The words ‘Trojan Horse’ haven’t been lost on us over the last several months – they’ve been pretty prominent, splashed all over the front pages of newspapers and on the tickers online… Even we’ve followed this phrase pretty closely at TutorHub.
It’s been made famous by the on-going scandal in Birmingham, where Trojan Horse refers to the alleged plot by ‘hard-line’ Muslims to take control of several schools in Birmingham. According to an intercepted letter, the idea was to install governors and teachers more ‘sympathetic’ to the cause, then to instil more conservative religious views in the schools and alter the curriculum accordingly. The letter is widely believed to be considered a hoax, but it has shone a very bright and unpleasant light on Ofsted and their inspections of the schools, not to mention the Department for Education and the schools themselves.
Despite the letter being dismissed, Ofsted came in and issued damning reports on five schools apparently involved, placing them all under special measures. Of course, that little sound-bite doesn’t do much to help ease the concerns of parents, but it did pander to those who wanted the governance of the schools to take a beating. At least then Ofsted looked as though it was doing something, I guess.
Former Education Secretary Michael Gove ordered a report into the whole scandal and if the Department for Education ever got the hang of what was going on. Well, the other day… the report became rather public.
The internal review – conducted by the Department themselves – found that they had lacked ‘inquisitiveness’ about potential extremism in schools and that it could have run a tighter ship. That said, it denied that it had ignored specific warnings about the schools in question, something which raised a few eyebrows. Tim Boyes, headteacher at Queensbridge School – one of the schools involved – described the report as ‘farcical’ and said that he had met ministers twice in 2010 to discuss concerns about extremism.
I think someone somewhere might not be being truly honest here – a headteacher with legitimate concerns for his school or an internal report from a Department already on the back foot…
That said, the current education secretary Nicky Morgan has given her support to the report, saying that measures are going to be introduced to make sure that reporting extremism is going to be easier. For example, the Department for Education has a Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Division, which has now been increased in size. There’s also a formal system for staff to voice concerns directly to the Department too – that’s coming into effect very promptly.
It sounds like the Department is trying to get its ship watertight, but previous years of inaction appear to counting against them – the report acknowledges that Lord Hill and Mr Boyes met on more than one occasion to discuss what was going on – yet there was no assumption that any action would be taken. Mr Boyes has remarked that the government has failed to take any responsibility over the issue.
The whole issue puts the idea of protecting children from extremism under the spotlight – it has fallen to the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism to provide some details as to how this is expected to happen. There is a report on the issue dated back to December 2013 – this is what we’ve found:
- The overall message is that the government needs to do more to tackle the issue where it’s present in institutions, such as schools and prisons.
- All schools, regardless of their status as state or independent and their faith ethos, will be assessed on their measures to prevent extremism.
- Unannounced inspections of independent schools by Ofsted are continuing (at the time of writing) to make sure that schools are focusing on ‘British Values.’
- A code of practice for religious schools has been agreed.
There are also key notes in the report about universities and higher education institutions – the idea is that universities work with students and their unions to insure that the correct messages are conveyed by people around campus and that extremism stays out.
It all sounds rather promising from the government, though do remember that this report was published before the story about the Birmingham schools hit the papers – does this mean that the plan didn’t work or that it merely highlighted problems? Thankfully, the letter that set this all off is regarded as a hoax, so I’m led to believe that the bright lights caught something out – a positive step.
Worryingly, back in November Ofsted Head Sir Michael Wilshaw announced that he was astonished that the local authorities involved hadn’t responded to the poor reports on the schools produced over the summer of last year – there hasn’t been an action plan for improvement after “13 or 14 drafts.” This comes after the schools previously given damning verdicts in the summer were deemed to have not improved in October.
Summer, October, November, then the report, then some back-stabbing and arguing of the facts… It does somewhat concern me that the local authority isn’t working with the government and the sound-bites are those of debating and contesting facts.
The schools are to be inspected again this month to ensure something has been done, but if this is happening in one area conveniently under the spotlight, what’s going on in other areas?
To answer the original problem about ‘what’s gone wrong”… it would appear that people are playing a blame game over a group of schools. If you trust Ofsted’s judgement, the schools are failing, and have failed twice now – the council is to blame as they haven’t got a plan still. If you listen to the Department for Education, no concerns were ignored but things could have done better. If you listen to the headteachers, the Department for Education aren’t listening to concerns and are not acting on anything. Can you all see the mess here?
The problem is not with the policies – it appears that the policies either don’t exist or we’re hearing too much bad news and not enough about the successes.
There’s your problem!