A Tory clampdown on schools in Birmingham has unleashed a torrent of racist filth.
The government ordered investigations after an anonymous letter alleged a Muslim “plot” to take over schools. Right wing newspapers devoted pages to personal attacks on Muslim teachers and governors.
Reports released this week found no evidence of a plot. But the witch hunt isn’t over.
Doug Morgan, president of the NUT teachers’ union in Birmingham, spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. “None of this is about how staff have been treated or the curriculum,” he said.
“It isn’t about defending girls or gay people in schools. It’s about racism.”
Parent Gadija da Costa told Socialist Worker, “The word extremist is becoming synonymous with Muslim. This is broader than just schools. It’s becoming a human rights issue.”
No evidence but plenty of racism behind claims of a "plot"
Reports into a group of Birmingham schools were finally published on Monday of this week.
The Ofsted watchdog inspected 21 schools after an anonymous letter alleged a so-called “Trojan Horse” plot by Muslims to take them over.
The relentless racist hounding of Muslims that followed have caused fury and distress in the city. And Ofsted found no evidence of a “plot”.
Just five out of the 21 schools inspected were downgraded to “inadequate”—and even these ratings are being challenged.
Gadija da Costa is a parent of three children who went to Oldknow Academy, one of the schools deemed inadequate and put in special measures.
She told Socialist Worker, “We’ve been vilified and slated. We’ve been tarnished with the extremist brush just because we’re Muslim.
"This is being used to punish a whole community for having a faith.”
Shabina Bano has two daughters at Oldknow. “I’m absolutely irate about the headlines that have been written about us,” she told Socialist Worker.
“All this has come about from one hoax document. There’s no evidence. We feel like second class citizens.”
Oldknow has issued a rebuttal of numerous allegations made against the school.
One claimed that lessons were “segregated”.
The school pointed out that some boys were seated at the front in one class because they needed extra support.
Ofsted’s opinion of “segregation” seems to have changed recently.
In 2013 Ofsted rated Oldknow “outstanding”. It wrote, “The academy respects different faiths and cultures, for example, by ensuring there are separate changing rooms and single-sex physical education lessons.”
Now Ofsted chief sir Michael Wilshaw complains of governors opposing mixed-gender swimming lessons “on the basis of their own beliefs”.
He denounces governors’ “inappropriate influence”. Previously, “influential” governors were praised.
The 2013 Ofsted report into Oldknow didn’t mention the words radicalisation or extremism. The latest report has both on its front page.
Right wing papers screamed that schools “cancelled” Christmas.
“Nothing was cancelled,” said Shabina. “Last year the older children did a Christmas quiz and had a Christmas dinner. The younger children went to a neighbouring school to celebrate Christmas.”
Gadija added, “They went to visit a church in December.”
Parents reject the idea that girls aren’t given equal education. Shabina said girls “excel” at the school—and test results back this up.
Gadija said the attacks are political. “The Conservative Party wants to look like it’s being hard on immigrants—and we’re bearing the brunt of it.”
How are schools meant to teach "extremism"? Ofsted and Tories don't know
Schools inspectorate Ofsted is supposedly independent—but it acts more like a tool for the Tories.
The investigations were based on the idea that Muslims pose problems “specific to their community”.
Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw was open about this in a note to education secretary Michael Gove.
It said “children may be vulnerable to extremist influences, or to female genital mutilation or forced marriage”.
The Ofsted reports raise concerns that will be familiar to school workers across Britain and are nothing to do with Islam. These relate to issues with staff turnover and so on.
But the main focus is whether schools are doing “enough” to “tackle extremism” or to “promote the values of wider British society”.
An Ofsted spokesperson couldn’t tell Socialist Worker what these values were.
Nor could she explain what “extremism” was or what schools were obliged to do to protect children from it.
Yet Ofsted judged that Golden Hillock School isn’t doing enough “to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views”.
It said Welford Primary School is “not well informed about the ‘Prevent’ strategy”.
An inspection less than a year ago rated the school “good”. It didn’t mention the Prevent strategy, a Home Office initiative to target Muslim “extremism”.
Many teachers and governors rightly ask what exactly they are supposed to teach primary school children about terrorism.
The Department for Education couldn’t answer this question. A spokesperson told Socialist Worker it was the preserve of the Home Office.
But the Home Office couldn’t confirm what schools were obliged to do either.
Elsewhere Gove has handed schools to people who don’t believe in evolution, and to people with no experience or training. It’s the Tories who are really wrecking education, not Muslims.
Gadija said, “I would like the curriculum to be much broader, with music and that kind of thing. Children need to be free to express themselves, but league tables narrow the curriculum down.”
Labour joins the witch hunt
The Labour Party leadership’s response to the row has been despicable.
It didn’t call for an end to the racist scapegoating of Muslims or a defence of teachers and governors.
Instead Labour condemned the Tories for not witch hunting more.
Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said schools had been “skewed to prevent a broad and balanced education”.
He claimed there was “gender discrimination” in schools and that children were being “exposed to extremist views”.
He called for schools to be subject to even more criteria in Ofsted inspections.
Hunt made his comments before the Ofsted reports had even been published.
Meanwhile shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper complained that spending on the government’s anti-Muslim Prevent strategy had been cut.
All of this panders to racist lies told about Muslims. None of it helps improve education for children or conditions in schools for workers.
Anger as Muslim parents and governors are hounded
Sections of the mainstream media hounded parents and governors in the wake of the Trojan Horse allegations.
They have printed names and photographs of Muslims they claim are “plotting” to take over schools and impose Islam.
One teacher at the heart of the storm spoke to Socialist Worker in confidence. He rejected claims that he was part of a plot to impose strict Islamic rules on children.
“We aren’t trying to radicalise children,” he told Socialist Worker. “We just want schools to take their needs into account.
“At my school most children are Muslim. We want to make sure they have a choice of a halal meal, or time to pray.”
He rubbished the right wing media view of Muslims as fundamentalist ideologues. “We are very much part of this society,” he said.
“I have three boys. Each plays a musical instrument and they go to drama club. Does that sound like some Islamic extremist to you?”
But Muslim teachers, governors and parents have found themselves under attack whatever they do.
Shabina told Socialist Worker, “We set up a parents’ association on Friday of last week. By Monday it was being attacked by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail. We feel victimised.”
Campaigners have launched a petition to “Stop the racist witch hunt in Birmingham Schools” and the new parents association is working with them to try and help others get active too.
A big public meeting has been called for the end of this month.
“Everything is being done to silence us,” said Gadija. “They’re trying to shut down Muslims from the social and political scene.
“The Telegraph and Gove have brought us together. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re developing a grassroots voice.”
Christmas was never banned
This isn’t the first time that Muslims in Birmingham have been attacked due to groundless allegations.
The city was said to have “rebranded” Christmas as “Winterval” in the late 1990s. The Daily Mail, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Guardian and The Sun newspapers all repeated the claim.
The council introduced Winterval to cover a series of events including Children in Need, a Frankfurt Christmas Market and Diwali. But it was claimed that the “PC brigade” had dreamed it up to avoid offending “ethnic minorities”.
In 2011 the Mail printed a “correction” admitting “Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas”.