Published on 7 Jun 2014 Sections ,

Michael Gove ‘sorry’ over Birmingham school extremism row

Education Secretary Michael Gove apologises to the prime minister after his row with Theresa May over the “Trojan horse” school claims, despite earlier saying it was not damaging to the government.

Number 10 stepped into the row between Michael Gove and the home secretary, Theresa May, over alleged claims that Islamist hardliners were seeking to take control of Birmingham schools in a “Trojan Horse” plot.

Mrs May’s frustrations with Mr Gove were revealed earlier this week in a letter leaked to the Times that showed the growing divisions in the cabinet. While Mr Gove has been forced to apologise, her special advisor, Fiona Cunningham, has today resigned her position.

Mr Gove wrote to apologise to Home Office counter-terror chief Charles Farr and the prime minister “in acknowledgement of his role” in the row over the way Islamist extremism was being addressed in schools.

Cameron ‘deeply concerned’

A Downing Street spokesman announced the developments today saying: “The prime minister has been deeply concerned by the allegations made about extremism and a number of Birmingham schools. The government, through the Department for Education and Ofsted, has taken swift action to investigate these allegations since they emerged in late 2013.

“The prime minister is taking a specific interest in ensuring this serious matter is being dealt with effectively.

“The detailed findings of the investigations will be set out in Parliament on Monday by the Secretary of State for Education.

“The prime minister has made clear that he expects a robust response from all relevant organisations to any findings that confirm that the safety and learning of children in our schools have been put at risk.

“The prime minister has prioritised fighting all forms of extremism, including through setting up his Extremism Taskforce in the wake of the horrific killing of Lee Rigby.”

Ofsted is set to publish its reports on Birmingham schools at the centre of claims about an Islamist takeover plot on Monday and Mr Gove will make a statement in the Commons.

Earlier in the day Mr Gove said he was not considering his position amid a spat with Mrs May about tackling alleged Islamist extremism in schools.

Gove denies row damaging to government

Mr Gove had refused to entertain speculation on his role as education secretary following a public disagreement with the home secretary over claims Islamic extremists have influenced teaching at schools in Birmingham.

When asked at an event whether the row had damaged the government and if he was considering his position, Mr Gove simply said: “No.”

The two government ministers took the unusual step of releasing a joint statement to quell their disagreement, after Mrs May wrote to Mr Gove questioning his department’s efforts to deal with an alleged plot by hardline Islamists to seize control of schools in Birmingham.

The education secretary believes the home office has been reluctant to clamp down on extremism unless it develops into terrorism, according to the Times.

Ofsted has inspected 21 schools in Birmingham since the publication of a letter, believed to have been a hoax, referring to an alleged plot by Muslim hardliners to take over governing bodies – a five point plan the author calls “Operation Trojan Horse”.

Ofsted investigations

Oldknow Academy, one of the Birmingham schools at the centre of the allegations, has had its Ofsted rating slashed after its latest inspection.

In January 2013, Ofsted rated Oldknow Academy as outstanding in all areas, and is now one of the schools where allegations of an attempted extremist take-over are being investigated.

The allegations triggered a new Ofsted inspection, and Channel 4 News has seen the inspectors’ draft report which rates Oldknow as inadequate.

Oldknow teacher Samir Rauf told Channel 4 News that the suggestion “makes me wonder what the world is coming to”.

On Friday the Guardian claimed that a leaked report by Ofsted into another school, Park View Academy, said the school has “failed to adequately warn its pupils about extremism and that staff are intimidated by the school’s leadership”.

The report is due to be published with reports into the 20 other Birmingham schools under investigation, said the paper.

Following the claims, the Labour party has called for a new inspection requirement for state schools to deliver a “broad and balanced” curriculum.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt has demanded answers about what Mr Gove knew about the claims following reports that concerns were raised with his department as far back as 2010.

He accused Mr Gove and Mrs May of “gross incompetence” in the wake of claims that Islamist extremists attempted to influence teaching in a set of schools in Birmingham.

Gove presses ahead

Undeterred by the public rancour over the spat with his Cabinet colleague, Mr Gove has pushed ahead with his policy reforms, announcing today that parents will face punishments for failing to ensure their children turn up to school “ready to learn and showing respect for their teacher”.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, he said: “We need to ensure that those parents who don’t play their part in ensuring their children attend school, ready to learn and showing respect for their teacher, face up to their responsibilities.

“We will, later this year, be outlining detailed proposals to ensure parents play their full part in guaranteeing good behaviour and outlining stronger sanctions for those who don’t.”

The Conservatives also plan include a pledge in their general election manifesto to wipe out child illiteracy within a generation.