School extremism vigilance urged

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Published: Friday 16th January 2015 by The News Editor

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An internal review into the Trojan Horse scandal has found no instances of the Department for Education ignoring “specific warnings” of extremism in schools but it “lacked inquisitiveness” on the issue in the past.

It warns that the department needs to “always be vigilant and inquisitive” and have robust systems in place to play its part in preventing and dealing with such matters.

Issues on extremism in Birmingham’s schools have generally been assumed by the DfE to be the responsibility of other authorities and have been treated as “one-offs” when brought to its attention, with not enough questioning of whether they are a symptom of wider concerns, the inquiry warns.

The review, by the Department for Education’s top civil servant Chris Wormald, was commissioned in the wake of investigations last summer into an alleged plot by hardline Muslims to take over a number of Birmingham schools.

It looked at the 20-year period between 1994 and December 2013 and any warnings received by the DfE relating to alleged extremism in Birmingham schools.

It found that on a small number of occasions, the department received information about these issues, but concludes that these were largely dealt with “in line with procedures in place at the time”.

There were no instances in which ministers, officials or advisers acted inappropriately, the review adds.

But it goes on to say that warnings were raised about issues such as difficult relationships between staff and governors in certain schools, the potential narrowing of a school curriculum and the fact that these issues “have the potential to cause political, cultural and religious tensions in schools and their communities”.

These matters are similar to those raised in Peter Clarke’s report into the Trojan Horse situation, the review says.

Mr Wormald concludes: “Whilst I have not found instances of warnings having been ignored or of individuals having acted inappropriately, I have found that the Department has lacked inquisitiveness about this issue, and that procedures could have been tighter than they were. Whilst this is an easy thing to say in hindsight, there is a marked contrast between, for example, how the Department responds to reports of child protection issues and how it has historically responded to reports of potential extremism.

“Overall I find that in future the Department needs to be more vigilant, more inquisitive and have more robust systems in place than it has had in the past if in future it is to play its part in preventing and countering the issues identified in the Clarke Report.”

In her response to the report, Mrs Morgan said she endorsed the findings and recommendations and that further measures are being taken. This includes introducing a formal system for staff to refer concerns about extremism to the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division and bringing in a formal case handling system within this division for logging and managing warnings.

There were six instances where concerns were raised with the Department, the review found.

:: In 1994 concerns were raised with ministers about extremist infiltration of Birmingham schools. Departmental records show that senior leaders in three of the city’s schools wrote to education ministers, copying in the Prime Minister expressing concerns about extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir gaining influence over schools.

:: In 1997, the Department received a letter and paper setting out the pros and cons of state funding for Muslim schools which made reference to Islamic radicalisation and the role of schools in preventing it. The letter was addressed to the Secretary of State but assigned to officials to respond.

:: Records show that from 2008, the Department was aware of problems with the governing body at Moseley School in Birmingham, particularly the relationship between governors and staff.

:: In May 2010, immediately after the general election the DfE was sent an email from a Birmingham resident and assistant head teacher which reiterated concerns about some individuals on the governing body at Moseley School.

:: Also after the 2010 election, a DfE minister and officials met with a Birmingham headteacher twice. At both meetings there was a discussion about the challenges that political Islam posed for schools in the city. Then education secretary Michael Gove was not aware of these meetings at the time.

:: In 2013 a consultant specialising in special needs sent an email to the Department about the potential for young people in education in alternative provision (outside of mainstream school) to become radicalised, particularly in places like Birmingham.

Separately, there was also a letter sent to Lord Hill in March 2013, then leader of the House of Lords by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which Lord Hunt said they discussed. The letter raised similar issues to those in the Clarke report. This letter was not formally part of Mr Wormald’s review.

Mr Wormald concludes: “Issues on extremism in Birmingham schools that have been raised with the Department have in general been assumed to be the responsibility of other authorities, and when they have been brought to the Department’s attention have been dealt with as one-off pieces of transactional business. With hindsight, I believe the Department could have shown a greater level of inquisitiveness regarding these issues, and asked itself the question of whether the issues being brought to its attention were symptomatic of wider trends.”

The review was prompted by the Trojan Horse letter in Birmingham in December 2013 and subsequent investigations by former anti-terror chief Mr Clarke, Ofsted and Ian Kershaw’s inquiry for Birmingham City Council, which noted that warning signs about potential extremism in the city’s schools had been missed by local agencies over a long period of time.

The letter – now widely believed to be a hoax – referred to an alleged plot by hardline Muslims to seize control of a number of school governing boards in the city.

In June, Ofsted issued a damning verdict on the running of a number of Birmingham’s schools and declared five failing, placing them into special measures.

Mr Clarke’s report found no evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism but did conclude that there was ”clear evidence” that there were a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of authority within some Birmingham schools who ”espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views”.

Published: Friday 16th January 2015 by The News Editor

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