Bradford link to hardline ‘Muslim schools plot’

Michael Gove
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BRADFORD was today implicated in an alleged hardline Muslim plot to force out governors and headteachers at city schools.

Birmingham City Council said it was appointing a new chief advisor to directly handle at least 200 complaints received in relation to the Operation Trojan Horse allegations focusing on schools in the city, as the investigation continues to widen.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore also confirmed that his officers had spoken to the local authorities in both Manchester and Bradford.

Sir Albert added: “There are certainly issues in Bradford which have similarities with the issues being spoken about in Birmingham.”

The council’s investigation, running in parallel to a separate inquiry by the Department for Education (DfE), is due to initially report back in May.

However, Sir Albert expressed “frustration” with the two-tier schools system, which means academies - which are at the heart of the allegations - are outside the local authority’s control, and report directly to the DfE.

Announcing Ian Kershaw, who is managing director of Northern Education, as incoming chief adviser, the council said it was also setting up a review group made up of MPs, councillors, police and faith groups.

Mr Kershaw - supported by an investigation group drawn from several agencies - will report his findings to that review group, which will then prepare a report for a joint council scrutiny committee. The report will be made public.

Sir Albert said a follow-up report containing recommendations relating to how schools are run both locally and nationally would be published some time in July.

At the weekend, it emerged that Education Secretary Michael Gove had personally sent Ofsted in to inspect 15 Birmingham schools in recent weeks, after the allegations first broke.

Concerns over how some of the city’s 430 schools were being run first emerged when an anonymous letter known as Operation Trojan Horse was leaked to councils and teaching unions, claiming that a small but radical group of Muslims were pursuing their own agenda in the classrooms, with unco-operative headteachers and governors forced out.

The document, which is unsigned and undated, claimed to have caused “a great amount of organised disruption” in the city, crediting the plan with forcing a change of leadership at four schools.

Since the letter came to light, anonymous whistle-blowers including former staff have come forward, making claims that boys and girls were segregated in classrooms and assemblies, sex education was banned, non-Muslim staff bullied, and in one case it was alleged that the teachings of a firebrand al Qaida-linked Muslim preacher praised to pupils.

Sir Albert said the council was “in dialogue” with the DfE and he had spoken personally with Mr Gove about the issues about two months ago.

“We will continue to work with MPs and the DfE on this matter,” he said.

“We do expect the DfE will be making further announcements and comments”, he added - however he would not be drawn on what those would be.

Sir Albert did confirm that none of the reports from the snap Ofsted inspections carried out at the city’s schools recently would be published by the education watchdog until after Easter.

West Midlands Police, which has reopened a fraud inquiry into one of the schools caught up in the allegations, is also still looking into the authorship of the document, the council’s leader said.

Sir Albert also described as “frustrating in the extreme” the situation whereby the city council is investigating possible wrong-doing at academies, where it has only limited powers to intervene if evidence of wrong-doing is uncovered.

Instead, the council has been speaking with headteachers and governors of non-local authority schools voluntarily and making approaches on the basis of its legal duty of care towards children.

He said: “It (the allegations) started off with reference to academy schools and that for us was a bit of a problem because academy schools are of course accountable to the DfE, not to ourselves.

“But we’ve sought to speak to the academy schools, to the headteachers, the teachers and the chair of the governors and I think we’ve tried to embrace the academy schools over the last month or two, and to have that relationship which we formally did not have with them. That’s gone quite well.

“I think they’re quite pleased that we’ve gone out of our way to have the discussions with them.”

Brigid Jones, council cabinet member for children and family services, added that in terms of any potential future disciplinary process for academy governors, it had no powers to intervene.

“When it comes to governors, we have responsibility for local authority schools,” she said.

“But at academies, they don’t even have to publish who its board of governors are.

“It does create a two-tier system, but we do trust the DfE to take these issues as seriously as we do.”

Sir Albert said it was crucial the DfE and council worked in concert.

“There will have to be a very strong dialogue between us,” he said.

“It’s the DfE’s interest to settle some matters with us so we can move forward - it’s unsatisfactory that you don’t know who’s on the governing body of academy schools.”

Birmingham City Council said it would also be asking for young people’s views on “what a good, inclusive education looks like”.

Sir Albert said it was important children had their say “to ensure that community cohesion is not affected by the questions arising as a result of the Trojan Horse letter”.

Ms Jones added pupils and parents deserved a “fantastic education system” while teachers “deserve to be able to work in their jobs without intimidation”, and all the claims would be thoroughly investigated.

The allegations detailed in the Trojan Horse letter focus on the Park View Educational Trust, which runs three schools in the city - all of which have been subjected to snap Ofsted inspections in recent weeks.

Among further claims which have since come to light, one former anonymous staff member at Park View Academy in Alum Rock alleged a colleague had in an assembly praised the firebrand al-Qaida-linked Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki - he was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

The school trustees have firmly denied all the claims, branding the allegations “a witch-hunt”, while pointing to the turnaround in pupils’ GCSE results in recent years, with three quarters of students completing their studies having gained at least five grade A* to C qualifications, including maths and English in 2013.

All of the city’s MPs recently wrote a letter to Mr Gove calling for a full inquiry into the issues in order to settle the matter and help restore confidence in the schools identified in the alleged plot.