Tories’ bogus trojan horse

by Daphne Liddle

IT SOUNDS like something dreamed up by the more fanatical and ignorant parts of the English Defence League — a sinister plot by hard-line Muslims to take over a number of schools in the Birmingham area.

But the scare, triggered by a single anonymous letter, has shown up the deep contradictions and clashes within the Conservative Party leadership.

In this case it is a clash between Home Secretary Theresa May’s desire to whip up anti- Muslim hostility as a diversion to draw working class attention away from the devastating effects of their austerity cuts and Education Secretary Michael Gove’s desire to flog off all our schools to the private sector.

Michael Gove has ridden roughshod over the teaching profession, over parent groups and local authorities in his eagerness to hand our schools over to profit-hungry heirs of Wackford Squeers — along with Government funding to do so.

And it is natural that faith groups of all shades will be at the front of the queue to seize the opportunity to be able to shape and control young minds.

Muslim-run schools promoting Muslim ideas and culture is hardly a surprise. It is no different to Catholic, Church of England, Jewish or any other kind of faith promoting its ideas and culture among the young people under is aegis.

The words “extreme” and “fundamental” are used very subjectively but the latest hastily conducted Ofsted investigation into the 21 Birmingham schools at the centre of the accusations have turned up no hint of the promotion of terrorism or extremism nor any plot to take over schools.

It is so important that schools should be secular; that religions should be studied in regard to their beliefs and history to promote understanding between communities. But no particular belief should be imposed by schools. Children should simply be given the information and the tools to make up their own minds in due course.

To achieve this, schools must be accountable to elected local authorities and to an unbiased Government inspectorate.

But the Government’s response to the initial anonymous letter has unleashed a “culture of fear and intimidation”, according to Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted. Head teachers have been forced out of their jobs.

This is very different to the Government’s usual response to whistle-blowers, which is to ignore them or supress them.

National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: “From an unsigned and undated letter has grown this so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ affair.

“The highly inflammatory deployment of an anti-terrorism chief to head up the inquiry, the unprecedented and clearly political inspection of 21 schools by Ofsted, and the public squabble between Theresa May and Michael Gove has not been positive for Birmingham schools and the children they educate.

“There seems to be a redefinition of ‘extremism’ from the Secretary of State for Education, and as yet lots of speculation and not a little hyperbole.

“What all this does show is that if schools sever their connection with a local authority, the levers to monitor or effect change available at local level are lost.”

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “There is no place for religious fundamentalism, or any type of fundamentalism, in any schools in the UK. All children in this country need to be taught a broad and balanced curriculum covering all faiths and religious beliefs and none to prepare them for living and working in a multi- faith and multi-cultural society.

“This Government has weakened oversight of our schools by reducing local authorities’ involvement in education and centralising control to the Department of Education, which is too far away geographically and cannot feasibly keep a check on over 24,000 schools.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “Amidst the feeding frenzy of leaked reports, numerous investigations, politicians taking chunks out of each other and months of rumour and speculation, what has been forgotten is that in the middle of all this are teachers trying their best to support children and young people, many of whom are taking critical exams.

“The NASUWT will be studying the Ofsted reports in detail. Our priority is to support our members who are under great pressure and stress.

“Whatever the findings of those reports, what is absolutely clear is that they must not be allowed to make schools carry the can for what are the clear failures of Ofsted and Government.”

Meanwhile the vindictive spat between Home Secretary Theresa May and Michael Gove is widely seen as sparring between contenders for the party leadership after David Cameron loses next year’s general election.