‘Extremism’ in schools – why the Tories backed off

November 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm (Champagne Charlie, Education, islamism, religion, Tory scum)

Yesterday the Tories were making a lot of noise about the alleged influence of the extreme Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahir in two independent Islamic schools, and the alleged ‘fact’ that the schools had received £113,000 between them in funding from the government’s Preventing Violent Extremism fund. The schools – one in Slough and the other in Haringay, had also not been “properly” registered or inspected by Ofsted, said Cameron.

Gordon Brown and schools secretary Ed Balls hit back, accusing Cameron and his education secretary Michael Gove of “playing politics” with education and of getting their facts wrong. No “anti extremism” public funds had gone into either school; the schools had been inspected in 2007 and had been found to be meeting the required standards. Balls, in a letter, claims that the 2007 and subsequent inspections found no evidence “to support allegations that the schools are teaching antisemitic or anti-western values” or were using public funding to “further Islamist aims”, as Gove had alleged.

This is, of course, all a smokescreen: note what Balls does not deny: that Hizb ut-Tahir (via its front organisation the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation) set up both schools, and still runs one of them (the Slough school, where the head teacher/proprietor, Farah Ahmed, is either a member or very close supporter of Hizb). Meanwhile, Haringay Council have stated that the school in their borough has written to them, “stating that it no longer has any links with any of the individuals alleged to have connections with Hizb ut-Tahir” (my emphasis – CC) .

Cameron and Gove got it wrong about the £113,000 coming from the Preventing Violent Extremism fund; the money actually came from the Pathfinder fund to pay for nursery education (confusingly, part of the PVE fund is also called Pathfinder – which is presumably the cause of Cameron’s mistake). But the fact remains that schools with a strong link to the vicious, racist clerical fascists of Hizb-ut Tahir are not only allowed to exist, but are actively encouraged and have have received state funding in Britain today.

Yet Cameron and the Tories appear to have now shut up about the matter, meekly admitting their (minor) mistake about the Pathfinder fund. Why?

Could it possibly be that with the line of attack over the Prevention of Violent Extremism fund pulled from under him, Cameron was loath to pursue the far more important issue of why religious nutters and racists are allowed to set up schools in the first place? After all, Cameron and Gove’s only objection to New Labour’s academies programme is that it doesn’t go far enough and too many restrictions are placed upon prospective sponsors; like New Labour, they’re all in favour of faith schools; and now they’ve discovered the so-called ‘Swedish model’, whereby all manner of parents groups, charities and religious nutters will be allowed to set up schools with a minimum of supervision.

Michael Gove’s  Tory  conference speech on education policy was well described by the education commentator and working teacher Francis Gilbert; note Gilbert’s comment that under the Tories “every crackpot fundamentalist group – from extreme Islamists to creationist Christians – will be setting up educational institutions”: I think that comment alone explains why Cameron and Gove have gone all quiet about Hizb ut-Tahir…

“Throughout his speech, he referred to the Labour initiative of academies as a panacea for our educational ills. If in power, the Tories would enable any school to become an academy. In this sense, this flagship policy is no different from Labour’s.

“What both parties have not mentioned though is that the academy programme is far from a proven success; while there are some good ones, increasingly Ofsted, parents and teachers are blowing the whistle on some pretty terrible academies. There are currently 40 academies that are failing to meet the government’s benchmark figure of 30% five A*-C grades at GCSE. In other words, a high proportion of these so-called great schools are really sink schools. Since Gove has promised in his first 100 days to sack the managements of such failing schools, he could find himself in the embarrassing position of disbanding a great many of the very schools that he wants to see more of.

“Most troublingly, his promise to create 20,000 extra school places by enabling parents, charities, religious groups and businesses to set up schools at the drop of hat could well mean that every crackpot fundamentalist group – from extreme Islamists to creationist Christians – will be setting up educational institutions. Gove, like this current government, is very supportive of faith schools, sending his own children to one. I believe this will create massive secular divisions in our society at a time when we really need schools to bring our society together, not fragment it even more.”

11 Comments

  1. Laban said,

    But … pretty much everywhere you look, faith schools – certainly Christian and Jewish ones, I don’t know about Islamic – are better schools than secular ones – results are better, behaviour is better, the kids are happier.

    The Guardian has been taking a poke at faith schools since 1997 – but Labour won’t lay a finger on them. Even they aren’t that stupid.

    Have you actually got any kids, Charlie ?

  2. Voltaire's Priest said,

    Comment #1 – how to miss the point, in one easy lesson.

  3. Shuggy said,

    pretty much everywhere you look, faith schools – certainly Christian and Jewish ones, I don’t know about Islamic – are better schools than secular ones – results are better, behaviour is better, the kids are happier.

    Pretty much everywhere? Do come to Glasgow, Laban – see how you like the ‘ethos’ in our faith schools.

  4. Shuggy said,

    Have you actually got any kids, Charlie ?

    Apologies in advance to the editors here because you did, as was pointed out, rather miss the point of the post. This is therefore off-topic but I have to ask: what’s with playing the personal experience card? I’ve got kids – or one rather. There’s no question of him going to a faith school because apart from anything else, it isn’t the faith schools that get the best results in Glasgow. Why do you think that is? Here’s my personal experience card. Was jus counting them there: I’ve taught in twenty-three schools in Glasgow and Lanarkshire – and eight of them have been ‘faith schools’. Have you even visited that many, Laban?

  5. maxdunbar said,

    On the one hand, Laban is always going on about how Muslim immigrants are taking over England.

    On the other, he approves of Hizb-run schools.

    What’s going on, Laban?

  6. voltairespriest said,

    Quite, Max.

  7. Matt said,

    At one level, it’s a meaningless debate: if you’re in favour of secular education and kids not being segregated along religious – in practice racial – lines, then it doesn’t matter how many top grade exam results faith schools are producing. However, even on its own terms it’s a false argument: faith schools in many areas are also socially selective because it is middle-class parents who have the time to attend Mass and volunteer to run activities in the parish that then gives them priority in admissions. They also have the money to pay for extra tuition, resources etc which gives their kids an educational advantage rather than any innate intelligence or the ‘special ethos’ of faith schools.

  8. Jim Denham said,

    Shuggy:

    http://modies.blogspot.com/2009/11/faith-in-faith-schools.html

    “Even if it could be shown that the religious nature of a school had a positive influence on results, the evidence from the league tables is absolutely unequivocal: compared to the impact class has on educational outcomes, the effect ‘ethos’ has is so marginal that it is almost completely insignificant. But none of this will have the slightest impact: regardless of evidence, people will continue to have faith in faith schools. It is only to be expected from people of a religious disposition but I really wish the non-religious would stop making evidence-free arguments in favour of religious schooling.”

  9. Jim Denham said,

    Typically wise comment from Shuggy (Note to Volty: why isn’t he (or even she) on our blogroll?

    Faith in faith schools
    David Cameron, being badly briefed, made a bit of a tit of himself by claiming in Parliament that a Slough school run by some extremist Islamist outfit had received government money. Turns out, though, that one of the school’s trustees is in fact a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir but any wider point about the poor monitoring of faith schools was lost because of Cameron’s mistake.

    But a wider point has been lost in the details of the case, which is that a political consensus between the major parties that supports ‘faith schools’ is bound to produce instances where extremists of various confessional divisions slip under Ofsted’s radar and have influence on the running of schools. It doesn’t help that any inspections system has to operate in a political culture where the content of religion is unimportant – what seems to matter is only that it is held.

    Shiraz Socialist argues that the Tories are incapable of making this point since it is they who have, even more than Labour, faith in faith schools – which is why they’ve indicated that if they come to power, England will see many more of them.

    Couple of point here. I’ll be brief because I’m repeating myself but I’m always struck by the way believers make utilitarian arguments for religion in schools. The results are better, they promote cohesion, their discipline is better because of something they usually call ‘ethos’. They never say faith schools are better because they set aside space in the timetable for religious instruction and don’t expose their children to the evils of teaching about contraception and abortion. Why so coy?

    The utilitarian arguments are repeated so often, even non-believers have come to believe them – yet there is precious little evidence to support them. Having taught in eight different ‘faith schools’ in Glasgow and Lanarkshire, I’ll dismiss as absurd the idea that they promote social cohesion.

    But what of the better results argument? The league tables – at least those in Scotland – provide precious little evidence for this, showing instead that the most prosperous councils, such as East Renfrewshire and Edinburgh, have the best performing schools. The poorest – Glasgow – makes no appearance in the top fifty.

    It could be argued – it has in the thread below this post, for example – that all other things being equal, religious schools perform slightly better.

    Firstly, I’d like to see some evidence for this – in particular exactly how all other variables have been held constant because from experience, I can’t see how this can be done. Even in the shittiest areas of Glasgow, the religious schools have a more genuinely comprehensive intake simply because their catchment is wider.

    In Glasgow’s peripheral and impoverished housing estates, absolutely no-one who doesn’t live in the schemes sends their children to the schools that serve them. In my experience, this never happens in Catholic schools but where it comes close, the results and discipline are just as poor as the non-denominational comps.

    But there’s no need to labour the point because even if it could be shown that the religious nature of a school had a positive influence on results, the evidence from the league tables is absolutely unequivocal: compared to the impact class has on educational outcomes, the effect ‘ethos’ has is so marginal that it is almost completely insignificant. But none of this will have the slightest impact: regardless of evidence, people will continue to have faith in faith schools. It is only to be expected from people of a religious disposition but I really wish the non-religious would stop making evidence-free arguments in favour of religious schooling.

    On a related point, while the council has no schools in the top fifty, it is in fact a Glasgow school that comes first in the entire country. It is the only one that operates independently of the city council. Since it is also the only state school in the entire country that is outside local government control, it’s obviously impossible to detect a pattern but it seems unlikely that its position in the league tables has nothing to do with this. Been in this gig for ten years and have listened to people going on about the incompetence of the council. And I’ve done a fair amount of this myself. But I’m increasingly of the view that the reason the education department is such a shambles is simply because it has acquired too many functions. Even if you got rid of the deeply-entrenched culture of nepotism, you’d still be left with this problem: no-one could run it competently because the task it sets for itself is just too big and complex to be managed from the centre.

    Posted by Shuggy at 10:47 AM

  10. Tom said,

    In Laban’s world, if you don’t have kids, you can’t comment on the education system.

  11. sara said,

    ritee tom u r rigth..!!!

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