27 Jun 2014

‘Trojan horse’ schools launch ‘kids first’ campaign

Home Affairs Correspondent

Parents and governors from schools rated “inadequate” by Ofsted in the “Trojan horse” investigation met this week to launch a new campaign. But star of the show was a five-year-old boy called Ben.

Oldknow Academy (Getty Images)

A number of schools that were rated as inadequate by Ofsted in the recent “Trojan horse” investigations have begun legal challenges against the findings.

Parents, governors and residents have launched a campaign called “Putting Birmingham’s Kids First”, and last night they packed out a community centre for its first meeting. The hall was overflowing, with around 700 people.

Although there is much anger in the city, and a feeling that Muslims are being targeted unfairly, the meeting was often humorous. And although the list of speakers included parents, politicians and trade union reps with a history of campaigning, in the end it was a five-year-old boy who won a standing ovation.

Exposed to ‘radicalisation’

First up was Shabina Bano, chair of the parents’ association at Oldknow Academy (pictured below). She spoke passionately about the effect the inspections had had on her primary schoolchildren. “They never knew words like radicalisation, but have now been exposed to them.”

(My children) never knew words like radicalisation, but have now been exposed to them. Shabina Bano, Oldknow Academy parent

Oldknow is one of the five schools placed in special measures, and the academy has received a letter from the Department of Education, warning that its funding could be pulled unless it makes changes. The meeting acknowledged that there were issues of governance in the schools. “But we need to de-link this issue from terrorism and radicalisation,” said Salma Yaqoob, former leader of the Respect Party.

Ms Bano had criticised the lack of support from some politicians in the city, saying that many had remained silent when the allegations first broke. Last night, the only MP to speak was Labour’s Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood. She raised a laugh when she started by saying: “You know when you turn on the telly and there’s yet another Muslim story? We’ve had Trojan horses, halal meat, something about being able to catch Islam from Pizza Hut…”

Shabina Bano

Telegraph attacked

There was much criticism of the media and the way the story had been covered. Some parents and teachers felt reporters had been patronising and arrogant. The Telegraph came in for particular comment, with many feeling the paper had crossed a line by publishing what were seen as personal attacks on some governors and teachers.

It is odd and unacceptable that there are things that can be said publicly about Muslims that cannot be said about other communities or religions. Peter Oborne, Telegraph political commentator

And so it was perhaps surprising that one of the speakers who got up onto the stage was Peter Oborne, the paper’s chief political commentator.

He said he could not discuss specific criticisms about his paper. But Mr Oborne, who has written numerous articles about Islamaphobia, won many friends in the city last night when he told the audience: “I think it is odd and unacceptable that there are things that can be said publicly about Muslims that cannot be said about any other communities or religions.”

‘That’s not OK’

Much was said about the impact of the inquiries on the children of Birmingham. And then a five-year-old boy called Ben Jackson got up onto the stage with his mother, Helen. Ben attends a school in Small Heath which is predominately Muslim.

“But that has never been an issue. We are not religious, but we have never felt that mattered to our Muslim neighbours who have always treated us with respect,” his mum told me afterwards. “That’s why Ben wanted to say a few words himself.”

Ben was so small that he could not reach the microphone, and so his mum held him up. “Some people don’t have a religion and some people do in my school. Some people came here from a different country, and that’s OK,” he said to huge applause.

“Whatever they want to eat and whatever they want to wear, and whether they want to play outside or not, that’s OK as well. But it’s not OK for a mean government to tell them they can’t do any of that stuff.”

The little boy won a standing ovation and was undoubtedly the star of the show.