill of health. I fail to understand how Ofsted or anyone in government or Opposition could expect schools to function and children to own their Britishness and embrace ‘British values’ under those conditions.

David Cameron argues that ‘what sets Britain apart (in its affirmation of values which other nations might share) are the traditions and history that anchors them and allows them to continue to flourish and develop’. But, those traditions and that history do not resonate in the same way for all who have the right to claim ‘Britishness’, including 3 million Muslims. Cameron and Gove cannot hope to airbrush the fundamental problems with schooling provision and governance that lie at the heart of the ‘Trojan horse’ debacle simply by insisting that all schools become ‘far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them’.

Whether Cameron likes it or not, ‘British values’ is a contested concept.

Even accepting his premise about its origins and unifying potential, it is clear that we do not all experience them as ‘living values’ in Britain today. They are not made manifest in the way the state treats all of its citizens; in its approach to human rights; in its attitude towards the very legislation that was meant by Parliament to safeguard the rights and fundamental entitlements of target groups with ‘protected characteristics’ in the society, i.e, the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty in particular; in its attitude towards access to justice for the most vulnerable in the society; in its racialisation of immigration, youth offending and much else besides.

Some four years ago, mindful of the marketisation of schooling and of neo-liberal approaches to education generally, with a growing number of state financed independent schools (academies) and free schools to follow, I wrote a book which made ‘the Case for a Learner’s Charter for Schools’The Preface of the book states:

The Case for a Learner’s Charter is meant to encourage a debate about what schooling is for and how schooling provision should be made, and schools organised and funded, to ensure that every child does matter and that schooling contributes to the rounded development of children with confidence, self worth, values and skills that make them fit for living in civil society and contributing to the social and economic life of the community.

For too many children, schooling is a massive irrelevance and both the regime of schooling and the curriculum fail to engage with the matters that preoccupy them in their living outside school.

The challenge, then, is how to make schooling relevant, how to address in schools the burning issues that young people take into schools from their homes, their peer groups and their communities and make sure that teachers have both the competence and the time and resources to deal with them.

The Charter is framed against the background of the ‘free market’ approach to schooling provision and the structuring of inequality of access and of outcomes that inevitably flow from that. Above all, it defines the rights and responsibilities of students, teachers and families, irrespective of the type of school the student attends, and it articulates a set of beliefs and values as follows:

I have beliefs and values

  • I believe that if I don’t care where I am going, any road would get me there and sometimes that ‘road’ leads to prison or the grave
  • I believe that my parents and family, my teachers, peers and the adults in my life can help me find my strengths and build upon them
  • I believe in the dignity and worth of every human being
  • I have respect for life, both mine and everyone else’s
  • I believe that everyone has a right to live
  • I believe that everyone has a right to live with respect and dignity
  • I believe that everyone has a right to work, study, and enjoy their leisure in an environment in which that right is respected
  • I believe that respect for oneself and for others grows by giving it practical expression in all aspects of daily living
  • I believe that this means I should confront oppression on the grounds of ‘race’, gender, class, disability, sexual orientation, age, faith/religion, where people live, how they live their lives, how they look, how they dress, or their educational attainment
  • I believe that I should safeguard the weak and defenceless from exploitation as a matter of duty and civic responsibility
  • I believe that I must take responsibility for ensuring that I do not make people suffer or deny them their rights on account of any of the above grounds
  • I believe in the human rights of all people and am committed to upholding those rights in all aspects of my dealings with the public
  • I believe it is a fundamental human right to be able to go about my daily business without being called names or attacked physically because of the colour of my skin, or any other aspect of my identity
  • I believe it is a fundamental human right to be able to go about my lawful business anywhere in this city or country, without fear of being attacked for not belonging to that place or to any group in that place
  • I believe that combating inequality and discrimination is part of the practice of building a human rights culture, a culture that upholds respect for the dignity and worth of every person
  • I believe that each person must be encouraged to see themselves as enjoying the rights and civil liberties that were won through the struggles of those who went before us:
  1. Struggles against chattel slavery
  2. Struggles against child labour
  3. Struggles against the ‘colour bar’ in the provision of goods and services
  4. Struggles against unfair dismissal
  5. Struggles against bullying and intimidation in the workplace
  6. Struggles against domestic violence
  7. Struggles against the physical and sexual abuse of children
  8. Struggles against child poverty
  9. Struggles against homelessness
  10. Struggles for the right to vote
  11. Struggles for a living wage
  12. Struggles for Equal Pay for equal work
  13. Struggles for gender equality, disability equality and race equality
  14. Struggles for equal access to education and employment at all levels
  15. Struggles for Health & Safety at work
  16. Struggles for the right to form trade unions
  17. Struggles for humane working conditions
  • I believe, therefore, that I have a democratic responsibility to safeguard hard-won rights, work to extend civil rights, protect the environment and act as an agent of change
  • I believe that I am part of a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-class society and that inequality is as much part of the diversity of the society as is ‘race’, gender, etc.
  • I believe that I am the future of this society and that the society belongs to me as much as it does to everybody else
  • I believe that I have as much right as anybody else to determine the kind of society I want it to be for myself and my children. I claim that right  and, with it, the responsibility to work with others and make sure that the future we face is the future we actually want for ourselves and for future generations
  • I believe that as school students we can best learn about democracy by making the process of schooling itself more democratic and involving learners more routinely in consultation and in decision making
  • I believe that empowering the individual to develop his/her capacity to act in a self-directing way and to take collective action with others in pursuit of change is at the very heart of the process of managing and expanding a democratic culture
  • I believe that my school, my home and the community in which I live could assist my development by learning from the role of ‘the Village’ [1] in traditional societies where:
  1. the whole village takes responsibility for guiding the child to adopt and share the values that define the community and regulate the conduct of young and old alike
  2. in so doing, it encourages the child to develop a sense of moral purpose and to see the community’s code of conduct as having the same moral force as the law of the land
  3. in other words, the child learns to act with ‘moral purpose’ and to develop their own sense of right and wrong
  4. as the child grows, the village helps them to develop and sustain a sense of wellbeing and to be an effective and well adjusted member of the community
  • In the absence of ‘the village’, home, school and my own peer group could assist my development by attending to critical factors in constructive Self-building
  • I believe that these factors are essential to my wellbeing
  • I believe that they help to promote ‘living values’ and the development of insight and emotional literacy, and to discourage amoral conduct and antisocial behaviour.

If David Cameron really does want all schools to become ‘far more muscular in promoting British values and the institutions that uphold them’, he could make sure that every school, irrespective of status, type or governance, upholds and delivers the rights of students and support them in discharging their responsibilities to themselves, to the learning community and to the wider society. ‘British values’ will thus be uncoupled from the jingoistic, post-colonial image of Britain he seeks to have Muslims own and identify with and become more empowering and meaningful to young and old alike.

Let us hope that we all succeed in ensuring that Ofsted is not allowed to continue making pariahs of Muslim communities and no government is allowed to set Muslim children apart and demonise them under the guise of ‘keeping our country safe‘.  Indeed, those structural forms of racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia are so dangerous that whether or not schools begin and end with the ‘prevent‘ agenda, the country by default will end up grooming untold numbers of resentful, angry, embittered and radicalised young Muslims, men and women, and they need not have been anywhere near a Muslim ‘extremist‘.

It is ironic that education secretaries and the rest talk about teaching history and demand that a certain corpus of historical works is taught in schools, but they appear to have no capacity whatsoever to learn from history.

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3 Comments on "‘Trojan Horse’ brings a Packhorse of British Values into Every School"

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Khalida Khan
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Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! Only one thing I would add is faith equality in number 13.

paul parker
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Dear oh dear Mr John That was a very embarrassing, churlish rant against British values and particularly Christianity re ‘Trojan Horse’. The FACT is that millions see Britain as a place of equality and freedom and want to live here! And, live here very successfully indeed. Britain is NOT a utopia but if you could identify a fairer, more civilised place then maybe you could inform me and your viewers? It is human nature that what people say can be entirely different to how they behave. Simply put, some people will always present a completely biased, one-sided point of view… Read more »
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