Socialist Worker

Birmingham meeting confronts ‘Trojan Horse’ smears about Muslims

by Helen Salmon
Issue No. 2409

The mixed audience at the meeting challenged the medias stereotypes

The mixed audience at the meeting challenged the media's stereotypes (Pic: Geoff Dexter)


Up to 1,000 people jammed into the launch rally of Putting Birmingham Schoolkids First last night, Thursday, at the Bordesley Centre in Camp Hill. So many people came that organisers had to set up an overflow hall. The meeting was a response to the attacks on Birmingham schools by Ofsted and Tory minister Michael Gove triggered by the discredited “Trojan Horse” letter.

The meeting was chaired by former Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob. She told the audience the campaign would push to improve Birmingham’s schools and remove smears about extremism from the discussion.

Shabina Bano, who set up the Oldknow Primary School Parents’ Association, said kids who had attended Oldknow were already being bullied in their secondary school, and being asked how to make bombs.

Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT, set the tone for the meeting when he said he believed in calling things for what they are. He said that when you introduce extremism and radicalisation into a debate about schools, and appoint the former head of counter-terrorism to investigate schools, as Gove did, then what you are is Islamophobic.

Councillor Barry Henley described himself as a “middle aged, middle class, boring, white man” and said the Telegraph newspaper had called him an “Islamic fanatic” because he approved the requests from Muslim-majority schools to exempt them from the requirement to hold a daily Christian act of worship.  As soon as he read the “Trojan Horse” letter which sparked the controversy about Birmingham schools, he knew it was a fake, he said.

Labour MP Shabana Mahmood said she went to school at Small Heath School, which was named in the letter, but classed as outstanding by Ofsted.  She said she feared that students now at these schools will always have a cloud of suspicion over them, that they have been taught by “extremists”.  She said she was concerned that children at Park View would now worry about naming their school on their university application forms.

A number of other parents spoke and Sir Tim Brighouse, former Chief Commissioner for Schools, gave a video message to the meeting. He described what had happened in the schools as a “tragedy”. 

Doug Morgan from Birmingham NUT said, “The one extremist book I wouldn’t want to see in schools is Michael Gove’s anti-Muslim tract Celsius 7/7.”  He invited parents to join the teachers’ strike rally in Birmingham on 10 July.  Shami Chakrabati from Liberty sent a message of support to the meeting.

There was a real sense of the whole community coming together, black and white. Irish residents there alongside Muslim parents, and reverend Andy Smith from Saltley Methodist Church, near to Park View school, co-chaired the meeting with Salma.  Most local councillors, including Sir Albert Bore, the council leader, attended the meeting. They were left in no doubt at the hurt caused by Gove branding the schools “extremist”.  


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