Mark Rogers: the stupidest Trojan Horse response yet?

Photo: JOE GIDDENS/PA

On his official council blog, under the headline “Birmingham bites back”, the city council’s chief executive, Mark Rogers, has penned an extraordinary and inflammatory attack on Ofsted and the Government for pursuing a “contrived” agenda that “mislabels decent, upright, devout and loyal Muslim communities as ‘extremists’ and, as a corollary, terrorists in the making … we cannot allow whole communities to be pilloried for the misdemeanours of a few.”

It’s hard to overstate the stupidity and irresponsibility of this from someone in Mr Rogers’ high office. First, of course, it is simply a lie. No one, let alone “whole communities,” has been mislabelled as “extremist” or a “terrorist in the making” by Ofsted or anyone else.

A handful of individuals have been correctly labelled as extremists by journalists (me included) but none by Ofsted or the Government. No one has been labelled as a would-be terrorist by anyone, ever. Most importantly, of course, no statements whatsoever have been made by the Government or anyone else that the whole Muslim community in Birmingham is extremist or terrorist.

Indeed, most of the coverage, mine included, has made clear that large sections of the community in Alum Rock opposed the hardline agenda pursued in the schools. Not all Muslims are “devout,” as Mr Rogers seems to think. It is significant that he defines Muslim people, unlike any other people, through the prism of their faith.

The claim that a whole community has been accused of proto-terrorism is a straw man that even the worst Socialist Workers’ Party frothers in the Hands off Birmingham Schools campaign haven’t yet tried. But Mr Rogers is chief executive of the city council, and one of the duties of that council is presumably to promote community cohesion. His words can only harm community cohesion by giving succour to those who want to persuade the whole Muslim community that they are under attack by a racist establishment. And if anyone has associated Birmingham Muslims with terrorism, it’s now him.

Mr Rogers’ other straw man – which the council leader, Sir Albert Bore, and various equally dim luminaries also tried in some of the papers at the weekend – is to claim that any attack on the city council as a despicable slander on Birmingham itself. The chief executive of the city’s chamber of commerce, Jerry Blackett, accused the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, of making a “full-on attack on the city of Birmingham” over the affair. No he didn’t – he attacked the council (in fairly careful terms). And he was right to.

The fact is that the city council has long been recognised as part of Birmingham’s problem. As the former Labour Education Minister and Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis (one of many critics) put it long before Trojan Horse in his seminal lecture to the Birmingham Lunar Society in 2011, it “needs to raise its game significantly in terms of leadership, performance and strategy”.

Adonis described the council’s strategic leadership as “weak” and its education department as “inward-looking,” qualities which have been on full display over Trojan Horse. The council has only itself to blame for that debacle. The fact that it blew up was due not to nasty journalists or conniving neo-con Ofsted inspectors (have I got that right Mark?), but to the council’s total refusal over many years to listen to the increasingly desperate complaints of its own staff. (And it’s no good complaining that the schools in question are academies – most were under council control until less than a year ago.)

If the council had acted on their complaints, they wouldn’t have needed to come to the press. Even when they did, the public response of Mr Rogers and others continued to be complete denial (there was no plot, he said in April, merely “new communities” demanding changes to the “liberal educational system”. For Mr Rogers’ information, the Pakistani community has been in Birmingham for the last 45 years.)

As I’ve said before, it’s really telling when people have to create straw man charges to defend themselves. It means that they have no defence to the real charges. Look forward to a similar exercise from the council’s Kershaw review this month.

More strategically, I can’t help wondering whether the council’s latest burst of denial is sensible when there is serious talk of taking some of its functions away. Does it actually want to be emasculated?

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Trojan Horse: schools erect a straw man

One of the oldest tactics by wrongdoers and their allies is to ignore the actual allegations made against them and instead misrepresent the charges as ones they can truthfully deny. With grinding obviousness, that’s precisely what the “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham are doing now.

In a letter published in (where else) the Guardian, a group of the schools’ supporters announce the launch of the “Putting Birmingham Schoolkids First” campaign to “challenge the false and divisive allegation that [Trojan Horse] is a problem of systematic radicalisation, extremism or terrorism.”

The latter is a particularly brazen straw man. I think we can all agree that none of the schools ever taught their pupils how to make bombs and that no one in Birmingham became a terrorist as a result of a segregated biology lesson. But these were, of course, things which no one ever alleged for a second. Nor, in fact, did the Government reports which will result next month in the removal of the schools’ leadership accuse them of systematically promoting radicalisation or extremism.

The letter continues: “The central allegation, that there was an organised plot to radicalise schoolchildren in a handful of Birmingham schools, remains unproven.” Hold on – you said it was “false” only the previous sentence! And it wasn’t the “central allegation” either.

As we have documented, there is clear evidence of extremism at some of the Trojan Horse schools. According to on-the-record testimony, the man who is now (until next month, anyway) head of Park View, Mozz Hussain, described the US in assemblies as the “evil in the world” and the “cause of all famine.” The Arabic teacher at Oldknow, Asif Khan, led children in anti-Christian chanting. An al-Qaeda-sympathising preacher, Shady al-Suleiman, was invited to Park View on November 28 2013. (The school’s assistant head, Lee Donaghy, told MPs that they did not know of his extremist views, something which takes about thirty seconds to find on Google.)

But extremism is not the same as terrorism; and as we’ve also said, extremism was only one strand of what went on at Park View, Oldknow and the rest. The real central finding, in the words of Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, was of an “organised campaign” targeting schools in Birmingham to impose a “narrow, faith-based ideology”, with the same people “highly influential across several of the schools”.

A “culture of fear and intimidation” had developed in several of the schools, with “headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards… marginalised or forced out of their jobs”. There had been a “breakdown in trust” between staff and governors, who had “sought to make changes to the curriculum on the basis of their own personal beliefs”, with girls and boys “not treated equally”, music in one school removed from the curriculum against pupils’ wishes, and the children’s experiences “restricted”, making them “vulnerable to segregation and emotional dislocation from wider society”.

No reference whatever is made to these charges in the “putting Birmingham schoolkids first” letter, presumably because they are rather harder to refute.

The campaign held a public meeting last week at which, by all accounts, a number of even sillier straw men were erected. Sir Tim Brighouse, the former Birmingham education chief on whose watch the problems started, sent a video message saying that “we are in the middle of a fever that equates being a Muslim with extremism.” Who outside the ranks of the far right has said this?

There were also the routine charges of “Islamophobia,” an “anti-Muslim agenda” and the “victimisation of the Muslim community.” This last was made by a councillor called Jess Phillips who fights for the rights of women – except, it seems, the right of women not to be made to “sit at the back of the class or round the sides” at these schools.

A number of other Birmingham councillors were at the meeting and the straw man tactic has also been much favoured by Birmingham council. Its initial response to the Trojan Horse letter was to refer it to the police anti-terrorist squad, even though it contained no allegation of terrorism – again presumably so it could be dismissed. Watch out for a similar tactic in the report of the council’s Kershaw inquiry into the affair.

“Communities across Birmingham now believe that their children’s educational potential and wellbeing is being threatened by politicians, who wish to be seen as ‘tough’ on Muslims,” says Hands off Birmingham Schools. How, I wonder, do the signatories know what “communities across Birmingham” now believe? Have they asked them – or has the assumption been made, as it was by the schools, that Muslim parents, unlike any other sorts of parents, “must” want a narrowly conservative, religious education for their children?

The more anyone has to play these kinds of games, the clearer it becomes that their cause is in deep trouble.

PS: Perhaps the most nauseating part of the meeting last week was when even a five-year-old boy called Ben was lifted up to the rostrum to read out yet another straw-man argument (see video above). “Some people come from different countries to this country, and that’s OK,” he said. “And whatever they want to eat, and whatever they want to wear, and whether they want to play or not, that’s OK as well. But it’s not OK for mean governments to stop them from doing all that stuff.” It went down a storm with the crowd – but nobody’s ever suggested stopping people from wearing or eating anything, or forcing them to play. More importantly, it risked looking like a textbook example of the kind of child manipulation that this whole saga has been about. How many 5-year-olds do you know that spontaneously talk about “mean governments?”

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Trojan Horse: how The Guardian ignored and misrepresented evidence of Islamism in schools

Why did this happen?

There’s a lot of bad journalism about Muslims in this country, but not all of it is at the tabloid “Islamic-only toilets” end of the market. On the subject of the hardline takeover of Birmingham schools, I think The Guardian may be Britain’s most dishonest newspaper.

It’s a very good paper in some ways – but it has a complete blind spot about any story involving Islamists. Its coverage of Tower Hamlets has been spectacularly misleading. And the reporting on Trojan Horse by its education editor, Richard Adams, has been execrable.

Mr Adams now pronounces the entire saga a “crude witch-hunt” based on “not much evidence of anything,” claiming that “most” of the allegations of “segregated classes, compulsory prayers and incendiary preachers at school assemblies … have crumbled under examination.”

The evidence of “incendiary preachers at school assemblies” – Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, an al-Qaeda sympathiser, at Park View School on November 28 2013 – in fact comes from one of the school’s official newsletters, still available on its own website (see photo above, from page 17 of this PDF).

At another of the schools, Oldknow, an official Education Funding Agency report finds that the Arabic teacher, Asif Khan, led anti-Christian chanting in assemblies (though also records his denial). I too have been told about Mr Khan’s anti-Christian assembly by four separate sources, one of them on the record. There is other on-the-record testimony that Park View’s head, Mozz Hussain, preached “mind-blowing” anti-American assemblies.

The evidence of “segregated classes” comes from both this EFA report and another one, into Park View, Nansen and Golden Hillock schools, leaked to me, which states that “teachers gave [students] seats in which to sit in class by gender to avoid having to mix” and that “students told us that they were required to sit in the places which they were given by teachers,” often with “boys sitting towards the front of the class and girls at the back or around the sides.” The relevant sections of the report are published on this blog.

At Golden Hillock, according to the EFA, 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 also includes key staff and governors from several of the other schools and 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 – the same six being placed into special measures. Another of the schools targeted, 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.

Now I have no problem with taking a position on a story. I’ve taken a clear position on this one. By definition, all investigative journalism does that – whether it’s saying that Richard Nixon was a crook, or that News International hacked people’s phones. I accept, too, that different people can honestly hold different views.

But whatever you say has to be true to the best of your knowledge and belief. It has to be backed up by evidence. And it has to take proper account of any evidence against what you are reporting. You have to be sure that it does not outweigh the evidence in favour.

Over the last few months, I’ve carefully read all the “evidence against” that Mr Adams has produced in his exhaustive investigative researches. It appears to consist largely of making escorted trips to the schools concerned during which he spoke only to pupils and staff chosen by the management – an exercise summed up by one of the commenters under his own article as “Everyone was happy on our state guided tour of North Korea.

Another Guardian effort was the letter, splashed on by the paper, from what it described as 20 “educational experts” attacking Ofsted for changing its judgment on the schools since they were last inspected. “It is beyond belief,” said the experts, “that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be ‘outstanding’ are now widely reported as ‘inadequate,’ despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership team and the same governing body.”

Beyond belief indeed: in fact, only two of the schools, Park View and Oldknow, were previously judged “oustanding,” and neither of them have the same leadership team as when previously inspected. As we have reported, Oldknow’s head, Bhupinder Kondal, was driven out earlier this year, and three of her five assistant or deputy heads have also left. At Park View, the executive head, Lindsey Clark, has retired, telling Ofsted that she was marginalised. Nor is it “less than a year” since these schools were previously inspected. Park View was previously inspected in January 2012 and Oldknow in January 2013.

The letter’s signatories, incidentally, include Ibrahim Hewitt, who (as you wouldn’t know from The Guardian) has written a book calling for adulterers to be stoned to death and gays to be given a hundred lashes – and in his spare time chairs a charity, Interpal, branded a “specially designated global terrorist” by the US Treasury. (Interpal’s ever-vigilant lawyers always insist we add that in the UK, the Charity Commission did not find against Interpal.)

Then there are those well-known educational experts Massoud Shadjareh, a political activist who criticised the “demonisation” of Abu Hamza; Arzu Merali, who is expecting a new “Spanish Inquisition” against Muslims; Farooq Murad, head of the Islamist-dominated leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and ex-chair of a charity, Muslim Aid, which has funded terrorist groups; and Salma Yaqoob, former leader of the Respect party and a pyschotherapist by profession.

There are some signatories without Islamist sympathies and with actual educational credentials, but the main one, Professor Tim Brighouse, is perhaps a tiny bit tainted by the fact that he used to run Birmingham education authority at the time the Trojan Horse plot was grinding into gear in his schools. (There’s also a man, M G Khan, who, though The Guardian coyly neglects to mention this, is a governor of one of the schools being put into special measures!)

The other problem with the argument that “Ofsted used to like us” is that it feels a little bit like, say, Lehman Brothers protesting that the Financial Services Authority didn’t raise any concerns in the years before it went bust. Regulators often miss the great scandals. That’s partly why they become scandals. Several of these inspections were conducted in the halcyon days when Ofsted gave schools 48 hours’ notice – easily long enough for them to put on a show, as they did for Mr Adams. In short, none of the “evidence against” the story presented by the schools or The Guardian carries anything like enough weight to overcome the mass of evidence in the story’s favour.

I’d like to say it’s nice that the cynical old trade of news still has room for people like Richard Adams, prepared to think the best of everyone and take at face value whatever he’s told. But I think he’s done more than that – he’s ignored evidence, or misrepresented it as “crumbling” if it doesn’t fit his version of events. That’s not just bad journalism, but a betrayal of the liberal and progressive values The Guardian is supposed to fight for.

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Gove is right to fail schools for religious bias

Giving Ofsted powers to penalise extremist teaching can only benefit social cohesion (Photo: Rex)

Here are five words that liberals should say more often: thank God for Michael Gove. The Education Secretary has sent dozens of inspectors to 15 state schools in Birmingham targeted by Islamic radicals – and now, reportedly, plans to extend the idea nationwide, with new powers for Ofsted to fail schools where religious conservatism prevents balanced learning. He has acted because he knows what others have too long ignored: that schools are the key battleground against Islamism in Britain.

As poll after poll tells us, the vast majority of ordinary Muslims reject radical views. They support a mixed, plural society. They want to get on with their own lives, not interfere with anyone else’s. Successful Muslims, such as the new Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, are making their way to the top – defining themselves by their jobs, or their politics, or the football teams they support, and not (unless they want to) by the faith they were born into.

The problem is that the leading institutions of Muslim Britain are disproportionately dominated by the small minority of Islamists. They get all the publicity. They make all the noise. Sometimes publicly, sometimes only when they think no one’s looking, key mosques, charities, TV stations, schools and university societies promote a separatist, grievance-led agenda, in which Islam is the only identity that matters, in which Muslims stand against corrupt Western values and are victimised for doing so.

For those who think this way, schools are the front line – because they are how the hardliners hope, over time, to convert more British Muslims to their cause. And in a small but significant (and growing) number of schools, a new generation of students is being raised to be much more radical than its parents.

Of these, the worst are in the private sector – such as the schools where children study anti-Semitic textbooks, or the Madani Girls’ School in Tower Hamlets, which forces all pupils to wear the full-face veil and has explicitly stated on its website that “we as Muslims oppose the lifestyle of the West”. The Association of Muslim Schools, the private schools’ trade organisation, has hosted extremist speakers at its annual conference.

Most Muslim children, however, go to state schools – so the hardliners’ efforts are moving there as well. In Birmingham, five non-Muslim head teachers in a tiny area of the city have left their posts in the past six months. Dozens of staff, former staff and parents at these supposedly secular schools have told me and others that extremist and anti-Christian views are preached at assemblies, that teaching has been Islamified and that secular heads have been hounded out.

Messages leaked to me revealed the existence of a group called Educational Activists, including many teachers and school governors, which pursues what its leader calls an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham schools. At each of the schools concerned, links can be traced to the same small group of activists, and to the Association of Muslim Schools. The local council says it has received “hundreds” of complaints from teachers, governors and parents.

When confronted, those involved have four lines of defence. The first, inevitably, is that any criticism is an “Islamophobic witch-hunt”, which rather ignores the fact that many of those complaining are themselves Muslim parents who want a broad education for their children. Fortunately, such brazen attempts to play the race card have gained little traction.

The activists’ second defence is that they are merely seeking to improve “failing” schools. The problem, alas, is that most of the schools affected were graded “outstanding” or “good” by Ofsted. By contrast, the religious school that ties together most of the plotters has been graded “inadequate”.

It is also argued that any changes that have occurred simply reflect the dominant culture in these overwhelmingly Muslim-majority schools and Muslim-majority neighbourhoods. But if you live entirely among people of your own faith, it is even more important that you are exposed to other cultures at school, and that teachers from other backgrounds are not removed from your life.

Finally, it is sometimes said (not least on the BBC) that any extremist incidents that may have occurred were “isolated”. They weren’t – but even if they had been, can we seriously imagine that line being tenable if the position were reversed? Had there been even one teacher leading white children in anti-Muslim rhetoric, it would rightly be proclaimed a national scandal.

The same double standards used, until recently, to apply in official Britain. Many private Muslim schools have been allowed effectively to inspect themselves – using a private inspectorate co-controlled by the Association of Muslim Schools. In others, Ofsted seemed prepared to overlook bigotry, so long as the bigots were Muslim. At Madani, which openly expressed its hostility to the West, the Ofsted report claimed the school left its pupils “well-prepared for life in a multicultural society”.

Yet it is precisely because such an education leaves its pupils adrift in a multicultural society, prey to all sorts of dangerous influences, and with a negative view of their fellow citizens, that Islamist influence in schools is so desperately dangerous for social cohesion. And it is a profound relief that the authorities have finally recognised this. Let us hope that the work continues if and when Mr Gove moves on.

'Outstanding' head teacher allegedly targeted by Muslim radicals confirms that she's retiring

Lindsey Clark: retiring despise her success (Photo: BMP)

Lindsey Clark, the respected executive head of Park View, one of the Birmingham schools targeted in the alleged “Trojan Horse” plot by Muslim radicals, has confirmed that she is to retire. She becomes the fifth non-Muslim headteacher to leave one of the schools linked to the plot over the last six months. The others are Balwant Bains (Saltley), Tina Ireland (Regent’s Park), Bhupinder Kondal (Oldknow),  and Peter Slough (Small Heath). A sixth head, Golden Hillock’s Matthew Scarrott, left a little earlier.

Mrs Clark’s retirement, first revealed by me three weeks ago, was confirmed in the school’s spring term newsletter, published online yesterday. As I have described, the replacement of secular, non-Muslim heads has been a key goal of the radicals leading the campaign.

Mrs Clark, who was awarded the OBE last year for her work in taking Park View to the highest Ofsted ranking, “outstanding,” in 2012, told Ofsted inspectors probing her school last month that she had been marginalised by Tahir Alam, the hardline chair of governors at Park View, and the school’s principal, effectively its number two, Mohammed “Moz” Hussain. The school’s leadership and management have now been dropped to “inadequate” by Ofsted in a report expected soon.

As we reported on Sunday, a former department head at Park View, Nigel Sloan, says he witnessed Mr Hussain giving “mind-blowing anti-Western propaganda” assemblies to pupils at the school, including claims that the Americans were “the evil in the world” and “the cause of all famine.” Mr Hussain is now a candidate to replace Mrs Clark.

The same issue of the newsletter includes an attack by Dave Hughes, Park View Education Trust’s only non-Muslim director, on Mr Sloan – essentially the predictable charge of racism that the school’s defenders have been wheeling out since the beginning. Mr Hughes is also booked on BBC WM radio this morning to spread the word that it’s all Islamophobic lies.

It’s not very surprising, perhaps, that a member of the leadership team branded “inadequate” should dispute his own inadequacy. Interestingly, however, for all its huffing and puffing, Mr Hughes’ article doesn’t specifically deny the charge that Nigel Sloan makes. Just thought I’d point that out.

PS  Park View’s newsletters are always good value – last term’s (p17) was where I found out that the school hosted an extremist preacher, Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, at “an extended Islamic assembly” on 28 November. As well as organising an event with the al-Qaeda ideologue, Anwar al-Awlaki, the good Sheikh believes in the death penalty for extramarital sex – and don’t even get him started on gays! Just the man to back up Mr Hughes’ claim that Park View is “preparing [its pupils] for multicultural Britain.”

 

EMA: time to stop whingeing, kids

Yesterday’s Guardian had a story about the latest group of people to have their freebies taken away by the evil Tories – in this case sixth-formers claiming the education maintenance allowance (up to £30 a week) at the Brooke House, sorry “BSix” sixth-form college in Hackney, east London. Yes, that really is what the college officially calls itself.

Sadly, what was intended as a heart-rending tale of brutal hardship in fact demonstrated why this particular benefit – which is received by almost half of all UK sixth-formers –  is so often unnecessary. Three students were interviewed. James Adams, from London Fields, claimed to “spend most of it on travel.” This is surprising, and I wonder how he manages it.

The usual way to travel from James’s home in London Fields to the college, which is at the Clapton roundabout, is by bus, a journey of less than two miles and about ten minutes. And all sixth-formers in London get free bus travel. (God forbid, a healthy young person could even walk – it would take less than half an hour – or cycle.) Perhaps James is using his EMA to travel by taxi, or saving it up for an entirely different kind of travel. Ryanair has some good deals on student stag weekends, I’m told.

A second student, Helen Kassarate, also said she used her EMA to pay for, among other things, her travel and her glasses, describing it as “a necessity.” We aren’t told where Helen lives, but I dare say her journey is a bus ride, too (no tubes in Hackney) and will also be free. And sixth-formers who need glasses also get those paid for on the NHS. So much for this “necessity.”

The idea of EMA was to persuade teenagers to stay in full-time education. But as the Department of Education’s own research shows (page 11 of PDF), only 12 per cent of recipients said it made any difference to their decision (other research found the figure was just 6 per cent.) It is described as a benefit for the children of low-income families; but in fact, you can get EMA if your household income is as high as £30,800 a year, about £9,000 above the UK average.

Participation of 16-18-year-olds in full-time education did rise after EMA’s national rollout six years ago, but quite slowly for the first three years (from 57.9% of the age group in 2004 to 62.8% in 2007.) In the most recent two years for which there are figures, participation jumped at a faster rate, to 68% by 2009. But that was almost certainly driven more by the meltdown of the economy – and the consequent lack of jobs and apprenticeships for teenagers – than by government bribes. That lack continues, making it quite unlikely that we will see the mass college drop-outs predicted by some EMA supporters.

EMA is a classic Labour policy – an invented entitlement that not many people actually asked for and not many people actually needed, now defended with as much fervour and fury as if it were a decades-old pillar of the Welfare State like free medical care or old-age pensions.

I don’t object in principle to bribing kids to go to college – it’s a lot cheaper than some of the alternatives. But it seems to me that we can target our bribes on a much smaller number of teenagers without any noticeable reduction in effect.

Extremist Muslim schools: Islamism's most worrying manifestation of all

panorama-1-gilli

I’ve just finished watching John Ware’s excellent BBC Panorama about what’s being taught in some Muslim schools: a subject which I, and others, believe is the single most worrying aspect of Islamist and radical activity in Britain.

At present the vast majority of British Muslims have little or no truck with Islamist ideas. But in some Muslim schools – not in all, but in a significant and growing number – a new generation is being raised to be much more radical than its parents.

The BBC’s film is another encouraging sign of the growing pressure under which Islamism now finds itself. But the Telegraph has been following this story for a while. As I’ve reported in the paper over the last couple of years, some British schools (most but not exclusively Muslim) are teaching impressionable children to suspect, even despise, the society in which they will have to live. Other schools are teaching an overly narrow, Islamic-focused curriculum, turning out students ill-equipped for life in anything other than a Muslim ghetto. This is, quite simply, a betrayal of the children involved and a recipe for social conflict.

The most shocking and headline-grabbing aspect of the film was, understandably, the Saudi-sponsored weekend schools which teach children racism, anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments. It was fun watching the Islamists’ usual transparent wriggling and lies – the Saudi government trying to deny responsibility for its own textbooks, and so on.

But in terms of broader social impact, what’s happening in parts of the wider Islamic education sector is far worse. It’s perhaps best understood as an example of state failure. The state is failing in some places to provide adequate education of its own. And it is unwilling to regulate or even understand the alternative provision that has grown up.

Some schools run by people with unequivocally sectarian, anti-Western, anti-British views about education are actually being funded by the state. They and others have also been whitewashed by the bodies that are supposed to protect children, Ofsted and the Charity Commission, two of the feeblest watchdogs Islamists could possibly wish for.

Even Ofsted looks good, however, by comparison with some inspections. We were the first paper to mention the remarkable Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which has been given the job of inspecting many Muslim schools and which also featured heavily in Panorama. The BSI is co-controlled by Muslim schools’ own lobbying and trade body, the AMS, and allows Muslim headteachers to inspect each other’s schools, returning favourable verdicts which don’t always seem entirely deserved. And now, the Government’s drive for more free schools and faith schools risks giving organised radical groups even more of an opening.

The think-tank Policy Exchange has today published an important report calling for the abolition of the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the establishment of a Due Diligence Unit to assess all schools, their trustees and staff, against a statutory definition of extremism. Two of its authors also took part in the Panorama film. Policy Exchange’s suggested definition of extremist is those who:

support or condone the deliberate targeting for attack of civilians (as
defined by the Geneva Conventions) anywhere in the world.

call for, or condone, attacks on British service personnel and their allies
anywhere in the world or against any forces acting under a UN mandate.

call for or condone the destruction of UN member states.

give a platform to deniers of, or apologists for, crimes against humanity, including genocide.

support or condone terrorism anywhere in the world.

discriminate or advocate discrimination on the basis of religion, religious sect, race, sexual orientation or gender in any aspect of public life or public policy.

–  oppose armed forces’ recruitment.

I think this is a good first go but needs more work – I’m not sure any school which “opposes armed forces’ recruitment” should be automatically damned as extremist. And of course British forces didn’t act under a UN mandate in Iraq, did they?

As well as the obvious prohibitions (on the advocacy of racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, hatred or hostility), whatever criterion we settle on should have at its core the obligation that all British schools must prepare their pupils to be full, equal and participating citizens of Britain, not of some Muslim Ummah.

I know that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is one of the politicians who most gets this problem. He was quite strong on Panorama and I have every reason to hope for action on this crucial area.