Muslims in Birmingham have found themselves in the middle of a Tory-led witch hunt following false allegations of a plot to take over schools.
A report published last week didn’t contain any evidence of a plot. But desperate to keep speculation going, it stated that it was hard to conclude there hadn’t been one.
Its author, Peter Clarke, pointed out that some people in different schools knew each other. He said similar things had happened, such as head teachers leaving.
Clarke said this showed similar “tactics” were being used in different schools. It appears that he had already decided there was a “plot”.
The government commissioned Clarke’s report in the wake of a hoax letter alleging a “Muslim plot” to take over schools. His report claims that a number of teachers at the schools had “an intolerant Islamist approach”.
Clarke presents a set of social media conversations involving a small group of teachers as a key piece of evidence for this. Yet he admits that “the majority of the postings are innocuous and often mundane”.
Clarke says there “appears to be” a pattern of head teachers being forced out of schools by governors. There “appears to be” a deliberate attempt to change state schools into faith schools.
This notion “appears to stem” from an international Muslim conspiracy to Islamise education.
But Clarke’s report is full of contradictions. He complains of religious education being narrowed to focus solely on Islam and of children not learning about other faiths.
He then describes a rabbi giving an assembly at Park View school. But for Clarke even this is a sign of extremism as the rabbi was “anti-Israel”.
At Adderley primary school Clarke claims parents withdrew their children while a Hanukkah display was in reception. He says a parent pushed over a Christmas tree.
The fact that the anecdotes show the school marked Hanukkah and Christmas seems lost on him. Over at Nansen primary school, we hear that governors “banned” Christmas—but that “parents attended the nativity play as usual”.
The report talks of schools where some children were “not allowed to hear musical instruments” or sing. The report doesn’t say that many schools have music on the curriculum—including Park View, Golden Hillock, Saltley, Oldknow, Adderley, Moseley and Shaw Hill. Some schools even have a choir.
Clarke says the “vast majority” of the evidence he based his report on was shared with Ian Kershaw. He carried out a report into the Trojan Horse allegations for Birmingham City Council. He found no evidence of a plot to take over schools or promote extremism.
It appears that the real plotters weren’t Muslims in Birmingham, but those in government with an agenda to whip up racism.
Clarke attacks Park View
Park View school comes in for particular attack in Peter Clarke’s report. It was rated outstanding by schools inspectorate Ofsted in 2012.
This year it was rated “inadequate”. In 2012 Ofsted said children “talk maturely about bullying in all its forms”. Somehow by 2014 their understanding of different types of bullying had become “very limited”.
In 2012 Ofsted described Park View’s curriculum as “outstanding” and said it “helps students to develop into very thoughtful, independent and confident young people”.
Somehow by 2014 students’ understanding had become “limited” and the school was told to review its curriculum. Clarke said he was “interested to try and understand what has driven the success of Park View school in recent years”.
Usually successful schools are seen as good things. Where Muslims are involved, success in schools is hard to understand.
Tories are academy fanatics
Tory Education secretary Nicky Morgan was quick to say she would implement many of the recommendations in Clarke’s report.
But there are some elements she appears to be less keen on. In his report Clarke pointed out that there are problems with academies—those schools funded by the government but run privately.
Academies have been met with fierce criticism from pupils, parents and teachers alike. And there have been protests and strikes against plans to turn schools into academies.
There are now more than 4,000 academies and free schools. Clarke said that in academies “accountability can prove inadequate”.
But Morgan insisted the Tories would continue with their academies and free schools programme. She also confirmed that Ofsted were extending the use of no-notice inspections.
The Tories and the right wing media has seized on the Trojan Horse hoax to demonise all Muslims as fanatical ideologues. But what is clear is that the real ideologues are in government.
Be pro-West or be challenged
Clarke appears outraged that some teachers don’t like imperialism. He ploughed through 3,235 social media postings—and found just two discussions on the British army.
To Clarke these are “revealing” of attitudes, and apparently show how Muslims have failed to be “challenged”.
Attacked for tackling racism
The report describes “a proposal to use school children in a political campaign”.
He is referring to a discussion between two teachers about how to encourage children to tackle racism.
The teachers also discussed how to encourage children to tackle groups such as the anti-Muslim group the English Defence League.
Just what are British values?
Education secretary Nicky Morgan said there could be tougher requirements for schools to teach “British values”.
When asked by Socialist Worker, schools inspectorate Ofsted couldn’t define what they were.