9 Jun 2014

Ofsted finds ‘culture of fear’ at Birmingham schools

Education watchdog Ofsted says a culture of fear and intimidation has developed at some Birmingham schools inspected following claims of a hardline Muslim plot.

Five schools are being placed in special measures after Ofsted judged the schools as inadequate. The schools were inspected after claims that school governors were taking over establishments in order to push a hardline doctrine.

In an advice note released at the same time as reports into 21 schools, Ofsted says: “A culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of the schools since their previous inspection.

Some of our findings are deeply worrying and in some ways quite shocking. Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted

“Some headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards, said that they have been marginalised or forced out of their jobs. As a result, some schools previously judged to be good or outstanding have experienced high levels of staff turbulence, low staff morale and a rapid decline in their overall effectiveness.”

The note goes on to say: “Some headteachers reported that there has been an organised campaign to target certain schools in Birmingham in order to alter their character and ethos.

“The evidence shows that governors have recently exerted inappropriate influence on policy and the day-to-day running of several schools in Birmingham.

“In other schools, leaders have struggled to resist attempts by governing bodies to use their powers to change the school in line with governors’ personal views.”

Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response. David Cameron

The report also criticises Birmingham City Council, which it says has “failed to support a number of schools in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalisation and extremism.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief executive of Ofsted, has also spoken about the “deeply worrying” and “quite shocking” findings of Ofsted inspectors.

“Some of the schools we inspected are undoubtedly doing well, not just academically but in preparing their students to live and prosper in modern Britain,” her said.

“However we found that in other schools, children are not being encouraged to develop tolerant attitudes towards other faiths and other cultures. Boys and girls are not always treated equally and although exam results are often good, the curriculum has become too narrow, reflecting the personal view of a small number of governors rather than the wider community in Birmingham and beyond.”

‘Not doing enough’

The Education Funding Agency (EFA), which carried out parallel investigations to Ofsted in Birmingham, found evidence of efforts to persuade its inspectors that a wider range of religious teaching was on offer in at least one school.

The EFA’s report on Oldknow Academy in Small Heath will make clear that staff told inspectors “they had been instructed to add Christianity to learning because of our visit”.

The agency’s report will say EFA inspectors were told by two staff members that an assembly on Easter and Christianity had been put on “especially for our benefit” and a timetabled literacy lesson at the school was switched for a religious education lesson on Christianity.

Previous Ofsted inspections of five of the Trojan Horse schools, rated good or outstanding in 2012 and 2013, gave one or two days’ notice. The latest inspections of these schools were carried out with less than 30 minutes’ notice – and the schools were found to be inadequate.

‘Protecting our children’

In response to the EFA report, Prime Minister David Cameron has called for Sir Michael Wilshaw to look into stepping up the use of snap inspections.

Mr Cameron said: “Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response.

“The education secretary will now ask Sir Michael Wilshaw to look into allowing any school to be inspected at no notice, stopping schools having the opportunity to cover up activities which have no place in our society.”

Mr Cameron recently had to slap the wrists of both Mr Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May after they publicly feuded over the government’s handling of the Trojan Horse allegations.

Mr Gove issued a public apology and Theresa May’s closest aide resigned after the Home Office and education department began briefing against each other.

‘Normal school’

However one of the educational trusts at the centre of allegations, Park View, has hit back at the Ofsted reports – saying that that the school had been “misrepresented”.

Park View Education Trust, which runs three of five schools that will be placed in special measures following the snap inspections, hit back at claims that it was “in some way linked to or complicit in promoting extremism”.

This is a normal state school like thousands of other across Britain – 98 per cent of our pupils just happen to be Muslims. British Muslims. Lee Donaghy, Park View

Dave Hughes, vice-chair of the Park View Education Trust, said the school had been “misrepresented” and that the trust would be “challenging these reports through the appropiate legal channels”.

“The problem here is not extremism or segregation or religious indoctrination,” he said in a statement. “The problem is the knee jerk reaction of some politicians.”

‘Part of Britain’

Lee Donaghy, assistant principal at Park View, said: “This is a normal state school like thousands of other across Britain – 98 per cent of our pupils just happen to be Muslims – British Muslims.”

He added: “This school is part of Britain and Britain is part of this school.”

In a letter to Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw, the trust said criticism of Park View was “laced with Islamophobic sentiment” and asked for a re-inspection of the schools “under a climate that is far removed from the fallacious insinuations of radical and extremist plots that have provided the context for the current set of inspections.”

‘Flawed findings’

However, members of the schools community had said that politics is playing to large a role in the investigation of the Birmingham schools – and say the education of pupils is being damaged.

The Hands Off Birmingham Schools campaign, led by former Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob, says the inspections were carried out in “a climate of political and media hysteria”.

Ms Yaqoob said the community was united in rejecting what she called “Ofsted’s flawed findings”.

She said children who were undergoing Sats and preparing for their GCSE exams had been subjected to a “deeply intrusive” set of snap inspections, ordered by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

What Ofsted said: five schools in special measures

Park View School Academy of Mathematics and Science
"The academy's work to raise students' awareness of the risks of extremism is inadequate."
"External speakers have not been vetted properly. For example, those who speak to students as part of a programme of Islamic-themed assemblies."
"There are few opportunities for students to learn about different types of beliefs and cultures in the older year groups."
"Staff believe that governors involve themselves inappropriately in the running of the academy."
"Some staff feel intimidated and are fearful of speaking out against changes."

Nansen Primary School
"Governance, safety, pupils' cultural development, equal opportunities and the teaching of religious education are all inadequate."
"The governing body and senior leaders do not adopt effective strategies that develop pupils' awareness of the risks of extremism or radicalisation."
"Leaders do not sufficiently develop pupils' understanding of the different customs, traditions or religions that exist in Britain. This does not prepare pupils adequately for life in modern Britain."
"Many staff are fearful of losing their jobs if they challenge the governing body's decisions."
"Pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam."

Golden Hillock School
"Too little is done to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views."
"Staff views are polarised about the leadership of the school. Some female members of staff complained to Her Majesty's inspectors that at times they are spoken to in a manner which they find intimidating."
"Teaching is inadequate. Classes have frequent changes of teacher because the turnover of teaching staff has been high."

Oldknow Academy
"Leadership and management are inadequate. The chair and other governors exert too much control over operational matters in the academy."
"A small group of governors is making significant changes to the ethos and culture of the academy without full consultation. They are endeavouring to promote a particular and narrow faith-based ideology in what is a maintained and non-faith academy."
"The academy is not adequately ensuring that pupils have opportunities to learn about faith in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultural and religious traditions."
"Behaviour and safety are inadequate because pupils and staff are not equipped well enough to deal with the risk of extreme or intolerant views."

Saltley School and Specialist Science College
"Governance is inadequate. Many of the governors refuse to accept that the school is in a state of crisis. The governing body interferes with the day-to-day running of the school and undermines the work of senior leaders."
"The governing body has spent the school budget unwisely. For example, they have paid private investigators to interrogate the emails of senior staff, spent £55,000 unnecessarily on the services of a private solicitor and paid for meals in restaurants."
"The chair and vice-chair of the governing body are unaware that staff are divided, that morale is low and that an increasing number of staff have decided to leave. Groups of staff do not work well together. Some staff feel intimidated by their colleagues and feel that they cannot talk freely."

Ms Yaqoob, a Birmingham mother and former city councillor, added that teachers’ careers and reputations were “being ruined by a politically-motivated campaign to discredit both our schools and our city”.

She has called on Mr Gove to “listen to the voices of the children, parents and community in Birmingham”.

“We are standing up for multicultural education in this diverse city which is inclusive of all our children,” she said. “We totally reject Ofsted’s actions and conclusions.”

The Operation Trojan Horse investigations began after the publishing of an anonymous letter, which is now widely regarded to be a hoax.