The Home Office and Department for Education (DfE) have clashed over alleged plots by Islamist extremists to take over various schools in Birmingham, with sources in the Home Office accusing Education Secretary Michael Gove of failing to do enough to combat extremism.
Mr Gove reportedly believes a small group of hard line Islamists have infiltrated the city’s schools using tactics similar to those used by the far-left Militant Tendency in their attempt to take over the Labour Party in the 1980s.
The Times reports that he blames their success on reluctance within the Home Office to confront extremist ideology unless it develops into terrorism.
Last night, however, allies of the Home Secretary hit back and blamed Michael Gove for failing to do enough to combat extremism in schools.
A source within the Home Office said: “Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010? Lord knows what more they have overlooked on the subject of the protection of kids in state schools? It scares me.”
This morning, the Home Secretary and Education Secretary desperately tried to calm the row. They issued a joint statement saying: “The Department for Education and the Home Office take the problems in Birmingham schools and all issues relating to extremism very seriously. Michael Gove and Theresa May are working together to ensure we get to the bottom of what has happened in Birmingham and take the necessary steps to fix it.”
Next week, school inspectors Ofsted will place five Birmingham schools in ‘special measures’ after emergency inspections ordered in the wake of the takeover allegations. Mr Gove is likely to remove the governing bodies of the schools placed in special measures and appoint interim executive boards to run each.
He will then order further action to root out extremist elements among the school staff, although some of this will wait until a separate report by counter-terrorism chief Peter Clarke is published.
A source at the Department for Education said the Education Secretary believed that schools had been targeted by Islamists who were “extreme without being violent”.
“They have set out over time to take over and subvert governing bodies of schools using entryism in the same way as political parties have been taken over, such as Militant Tendency.”
“Some have been very wary of drawing attention to this, as it might be seen as Islamophobic. That is why there has been a reluctance to acknowledge what has been going on.
“Tony Blair recognised this space. Within government there has been pushback against doing that. Charles Farr always believed if extremists become violent we should deal with it. It has been characterised by others in government as just beating back the crocodiles that come close to the boat rather than draining the swamp.”
Theresa May and Michael Gove are both seen as possible future leaders of the Conservative Party.