The Guardian’s Adams continues to squirm and obfuscate over ‘Trojan horse’

April 17, 2016 at 8:58 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, communalism, Education, Guardian, homophobia, islamism, media, misogyny, Racism, relativism, religion, sexism, SWP)


Above: Adams

By Champagne Charlie

Last Friday’s Guardian carried a piece by Education editor Richard Adams headlined “Ofsted Inspectors upgrade Birmingham school in ‘Trojan horse’ scandal to good”.

The piece begins “The school at the centre of the Trojan horse scandal has been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted inspectors, two years after allegations of an Islamist plot to infiltrate education made national headlines.”

The inattentive reader could be forgiven for thinking that it has now been shown that there was no Islamist plot and the allegations against senior teachers and governors at the school have been disproven. It is only when you read on, that it becomes apparent that Adams is writing about the school as it now is, under a new leadership team, the previous Islamist leadership having been removed. Even so, Adams feels it necessary to throw in one of his typical weaselling half-truths: “allegations of a city-wide plot were never substantiated and are thought to be a hoax.”

It’s time the facts of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair that have been established beyond reasonable doubt (sources can be checked on Wikepedia, from which I’ve drawn extensively) were set out clearly, if only to counter the torrent of downright lies, half-truths and obfuscation that continues to emanate from Mr Adams, the SWP and elements within the NUT.

The ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter was leaked to the press in early March 2014. It is an anonymous document, purporting to be from an Islamist in Birmingham, advising a fellow Islamist in Bradford, on how to take over schools and impose an Islamist agenda. Early on, most informed commentators expressed the opinion that the letter was probably a fake, created by someone who wished to draw attention to alleged Islamist influence in Birmingham schools.

The author of the letter claimed responsibility for installing new headteachers at four schools in Birmingham, and identified 12 others in the city which would be easy targets due to large Muslim attendance and poor inspection reports. It suggests encouraging parents to complain about a school’s leadership with accusations of sex education, forced Christian prayer and mixed physical education, with the aim of obtaining a new, Islamist, leadership. It was also suggested that once successfully taken over, schools should apply for Academy status so as to have a curriculum independent of the Local Education Authority. The author described the plan as “totally invisible to the naked eye and [allowing] us to operate under the radar”.

Despite widespread doubts about the provenance of the letter, Birmingham’s education commissioner Sir Mike Tomlinson stated his belief that what the letter described was happening “without a shadow of doubt”.

Ofsted began an investigation in March 2014 and concluded that there had been an”organised campaign to target certain schools” and that head teachers had been “marginalised or forced out of their jobs”. Golden Hillock School, Nansen Primary School, Park View School  (all run by the Park View Educational Trust), Oldknow Academy and Saltley School were placed in special measures after inspectors found systemic shortcomings including the schools having failed to take adequate steps to safeguard pupils against extremism. Another school investigated, Alston Primary, was already in special measures. A sixth school was labelled inadequate for its poor educational standards and twelve schools were found needing of improvements. Three schools were commended.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw accused Birmingham City Council of a “serious failure” in protecting children from extremism. Sir Albert Bore, then the Council Leader, said he accepted the Ofsted findings that schools in the city were failing pupils. A government report, commissioned by the Ministry of Education, written by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan police’s counterterrorism command, found “no evidence to suggest that there is a problem with governance generally” nor any “evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham,” but said that there was “evidence that there are a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, sympathise with or fail to challenge extremist views,” and that there had been “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained” attempts “by a number of associated individuals, to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos” into “a few schools in Birmingham.” The report found that senior council officials and elected members were apparently aware of these issues, but dealt with them on a case-by-case basis rather than making “any serious attempt to see if there was a pattern,” though it is not clear whether this was due to concern for “community cohesion,” an “issue of education management,” or appeasement.

Several governors at the effected schools, together with the Muslim Council of Britain, denounced the reaction of the authorities to the alleged plot as a “witch-hunt” and sections of the left (notably the SWP) stepped up their campaign to brand all criticism of the schools as “islamophobia.” Doug Morgan, an SWP member who was also President of the Birmingham National Union of Teachers stated that there had been a “racist attack in our schools”. Salma Yaqoob, a former Respect leader and councillor, set up a group named “Hands Off Birmingham Schools” in the aftermath of the inspections, saying that they were influenced by “a climate of political and media hysteria”.

Those who sought to dismiss concerns about Islamist influence in the schools as “islamophobia” and a “witch-hunt” were aided and abetted throughout by the Guardian and, in particular, by that paper’s Education editor, Richard Adams.

All the Graun‘s coverage concentrated upon suspicions about the provenance of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document, rather than the question of whether or not the allegations of an organised Islamist campaign to take over some Birmingham schools, were actually true. The logic put forward by the Graun was that because the ‘Trojan Horse’ document may well have been a hoax, therefore the claims made in it must, of necessity, be untrue: an argument that simply doesn’t follow, if you give it a moment’s thought. At times, the Graun and Adams, seem to have been acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the ultra-reactionary Islamist Tahir Alam, Chair of governors at Park View School, and influential at its sister schools Golden Hillock and Nansen. Adams even wrote a glowing report of a visit to Park View, that was clearly arranged, organised and supervised by Alam himself!

In June 2014, as the Ofsted reports into the 21 schools were about to be published, showing that concerns about six of them were well-founded, Adams pre-empted publication, with a typical piece of his evasion, double-speak and waffle in the Graun. The article’s wretched nadir must surely have been this:

“The tranche of reports on 21 state schools, which could be published as early as this week, say there was scant evidence of religious extremism on a daily basis in classrooms, with most criticism reserved for school management and cases of overbearing behaviour by school governors.

“Ofsted’s inspectors appear to have been unable to find much evidence of claims of homophobia or gender discrimination, which have been alleged by anonymous former teachers at some of the schools” (emphasis added).

Adams obviously thought he’d found a powerful ally when former chief education Officer of Birmingham, Sir Tim Brighouse,  put his name to a letter in the Guardian attacking the Ofsted reports; interestingly, as the evidence has mounted, no more has been heard from Sir Tim.

Adams adopted exactly the same approach to the two subsequent reports, both of which broadly supported allegations of a plot:

An investigation ordered by the government found a “sustained, co-ordinated agenda to impose segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline, politicised strain of Sunni Islam” in several Birmingham schools. The investigation found that there is “no evidence to suggest that there is a problem with governance generally” nor any “evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham,” but said that there was “evidence that there are a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies, who espouse, sympathise with or fail to challenge extremist views.” It found that a number of governors and senior teachers had been promoting a form of Islamism or Salafism. It identified the Muslim Council of Britain and the Association of Muslim Schools as organisations “[stemming] from an international movement to increase the role of Islam in education”.

Peter Clarke, a former counterterrorism chief conducted the investigation which examined gathered 2,000 documents and generated 2,000 pages of interview transcripts from 50 witnesses, including former headteachers, teachers, council staff and school governors. He said some of the witnesses had been very nervous and anxious. He found “very clear evidence” that young people were encouraged to “accept unquestionably a particular hardline strand of Sunni Islam that raises concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future.” It described the ideology being promoted as: “an intolerant and politicised form of extreme social conservatism that claims to represent and ultimately seeks to control all Muslims. In its separatist assertions and attempts to subvert normal processes it amounts to what is often described as Islamism.”

The investigation obtained 3000 messages, spanning 130 pages of transcripts, of a private WhatsApp discussion between a group of teachers at Park View School called the Park View Brotherhood. The report stated the messages showed that the group had “either promoted, or failed to challenge, views that are grossly intolerant of beliefs and practices other than their own.”

The discussions contained: “Explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston Marathon bombing and a constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-America and anti-Israel sentiment.” “The group promoted links to extremists speakers that betrayed “an Islamist approach that denied the validity of alternative belief” and that some group member believed that the murder of Lee Rigby was staged and encouraged other members to promulgate this view.

Figures in the group included Park View Headmaster Mozz Hussain, Deputy Head of Nansen Primary Razwan Faraz (brother of convicted terrorist Ahmed Faraz) and Shahid Akmal, the Chairman of Governors at Nansen. In a discussion on 5 February 2014, Samir Rauf, a teacher at Oldknow and governor at Small Heath School, revealed that the group’s favoured candidate had become the head teacher at Small Heath. Nasim Awan, a governor at Springfield, said that the “first agenda item” should be to apply for Islamic assemblies at the secular school. Faraz replied by saying that the new head “has to establish herself with minimum controversy for first six months”, also referring to starting an eventual “Islamising agenda”, but at the same time ensuring that the new head does not become a “coconut” in the process. Another participant in the discussion said that “JEWS” (emphasis in original) were making websites with false information on the Quran, while Akhmed Hussein, Deputy Head of Carlton Bolling College in Bradford wrote “Al-Islam will prevail over all other ways of life. Look at how [the] Muslim population is increasing in the UK.”

Birmingham City Council also announced an investigation into the allegations, to be led by Ian Kershaw, a former Headteacher . Kershore’s report concluded that school governors and teachers had tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values and found evidence of extremism in 13 schools. It said that “manipulative” governors had been determined to introduce “unacceptable” practices and to deny students a broad and balanced education. It found evidence that the “five steps” to destabilise a school’s leadership, as outlined in the original Trojan Horse letter, were “present in a large number of the schools considered part of the investigation.” It said evidence pointed to a group of “British male governors and teachers, predominantly of Pakistani heritage”.

The investigation, however, did not find evidence of a “conspiracy” to promote “violent extremism or radicalisation”, though it has never been clear what exactly Kershore understood by “radicalism” or, indeed, “conspiracy”.

Kershaw stated that the council had been “slow to respond” to allegations in the letter and said there was “culture within of not wanting to address difficult issues and problems with school governance” for risk of incurring accusations of racism or Islamophobia.” The report said that the extremism went unchallenged as the council prioritised community cohesion over “doing what is right”.

The report found that attempts were made to introduce Sharia law in schools. There were posters in schools warning the children that if they didn’t pray, they would “go to hell”. Girls were taught they could not refuse sex with their husbands, and would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn” if they did. Teachers taught the children at Park View Academy that “good” Muslim women must wear a hijab and tie up their hair.  In an incident that was referred to counter-terrorism police, a teacher told the pupils at the Golden Hillock school “not to listen to Christians as they were all liars”. Another teacher told the children that were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.”

At Nansen School, Islamic religious assemblies were introduced and Christmas and Diwali celebrations were cancelled. The study of French was replaced by Arabic. At the Oldknow academy, children were asked whether they believed in Christmas and encouraged to chant “no we don’t” in response. The pupils were told at an assembly not to send Christmas cards and that Mary was not the mother of Jesus.[12]

Kershaw revealed to MPs at the Commons select committee on education in September 2014 that at one school “a film about violent extremism” was shown to the children.

In January of this year the National Council for Teaching & Leadeship (NCTL), the government’s professional standards body, barred former Oldknow Academy Head Jahangar Aktar indefinitely, having accepted evidence that he’d removed sex education from the curriculum and banned celebration of Christmas and Diwali.

The Birmingham Post reported  the story thus:

The former headteacher of a Trojan Horse-linked school in Birmingham has been handed an “indefinite” teaching ban – but could be back in the classroom in five years time.

Jahangir Akbar , the former acting principal of Oldknow Academy in Small Heath, was last month found guilty of professional misconduct following a hearing by the government-run National College for Teaching & Leadership (NCTL).

Now the Department for Education has revealed the 38-year-old has become the first teacher in Britain to be sanctioned for allowing an “undue amount of religious influence” on pupils’ education.

Since then the NCTL has heard several other cases, and banned two more teachers. One Park View teacher, though the charge of anti-Semitism in the classroom was upheld against him, has been allowed to continue teaching.

It is now clearly established that some teachers and governors in some Birmingham schools were promoting racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia gender segregation, creationism and Islamic fundamentalism and seeking to indoctrinate children with their bigotry. But still the likes of Adams, the SWP and influential people within the NUT remain in denial.

7 Comments

  1. kb72 said,

    The Guardian did a long article with a reporter on site showing how cuddly & tolerant the school was, and, as you say, stressing the “hoax” then a few weeks later switched around entirely, taking up the general line that bad things were going on. So it’s switched again?

  2. kb72 said,

    I see that you mention that article in your piece. Should have read with more attention.

  3. Redbridge said,

    For more academic versions of the SWP line, see online sociology journal Discover Society. As the scandal was unfolding it carried several articles on what it called Trojan Hoax, for example http://discoversociety.org/2014/07/01/operation-trojan-horse-how-a-hoax-problematised-muslims-and-islam/

    Points made in other articles about decentralisation, academisation and neoliberal reforms are good, but they should be much stronger on drawing the link between these ‘reforms’ and the ability of fundamentalists to influence schools.

  4. Steven Johnston said,

    Loving his name ” Sir Albert Bore, then the Council Leader”. With a name like that he was truly the man to lead Birmingham city council.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Socialist Worker made virtually the same observation when Bore stood in the European elections in the mid-70s.

    • Glasgow Working Class said,

      Steven, reminds me of that village in Perthshire, Dull twinned with Boring!

  5. Lamia said,

    Thanks for bringing this up again, Jim. The Guardian’s whitewash of this affair has been truly creepy and flatly dishonest.

    “former chief education Officer of Birmingham, Sir Tim Brighouse, put his name to a letter in the Guardian attacking the Ofsted reports; interestingly, as the evidence has mounted, no more has been heard from Sir Tim.”

    Well-spotted. Brighouse was quickly out of the trap to denounce the investigation, and offered as credentials for his supposedly expert knowledge of the state of Muslim education in Birmingham… reminiscences of how he used to go for meals at a Balti restaurant with some religious leaders, where he had not heard anything that sounded untoward. Fancy that. Multiculinarist idiocy indeed. The idiot has not had the integrity to admit that he got it wrong.

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