Trojan Horse inquiries ‘wasteful’

Published: Tuesday 17th March 2015 by The News Editor

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There was a “worrying and wasteful” lack of collaboration between the numerous inquiries into the Trojan Horse scandal, MPs have warned.

Questions also need to be asked about the reliability of Ofsted’s inspection judgments, as the watchdog failed to identify problems at some of the Birmingham schools involved the first time it visited, according to the Commons education select committee.

And it suggested that while the move to actively promote British values in schools is welcome, common sense must be used in checking that this is happening.

In a new report, the committee examined the Trojan Horse situation and the response to it.

Four separate investigations were conducted into the alleged plot by hardline Muslims to seize control of a number of school governing boards in Birmingham.

While no evidence of radicalisation was found, the findings, specifically Ofsted inspections, did raise concerns that in some schools governors had exerted inappropriate influence over how schools were run.

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

In the wake of the scandal, ministers announced that in future, all schools will be required to actively promote values like democracy and tolerance.

The committee concluded that, apart from one incident, no evidence of extremism or radicalisation was found by any of the Trojan Horse inquiries.

It said: ” The number of overlapping inquiries contributed to the sense of crisis and confusion, and the number of reports, coming out at different times and often leaked in advance, was far from helpful.

“The scope for coordination between inquiries by the Education Funding Agency, Ofsted and others is restricted by their statutory roles but more coordination could and should have been achieved. All the reports included recommendations that went far beyond the situation in the particular schools concerned and the Department for Education (DfE) should draw together the recommendations from all the investigations and set out its response.”

The report goes on to say there was an “inability” by Ofsted to identify problems at some schools on first inspection, which raises questions about ” the appropriateness of the framework and the reliability and robustness of Ofsted’s judgments and how they are reached”.

“Confidence in Ofsted has been undermined and efforts should be made by the inspectorate to restore it in Birmingham and beyond,” the MPs said.

The committee also suggests that the DfE was slow to take an interest in the situation between receiving the Trojan Horse letter – now widely believed to be a hoax – and the issue becoming public around three months later.

It adds: “The greater autonomy of academies makes it easier for a group of similar-minded people to control a school. While it should be remembered that several of the governors criticised in Birmingham were local government appointees, the DfE needs to be alert to the risks of abuse of academy freedoms of all kinds and be able to respond quickly.”

Committee chair Graham Stuart said: ” The Trojan Horse affair is less about extremism than about governance and the ability of local and central agencies to respond to whistle-blowers and to correct abuses of power within schools.

“We found a worrying and wasteful lack of co-ordination between the various inquiries carried out by the DfE, Birmingham City Council, the Education Funding Agency, Ofsted and others. In the case of the Birmingham schools, the number of overlapping inquiries contributed to the sense of crisis and confusion.”

He added: ” The British values which are now to be promoted in all schools are universal and deserving of support. Monitoring how these are promoted in individual schools must be done with common sense and sensitivity.”

A small number of, mainly faith, schools have recently raised concerns about the new British values rules, claiming that the new focus on the issue had contributed towards a poor inspection result.

A DfE spokesman said: “Our understanding of the challenge of extremism, and the way we monitor the ability of schools to respond to it, has advanced hugely in the past few years.

“As today’s report recognises, we are tackling this problem at both ends: taking determined action where we find areas of concern, and building resilience in the system by putting the active promotion of fundamental British values at the very heart of our plan for education.

“We are putting in place a helpline for schools to raise extremism concerns more easily and are working closely with Ofsted, having strengthened their inspection frameworks to include fundamental British values.”

An Ofsted spokesman said: “Ofsted welcomes today’s report and will consider its recommendations carefully.

“As the chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, made clear to the committee last year, sudden changes in governance and leadership can have a significant impact on the standards in education.

“These Birmingham schools were no exception.

“Ofsted is committed to ensuring that such drastic declines are not repeated elsewhere and will continue to work closely with other agencies to identify and investigate any areas of concern.

“All schools have an expectation on them to teach values such as tolerance and the rule of law and prepare pupils for life in modern Britain. This is outlined in guidance issued by the DfE and Ofsted inspects schools against the criteria in this guidance.”

Published: Tuesday 17th March 2015 by The News Editor

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