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.”