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The great ‘Trojan Horse’ hoax

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A new book uncovers how the Tories used the Birmingham schools Trojan Horse ‘scandal’ to push an Islamophobic agenda. John Holmwood, Countering Extremism in British Schools? co-author, spoke to Sadie Robinson
Issue 2582
The government used the Trojan Horse scandal to justify repression against Muslims
The government used the Trojan Horse scandal to justify repression against Muslims

The government deliberately used the Trojan Horse scandal to push racist lies and justify more repression of Muslims. That’s the conclusion of a damning new book on the scandal, Countering Extremism in British Schools?

It said the affair is a “serious miscarriage of justice” with the vilification of those involved “similar in character to that of Hillsborough”.

In 2014 allegations emerged that a group of conservative Muslims plotted to take over and “Islamise” schools in east Birmingham. The “Trojan Horse” letter was anonymous but its claims were quickly treated as fact because it took place in a context of government Islamophobia.

Co-author of the book John Holmwood told Socialist Worker, “The government has moved away from multiculturalism. And the Prevent strategy has made everybody anxious about Muslims.

“You get references to ‘self-segregation’— as if Muslims choose to live in areas that are relatively poor. And when they have schools that are really successful, those schools are attacked.”

That’s what happened to Park View Academy, the school at the centre of the scandal.

Children entered Park View with attainments “well below the national average”.

Yet by 2012 it was one of the top 14 percent of schools in the country in terms of academic achievement.

Then Ofsted inspectorate head Sir Michael Wilshaw declared that “all schools should be like it”. The Department for Education (DfE) encouraged Park View to become an academy and sponsor two schools, Golden Hillock and Nansen.

This is the “takeover” that was later much maligned in the press. The government’s Clarke report into the allegations thundered, “Park View sought to export its Islamising blueprint.”

But Tory policy instructs schools deemed successful to introduce their successful practices to others.

Some 98.9 percent of Park View’s students were Muslim. But this wasn’t about “self-segregation”. John said it reflected “non-Muslim parents not wishing to send their children there despite it being one of the most successful schools in the country”.

The book details the importance of allowing children to express religion at school. “I’m a secular person,” said John. “But I’ve become much more sympathetic to religion in schools having seen how it facilitates ethnic minority pupils.”

The book cites guidance describing how children “feel they wholly belong to their school community” if their religion is taken seriously.

Park View wasn’t a faith school. Reports following Trojan Horse condemned it as “overly religious”.

But non-faith schools in England aren’t secular. All are required to “hold daily acts of worship and teach religious education”.

And they are expected to take account of concerns specific to communities that they serve.

It can’t be right for teachers to be pilloried for something they were previously told was good practice. There’s such a basic level of unfairness and injustice

John Holmwood

Ofsted reports from 2007 and 2012 praised Park View’s Islamic assemblies as giving students “opportunities to celebrate diversity and reflect on their lives”.

In 2012 Ofsted declared Park View’s headteacher and team “outstanding”. Just two years later following Trojan Horse a new Ofsted report deemed it “inadequate”.

It was a similar story at Oldknow Academy. Ofsted judged Oldknow outstanding in all areas in January 2013.

Ensuring single-sex physical education lessons was praised as respecting “different faiths and cultures”. The school was said to be “friendly and racially harmonious”.

A year later Ofsted judged Oldknow inadequate. It said the school “does not foster an appreciation of, and respect for, pupils’ own or other cultures”.

Separate lessons for girls and boys was now evidence of Islamisation.

John said, “It can’t be right for teachers to be pilloried for something they were previously told was good practice. There’s such a basic level of unfairness and injustice.”

Hundreds of people joined a meeting in Birmingham earlier about the Trojan Horse allegations
Hundreds of people joined a meeting in Birmingham earlier about the Trojan Horse allegations

At the time of the Ofsted inspections the DfE had issued no guidance to schools on how to implement the anti-Muslim Prevent strategy. Yet the schools were “downgraded for failures to address extremism or to implement Prevent”.

Ofsted complained that Park View had implemented Prevent “only for students in years 7 and 8”. But the evidence is that this is more than other schools.

The Trojan Horse claims have no basis. Specific allegations were shown to be false (see left). Yet the government used it to intensify its assault on Muslims.

A Home Office counter-extremism strategy cited “evidence that our institutions are increasingly targeted by extremists to spread their ideology”. It summarised the Clarke Report including “claims which were not in it”.

These include the allegations that “extremists” became governors and that staff who refused to support “extremist views” were bullied.

The book describes how this “prejudged the National College of Teaching and Leadership hearings”. It lent the “weight of government pressure” for the panel to find against the teachers.

The government’s Extremism Bill sought to stop “extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values”.

And Prevent was extended to include extremist ideology, not just violent extremism.

People in Birmingham came together in the wake of Trojan Horse to reject the lies and defend the schools

Ofsted inspections shifted to “routinely assess schools on how well they promote fundamental British values”.

The government claims that this helped Muslim students. The opposite is true. Park View was once one of the most successful schools in England. Now its results are below the national average.

It was rated inadequate until last year when Ofsted declared it “good”—still below the “outstanding” rating it achieved before Trojan Horse.

“Michael Fallon opened his new programme for army cadets at Rockwood school, the successor to Park View,” said John. “He said the army is a good route to mobility for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“But they had the best route to mobility before this.”

John said the impact on children’s education has been “severe”. Muslim parents now fear voicing “concerns about their children’s education”.

“It’s made them wary about expressing Islamic culture,” he said. “Home schooling has gone up.”

Trojan Horse lies segregated Muslims, not Muslim teachers. And they turned a positive into a negative.

“The head teacher at Park View was a white feminist,” said John. “There was another senior leader from a Sikh background.

“People were acting across faith lines to do good. It showed that parents and teachers can make a difference. That’s a really positive story that the local community would appreciate being told.”

People in Birmingham came together in the wake of Trojan Horse to reject the lies and defend the schools. Trojan Horse trashed lives in Birmingham. But because it is “indicative of a wider populist attack on multiculturalism” it matters for everyone.

“There is only one exemplar the government gives for Prevent and that’s Trojan Horse,” said John. “If you feel strongly about the civil rights aspects of Prevent, you have to confront Trojan Horse. Otherwise you allow the Prevent agenda’s one supposed ‘success’ to stand unchallenged.”

The academies programme has “removed a whole series of checks and balances” from schools, John said.

“There are very few reputable intermediating bodies between the DfE and schools,” he explained. “Most are agencies of the DfE such as Ofsted, the Education Funding Agency and the NCTL.”

The book describes how Ofsted inspectors are “recruited from sponsors of academies and private consultancies”.

“Birmingham local authority has given over its schools improvement programme to a private consultancy,” added John. “There are issues of democratic accountability.”

An inspector calls

Protesting in Birmingham against the Trojan Horse smears in 2014
Protesting in Birmingham against the Trojan Horse smears in 2014 (Pic: Pete Jackson)

Ofsted inspected 21 schools following the allegations. Just 14 had allegations made against them. But all 21 had between 90 and 100 percent ethnic minority pupils.

Gove appointed Peter Clarke (above), a former national head of counter-terrorism, to investigate the claims. Academy boss Ian Kershaw produced another report for Birmingham city council.

John said, “Clarke was too close to Michael Gove. And Michael Gove had already accepted what the 21 Ofsted reports had said.” But the book described how the Ofsted inspections were “not independent”.

Claims that the initial Park View report was less damning raised the question of “whether there had been an intervention from higher officials at Ofsted or the DfE”.

DfE officials, along with then education secretary Michael Gove, “did their best to exert their influence” throughout.

Kershaw concluded that there was “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation”. Clarke concluded that there was no evidence of “terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism”. But he claimed there was religious conservatism.

“Facts” reported in the press appeared in the report. But “none had been properly tested”. There was “no attempt to reconcile different accounts” from witnesses.

More shocking was to come. “I thought Clarke hadn’t interviewed people who were in a position to give him an alternative account,” said John. “It turned out he had, but didn’t give space to that in the report.”

The withholding of evidence led to the collapse of the NCTL cases.

Fact Check

CLAIM Technicians at Park View recorded a terrorist video believed to be from Al Qaida onto a DVD, showing evidence of extremism

FACT Counter terrorism cops requested the recording to use in a session for pupils on the risks of radicalisation, showing evidence of the school’s engagement with Prevent

CLAIM A teacher gave children a handout that argued wives are obligated to have sex with their husbands

FACT Some boys distributed a printout containing the claim. The school repudiated it at the next assembly, explaining that consent was required under English law and by Islamic teaching

CLAIM The National College for Teaching and Learning would target around 100 teachers

FACT Cases were brought against 15 teachers. Most were dropped. Just one teacher was sanctioned. He did not have the benefit of documents that were withheld from the hearings

CLAIM Extremists addressed pupils

FACT Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman spoke at Park View in 2013. He was deemed “extremist” in 2015 when the government definition changed.

Countering Extremism in British Schools? The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair by John Holmwood and Therese O’Toole. Available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848

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