The scandal arose after a letter allegedly between two plotters was sent to Birmingham City Council, revealing attempts by Islamist fundamentalists to infiltrate school governing bodies, force out non-Muslim staff and impose strict Islamic practices on students.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ letter. That report by Peter Clarke has been laid before the House this morning.
Mr Speaker, the abiding principle of this government’s education policy is that schools should prepare children for life in modern Britain, and indeed the modern world. Schools should open doors for children, not close them. This is what parents want and expect. And we should be clear that this is as true for the overwhelming majority of British Muslims as it is for anyone else.
As a government we strongly support the right of Muslim parents to be involved in their children’s schools and their commitment to take leading roles in public life. What has been so upsetting about the history in this small handful of schools is that the success of efforts to encourage more British Muslims to take up governing roles has been damaged by the actions of a few. I sincerely hope that parents will continue to come forward to serve as governors and take leadership roles in schools.
But what Peter Clarke found is disturbing. His report sets out compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham.
Teachers have said they fear children are learning to be intolerant of difference and diversity. Instead of enjoying a broadening and enriching experience in school, young people are having their horizons narrowed and are being denied the opportunity to flourish in a modern multicultural Britain.
There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism. But there is a clear account in the report of people in positions of influence in these schools, with a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, who have not promoted fundamental British values and who have failed to challenge the extremist views of others.
Individuals associated with the Park View Educational Trust in particular have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. Particularly shocking is the evidence of the social media discussion of the Park View Brotherhood group whose actions “betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach which denies the validity of alternative beliefs.”
Evidence collected by Peter Clarke shows that Birmingham City Council was aware of the practices that were subsequently outlined in the “Trojan Horse” letter long before it surfaced.
The council published on Friday its own report by Ian Kershaw into the problems. He concluded that in some cases the council was actually a vehicle for promoting some of these problems, with headteachers being eased out through profligate use of compromise agreements rather than supported. The council’s inability to address these problems had been exacerbated, the report found, by a culture of not wanting to address difficult problems where there is a risk of accusations of racism or Islamophobia.
Mr Speaker, we are all in the debt of Peter Clarke for the rigour that he brought to his investigation and for the forensic clarity of his findings. And we are in the debt of my predecessor, now the chief whip on this side of the House, for his determination in the face of criticism to invite Peter to take on this task. No government and no Home Secretary have done more to tackle extremism than this government and this Home Secretary. In the conclusions of the government’s extremism task force last year the Prime Minister made it clear that we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent. Peter Clarke’s report offers us important recommendations to address this challenge in schools. Our first priority after Ofsted reported its findings last month was to take action over the schools in special measures.
The members at the Park View Educational Trust have now resigned, enabling outstanding headteachers from the wider Birmingham community to take on the governance of the trust and ensure a strong future for its three academies. My noble friend Lord Nash has today written to the Oldknow Trust notifying them that I will terminate their funding agreement in the light of the trust’s manifest breaches. And a new Interim Executive Board has replaced the failing governing body of Saltley School. I want to pay tribute to the Right Honourable Member for Birmingham Hodge Hill and the Honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley for their work with these schools.
The second priority is the progress which must be made by Birmingham City Council. I have spoken to Sir Albert Bore and we have agreed that I will appoint a new education commissioner within the council to oversee its actions to address the fundamental criticisms in the Kershaw and Clarke reports, while building resilience in the system as a whole. The commissioner will report jointly to Birmingham’s chief executive and to me. If we are unable to make rapid progress with these new arrangements, I will not hesitate to use my powers to intervene further.
My Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has also spoken to Sir Albert Bore about the need to address the wider weaknesses that these events have highlighted in the governance culture of the council. They have agreed that Sir Bob Kerslake will lead a review of governance in the City Council, reporting with recommendations for both the short and medium term by the end of 2014.
I want also to ensure that our system of standards and accountability for all schools should better withstand the threats of extremism of all kinds. The National College for Teaching and Leadership will take the extensive evidence provided by Peter Clarke so that its misconduct panel can consider whether any teachers involved should be barred from the profession. Advice to the panel already provides that actions which undermine fundamental British values should be viewed as misconduct. I will strengthen that advice to make clear that exposing pupils to extremist speakers should be regarded as a failure to protect pupils and promote British values. I will also strengthen the advice to make it clear that prohibition from teaching should be imposed while such cases are investigated and a prohibition without review made where misconduct is proved.
We have already published a consultation on strengthening independent school standards, which apply also to academies and free schools, including a requirement to actively promote British values. Ofsted will inspect how well all schools are actively promoting fundamental British values through their curriculum. We will provide further guidance on how to improve the social, moral, spiritual and cultural development of pupils, which is also inspected by Ofsted.
We will strengthen our regulations to bar unsuitable persons from running independent schools, including academies and free schools. Anyone barred in this way will also be prohibited from being governor in any maintained school
Peter Clarke recommends that Ofsted should be more sensitive to the signs of emerging problems. I believe that key evidence can be hidden from inspectors and the inspection regime needs to be strengthened further. My predecessor asked Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw to look at the feasibility and practicalities of introducing no notice inspections for schools.
I am pleased that HMCI has already decided, and notified schools earlier this month, that he would be broadening next term the criteria Ofsted uses to judge whether unannounced inspection is required for a particular school.
HMCI believes there are advantages to extending no notice inspection to all schools and will use his consultation in the autumn on changes to the 2015 inspection regime to consult on whether universal no notice or a different change to the no notice regime should be made.
HMCI has also highlighted the need to ensure that all state-funded schools meet the requirement to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. HMCI is clear that this is an area where inspectors will pay more attention, and the autumn consultation will seek views on whether Ofsted needs to do more to ensure that all schools meet their requirements to teach a broad and balanced curriculum.
My predecessor commissioned a review by the Permanent Secretary on whether the Department missed historical warnings in Birmingham and he will report to me later in the summer. The Department has already ensured increased scrutiny of new academy sponsors and of the governance arrangements for schools seeking to convert to academy status. We have appointed regional schools commissioners backed by boards of local outstanding headteachers who will bring local intelligence to decision making on academies. But I will now improve the Department’s Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division’s capacity as Peter Clarke recommends. And I will ensure that the Department works in partnership with the Home Office, DCLG and other agencies to improve the intelligence available to us on whether other parts of the country are similarly vulnerable to the threats that have been exposed in Birmingham.
The report also raises questions and makes specific recommendations over other important areas including:
- the role of the Association of Muslim Schools UK
- further action on improving school governance
- how to communicate better the role of LAs with all schools - maintained, academies and independent - over safeguarding and extremism, and how we can be sure that all schools are meeting their statutory duties
I want to reflect further on these issues, as well as all specific recommendations made in the report published today, and return to this House in the autumn on steps to be taken on these matters.
Mr Speaker, Peter Clarke’s report confirms the pattern of serious failing found by Ofsted’s inspection reports and identifies how the actions of a small number of individuals in some schools represented a serious risk to the safeguarding of children and the quality of education being provided. We are taking action to put things right and I will not hesitate to act in any schools where serious concerns come to light in future.
But I want to be clear those who seek to use this case to undermine this government’s reform agenda will be disappointed. Today there are more than four thousand academies and free schools serving pupils and parents up and down the country. They are helping thousands of young people, regardless of their background, to unlock their potential and become valuable and rounded members of society. The expansion of the academy programme has been one of the great success stories of this government and the actions of a small number of individuals will not divert us from this path. The programme of reform goes on. I commend the report to the House.