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C4 Dispatches questions the role of faith communities in schools

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As the government is about to publish its report on the 'Trojan Horse' affair in Birmingham, Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to question the role of faith communities in our schools.

Tonight’s programme (Monday 14th July at 8pm on Channel 4) reveals:

  • Exclusively that even before the so-called anonymous ‘Trojan Horse’ letter came to light the Prime Minister’s office had been warned of what was going on
  • Claims by current and former members of staff at Park View – one of the schools implemented in the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that male pupils were given worksheets saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands and also girls at the school were sent home from a sports event because only a male coach was present
  • The ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish schools in the London Borough of Hackney ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’. Channel 4 Dispatches has shocking evidence that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about the schools for years

Number Ten warned even before ‘Trojan Horse’ came to light

Last month in Birmingham five state funded schools were placed in to special measures after claims they’d been taken over by radical Islamists.

Channel 4 Dispatches can exclusively reveal that even before the so-called anonymous ‘Trojan Horse’ letter came to light the Prime Minister’s office had been warned of what was going on.

A concerned parent with a daughter at Oldknow Academy in Birmingham – one of the schools implicated in the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot - wrote to Number Ten.

Mohammed Zabar, is a Muslim parent with a daughter at Oldknow Academy. A primary school for children aged 7 to 11 years old.

He became concerned when his daughter questioned why the school wasn’t doing anything to celebrate Christmas as it had done before.

“I believe that she wasn’t getting a rounded religious education which for me as a Muslim is important because Islam as a religion says that you have to learn, understand other religions”, Mohammed Zabar says.

So in December 2013 he took the matter up with the school.

Mohammed Zabar says: “I went in and spoke with the Vice-Principle and I was surprised at his reaction. He didn’t actually say anything to address the issues that I’d raised. He just spent his time shouting at me, telling me that I got it wrong.”

After two further meetings with the chair of governors in January Mohammed still felt he was being ignored.

He was so concerned that in February he wrote to Number Ten. The reply came two weeks later which read:

‘Thank you for contacting the Prime Minister’s office. Your email has been passed on to me to review, as the Education Funding Authority has a responsibility for open academies on behalf of Michael GoveIf you do not believe that the religious education of your daughter she is receiving to be balanced, you should contact Oldknow Academy directly and ask to make a complaint.’

Mohammed Zabar says: “What I received totally missed the point I was trying to make. It was like a dismissal of my answer.”

Oldknow Academy deny the Acting Principal shouted at Mr Zabar, and say the Chair of Governors did not ignore his complaint.

Park View – Staff speak out about extreme practices

Another Birmingham school placed in to special measures is Park View. The school denies all the allegations, including that it was taken over by hardline Muslims, or that it breached the rules.

However, current and former Muslim and non-Muslim members of staff disagree.

One agreed to speak to Channel 4 Dispatches on camera anonymously.

She claims about 60 male pupils were given a worksheet saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands.

She says: “The work sheet categorically said that you know the wife has to obey the man. Well I think it makes the boys feel that they have got that power over girls. The east Birmingham area has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.”

Girls were also sent home from a sports event because only a male coach was present.

She says: “I was shocked that that could be happening in a school in this country or in any other country, and I was also very upset because the girls were very upset.”

When asked if she felt it was being driven by the staff at the top of the school, she says: “Yes, without any doubt at all.”

In response to the claims Park View say:

“There is no segregation in lessons, but in common with many schools PE is taught in “single gender groups” and in the “instances where a female teacher was not available to lead female students” in off-site PE events these “have been re-scheduled”.

They also deny the worksheet was ever handed out. They say:

“There was “a single incident in 2011 when a group of… boys misunderstood a historical reference to cultural expectations of marriage’ and as soon as the school was made aware of the misunderstanding ‘a special assembly… was held to make clear a sexual relationship

But local MP Khalid Mahmood is not reassured. He says: “I am not talking about here extremism in schools although ultimately it could lead to it, and that’s my fear, is that when you are grooming young people into that sort of a mind-set then its very easy once they leave school is to go that extra additional step.”

He also dismisses suggestions the controversy smacks of Islamophobia.

“Over 200 people complaining to the local authority about what’s gone on and you can’t really claim that it’s a witch-hunt,” he says.

The illegal Orthodox Jewish schools in Hackney

By law children have to receive an education between the ages of 5 and 16. Any independent school with five or more school age pupils must be registered with the Department for Education. But there are schools not simply bending the rules. They are breaking the law.

Channel 4 Dispatches discovered that more than 1,000 boys aged 13 to 16 have disappeared from registered schools in the London borough of Hackney.

Instead they are being sent by their parents to be educated in yeshivas - fee-paying schools where the curriculum is solely religious.

We have identified more than ten unregistered, illegal, schools.

And what’s really shocking is that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about these schools for years.

We’ve seen internal government briefing documents that reveal as early as 2008 the Department for Education was aware of the issue. One document states the Department knows a number of schools are ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’.

In 2012 the Department acknowledged those running the schools were breaking the law, but said they preferred to work cooperatively with the community.

Former students speak out

Channel 4 Dispatches has spoken to several former students of these illegal schools, who were all critical of the segregated education they received.

One former student says:

“I didn’t speak English. I only spoke Yiddish. I didn’t even know what the word science meant, I didn’t know the definition, I hadn’t heard this word before. We didn’t come out with anything we could use in daily life or even in the future

When I was a kid I was told terrible things about non-Jews. The thing in the community is that in order to keep such a vast number of people enclosed is that they are indoctrinating from a very young age that everything outside is bad, that everything outside is evil except Haredim is bad.

A Channel 4 Dispatches reporter, posing as a cleaner looking for work, filmed undercover at one run-down building operating as a school illegally.

We filmed more than 50 boys all at school desks in one room alone. Our hidden cameras reveal boys, many who are clearly 16 or under, arriving here from 7 in the morning.

And just round the corner, closed to the outside world, we find more. A house on a residential street where we’ve seen as many as 50 boys going in early in the morning and sometimesnot leaving until 10pm.

In total we identified more than ten unregistered, illegal, schools.

One former pupil says: “I feel very angry but I can’t blame anybody, any individual in particular, I blame the system. It bothers me that I was born in that system but what bothers me most is that there are people who could have intervened and done something to change that. The problem is we are children and we are being robbed from our education.

Dispatches contacted the schools featured but have received no response.

Hackney Council, Ofsted and the Department for Education told Dispatches their concerns date back many years and they are aware of all the schools on our list.

They say they’ve been working to get them registered.

The Department for Education, who Ofsted and Hackney say have the power to take action against the schools, told Dispatches that ‘where applications for registration are still not forthcoming we will press for a prosecution as it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered illegal schools.’

Faith Schools Undercover: No Clapping in Class – Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 14th Kuly at 8pm

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