Extremism in schools: the Trojan Horse affair - Education Committee Contents

1  Introduction


1. In March 2014 an anonymous document came to light, claiming that schools in Birmingham had been deliberately targeted by Muslims standing as school governors in order to replace school leaders with heads who would adopt a more Islamic agenda in running the schools. The 'Trojan Horse' letter purported to offer advice to communities in other cities as to how this could be done.[1]

2. The document had been sent to the leader of Birmingham City Council in November 2013, with a covering letter (also anonymous) stating that "This letter was found when I was clearing my bosses files and I think you should be aware that I am shocked at what your officers are doing." The letter writer adds "You have 7 days to investigate this matter after which it will be sent to a national newspaper who I am sure will treat it seriously".[2]

3. At least five official investigations were held into the allegations made in the letter, instigated by Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE), the Education Funding Agency (EFA), Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands police. The fallout from these reports is not yet complete: Ofsted is still working with the schools that were put into special measures as a result of its inspections in spring 2014, whilst the latest update from the Secretary of State for Education on the Government's actions to address issues raised was given to the House of Commons on 29 January 2015. Birmingham City Council has agreed an improvement plan which it must now put into action.

4. This is therefore a situation which has received significant amounts of official attention and resources. It has also commanded much media attention and attracted much controversy, not least amongst communities in Birmingham and those affected by the wider implementation of measures introduced in response to the investigations. On this basis, we decided to inquire into extremism in schools and the Trojan Horse affair.

Conduct of inquiry

5. In May 2014 we requested information from Birmingham City Council, Ofsted and the DfE on the terms of reference of their investigations, their scope, mode of operation and timetable, and co-ordination with other investigations. Following this, we took oral evidence in July 2014 from Ofsted, in September 2014 from Ian Kershaw, Birmingham City Council's Independent Adviser, from Peter Clarke, Education Commissioner for Birmingham and from Birmingham City Council and in October 2014 from the new Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, who had replaced Michael Gove MP at the Cabinet reshuffle in July. Many of the issues which arise from the Trojan Horse investigation illustrate wider concerns and we have also drawn upon evidence collected in the course of our other inquiries, particularly that into academies and free schools.

6. Our work has also examined, and benefitted from, the reports produced by Ian Kershaw for Birmingham City Council and Peter Clarke for the Secretary of State.[3]

Scope of inquiry and report

7. All the official investigations into the Trojan Horse allegations agree that the number of schools affected is small and that there is no evidence of widespread extremism in schools in Birmingham or elsewhere in the country. In the summary to his report, Ian Kershaw stressed the need to keep his findings in perspective, stating that "My report deals with a small number of schools where there are concerns and system weaknesses that exist […] The issues covered in my report do not significantly affect the majority of schools in Birmingham and this bigger picture must not be forgotten. […]".[4] Similarly, Nicky Morgan during her statement on 22 July described Peter Clarke's report as showing that "this was a determined effort by a small number of people […] to gain control of a small number of schools".[5] Although Ofsted has investigated allegations of similar practices or of extremism in other forms elsewhere, especially in Tower Hamlets, there is no evidence of a widespread plot to take over schools. In January 2015 the DfE stated that it had "found no area to have the same extent of vulnerabilities in its state schools as Birmingham".[6]

8. All our witnesses also accepted that they had found no evidence of extremism in schools. Sir Michael Wilshaw told us: "We did not see extremism in schools. What we did see was the promotion of a culture that would, if that culture continued, have made the children in those schools vulnerable to extremism because of […] the disconnection from wider society and cultural isolation".[7] Reflecting this, Nicky Morgan told the House on 22 July: "There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism but there is a clear account in the [Clarke] report of people in positions of influence in these schools, who have a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, not promoting British values and failing to challenge the extremist views of others".[8] We heard only one instance to the contrary: Ian Kershaw told us that he had evidence that a film promoting violent jihadist extremism had been shown to children in one classroom and the teacher had not been disciplined.[9]

9. The one example given by Ian Kershaw is clearly unacceptable and action should have been taken by the school to prevent it, but a single instance does not warrant headline claims that students in Birmingham—or elsewhere in England—are being exposed to extremism by their teachers. The Birmingham City Council Trojan Horse Review Group was firm that it did not "support the lazy conflation-frequently characterised in the national media in recent months-of what Ofsted have termed issues around 'a narrow faith based ideology' and questions of radicalisation, extremism or terrorism".[10] We agree.

10. We also note that we have seen no evidence to support claims of an organised plot to take over English schools. We discussed this in some detail with witnesses.

11. In keeping with these findings, our report covers the response of the DfE, Ofsted and Birmingham City Council to the situation and wider lessons for the school system. We concentrate on the processes followed by those responsible for oversight and the recommendations made in the various reports, rather than the detailed accounts of how the Trojan Horse situation came about or what the investigations found.

1   See annex 2 of Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the 'Trojan Horse' letter, HC 576, July 2014 [Clarke report] for text of letter Back

2   Ibid, p 108 Back

3   Investigation report: Trojan Horse letter, July 2014 [Kershaw report]; Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the 'Trojan Horse' letter, HC 576, July 2014 [Clarke report] Back

4   Kershaw, para 4 Back

5   HC Deb, 22 July 2014, col 1252 Back

6   Implementation of recommendations from "Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the 'Trojan Horse' letter", DfE, 29 January 2015 Back

7   Q2 Back

8   HC Deb, 22 July 2014, col 1247 Back

9   Qq175-7 Back

10   Trojan Horse Review Group, Report to Leader of Birmingham City Council, 18 July 2014, p.13 Back

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Prepared 17 March 2015