The Trojan Horse plotters and their allies on Twitter have been getting touchingly excited about a BBC report into a secret meeting on Wednesday between officials of Birmingham City Council and the heads of the 21 schools involved. Alas, their claims that it “proved” the plot was a “hoax” don’t stand up to scrutiny.
It’s true that one of the council officials at the meeting claimed they’d seen “no evidence” of extremism in the schools, a line seized on by the Beeb. That claim, however, is clearly false, the latest of many attempts by Birmingham City Council to ignore or downplay the problems and its own role in creating them. There is, in fact, clear evidence of extremism, both religious and political, in some of these schools.
One for instance, Park View, openly advertised a talk by an al-Qaeda sympathising preacher in its own newsletter (p17). The man who is now Park View’s headteacher, Mozz Hussain, preached “mind-blowing anti-American propaganda” to pupils at assemblies, according to Nigel Sloan, a former teacher who witnessed it. A senior teacher at Park View also praised the al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki at assemblies, according to current and former staff who have spoken to both me and another part of the BBC.
At another school, Oldknow, the Arabic teacher, Asif Khan, led children in anti-Christian chanting in assembly, according to other staff members present and Mohammed Zabar, a parent, who witnessed him admitting it last month.
More broadly, I too was leaked the recording of Wednesday’s meeting between the heads and the council and I can only say that the BBC’s account of it, at least in the online piece I’ve linked to, was selective. As you can see from my own report, the council did concede at the meeting that there were “very significant” issues in the schools and that it expected the official reports to have “serious implications for us all, the council as well as schools.” The chief executive, Mark Rogers, predicted a “bloody firestorm” when the reports were published; his director for children’s services, Peter Hay, feared a “knockout blow.”
Mr Rogers also made the distinction, not captured by the Beeb, between problems of “radicalisation and extremism,” which he disputes, and what he described as “where Trojan Horse starts, which is whether there’s undue influence in the ethos, curriculum and practices of schools in relation to Islam.”
And for sure, as well as the evidence of extremism, there’s even more copious evidence of the latter at these schools. An official report leaked to the Telegraph (extracts here) described how girls were made to sit at the back of the class at Park View; at Golden Hillock, another school, non-Muslim pupils “had to teach themselves” in one subject; at Nansen, there is compulsory Arabic (in a primary school!) and no teaching of the arts for one entire year group.
Nansen’s deputy head, Razwan Faraz, is administrator of a group called “Educational Activists” which pursues, in Mr Faraz’s words, an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham’s schools. Park View’s chair of governors, Tahir Alam, is co-author of a document which calls for the teaching of art, drama and dance to Muslims to be restricted and Muslim girls to be veiled in school.
Non-Muslim heads at five schools in a tiny area of Birmingham have left their jobs in the last six months. The general secretary of the headteachers’ union, Russell Hobby, says the union has found “concerted efforts” by hardliners to infiltrate Birmingham schools, is working with 30 of its members in 12 schools and has “serious concerns” about six of them. One of the schools concerned, Adderley, has released an official statement confirming that its head, a moderate Muslim, and other heads have been subjected to “malicious and targeted campaigns to remove them.” Given all this, there can’t really now be any dispute that a plot exists.
But the Beeb’s record on the story has been mixed. It has done some real reporting on it – that is, making the effort, like us, to gather actual evidence of its own. But on other occasions it’s been too ready to take at face value the obviously self-serving denials of obviously interested parties – such as governors of the schools concerned, or in this case Birmingham City Council.