27 Apr 2014

Muslim schools ‘plot’ teacher: ‘I am not an extremist’

Communities Editor

A senior teacher connected to an alleged Muslim plot to take over a number of Birmingham schools tells Channel 4 News there was a campaign to employ more Muslim teachers – in order to raise standards.

The teacher, who works at one of 25 Birmingham schools currently under investigation over “Operation Trojan Horse”, spoke exclusively to Channel 4 News under a condition of anonymity.

Mikaeel – not his real name – wanted to address disturbing allegations that, in the heart of Birmingham’s Pakistani community, a hardline, conservative sect has plotted to influence the education of thousands of children.

For too long the needs of Muslim pupils were neglected. ‘Mikaeel’

The “plot”, initially brought to light in an anonymous letter, was reportedly aimed at imposing strict interpretations of Islam in secular schools in Birmingham – accusations that raise uncomfortable questions for modern Britain, at time when the prime minister has tried to assert Britain’s Christian heritage.

Mikaeel, a senior teacher at one of the schools who has spoken out against the wishes of his employers, told me that this claim is simply not true.

He is not, he tells me, an “extremist.”

“This term, the ‘Islamification of schools’ – some people think it means imposing sharia law,” he says.

“But to our community it simply means making sure the needs of Muslim pupils are being met, eg. by providing halal meat.”

‘Pupils were neglected’

But he does admit that there was a campaign to get more Muslim teachers and governors into schools. This, he says, was a response to the under-achievement of schools in predominantly Muslim areas.

We have to accept that these are schools with a majority Muslim population and the curriculum should reflect that. ‘Mikaeel’

Many were rated as inadequate, he says, and so they began to actively recruit teachers and governors. One of their aims was to meet the needs of Muslim pupils but, he insists, this isn’t evidence of extremism.

“For too long the needs of Muslim pupils were neglected,” he tells me. “It’s about understanding why, for example, Pakistani girls or Somali boys are under-achieving and then getting their parents on board.

“So, for example, re-assuring parents that if their children do PE they will get changed in separate changing rooms – what’s wrong with that?”

‘Not… more Islamic’

However, there have been some worrying allegations – that girls have been forced to sit at the back of the classroom, that sex education has been banned, that extremist preachers have been invited to address school assemblies.

The story has raised important questions about how far secular, state-funded schools should accommodate religious practices. It has also brought into question the regulation of academies. Many of the schools involved are no longer under the control of the local authority.

I asked Mikaeel if he understood why non-Muslims might feel uncomfortable about schools pushing the needs of a religious minority.

He said: “If they have been reading about this in the papers then yes – even I’d be scared and uncomfortable.

“But we have to accept that these are schools with a majority Muslim population and the curriculum should reflect that. It’s not about making them more Islamic.”

He points out that many parents in the community support the schools, which have turned themselves around after decades of underachievement.

Some feel that there is an agenda against Muslim professionals who are trying to raise standards. The results of the first of three inquiries are expected within a fortnight.