Chris McGovern: The real Trojan Horse in our classrooms

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DOES the recent report by Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism, on the “Trojan Horse” debate in a number of Birmingham schools with mostly Muslim pupils have implications for schools in other parts of the UK? In Bradford, for example, close to 25 per cent of the population are Muslim. The 2011 Census indicated that the city has England’s highest proportion of people with a Pakistani ethnic origin. If religious extremism exists in some schools in one city, might it not be more widespread?

It is not surprising that alarm bells are ringing. Bradford Council has already sacked the board of governors at one school following concerns expressed by Ofsted about it failing to protect pupils from extremism.

However, the Clarke report made no reference to links with other parts of the country. We should tread cautiously before assuming that what may be true of a small number of schools in one city applies equally to all schools serving a Muslim, or any other minority, community in Britain. Arthur Miller’s drama, The Crucible, stands as a stark warning against the kind of hysteria engendered by “witch hunts”.

This is not to say we should turn a blind eye to the promotion of extremist agendas in our schools. Indeed, they must be vigorously opposed. And that, of course, is at the heart the problem, as the Clarke report pointed out. “I found clear evidence that there are a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, sympathise with or fail to challenge extremist views,” he concluded.

The ‘Trojan Horse” affair seems to have come as a real shock to our political leaders at both a national and at a local level. They seem quite incapable of understanding how such a state of affairs can have come about. Furthermore, they seem totally oblivious of their own culpability. The reason why extremist views can be promoted in some schools is due in part, at least, because of an unwillingness to clamp down on such views by those with the power to take action.

Our political leaders, not least at a local level, are afraid of standing up against the tide of political correctness that is flowing through our education system.

Islamic extremism in Birmingham schools may be hitting the headlines but some fairly dubious ideas have been circulating in all of our schools for a long time. A few years ago, for example, in a publication for Civitas, I highlighted a GCSE teaching pack entitled “World Terrorism since 9/11/01”. It was published online by the Schools History Project as part of a GCSE exam course.

Through 13 sources, terrorists and their victims were presented as having, broadly speaking, equal points of view – “value relativism”. Osama bin Laden was covered by two extracts of his own words, “balanced” by a few neutral lines of biography and by a copy of an FBI wanted posted for him. Of the other nine sources, two were pro-USA, two were pro-bin Laden and four were neutral. The final source provided 16 quotations from the world’s press on the third anniversary of 9/11. Eight of these came from the Islamic world and were, largely, hostile to the West. The other eight were from Europe and Asia. Five of them were critical of the USA. The US press was not represented.

This politically correct approach to history has quite a stranglehold in the classroom. One of the most widely used and popular school history textbooks, many times reprinted, is entitled, Minds and Machines: Britain 1750-1900. It authors include senior advisors to Government. In order to denigrate all things British, bogus evidence is invented for pupils to use in forming an opinion of the British Empire. In relation to colonised people, for example, it states that “we have tried to imagine what they would tell us if they were to come back from the dead.” Pupils thus learn that an undead Princess Rani Lakshmi would tell us that: “The British punished survivors by firing cannon balls through them at point blank range”, and so on and so on.

The exposure of an extremist Islamic agenda in some Birmingham schools has hit the headlines. Rather then initiating a witch hunt, perhaps Government should pay some attention to what is being taught more widely in our classrooms in the name of value relativism and political correctness. The “Trojan Horse” issue is a symptom, not a cause, of a “learning” revolution that has been taking place in our schools for some time in all parts of the country and in all of our schools.

• Chris McGovern is chairman of the Campaign for Real Education.