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

4  Lessons for the DfE


42. Four of the five schools placed in special measures in Birmingham were academies (three as part of the Park View Educational Trust). Some commentators questioned whether the rise of academies made it easier for governors to change the ethos of a school, unchecked. For example, Sir Tim Brighouse commented:

    The arrival of academies and free schools has created an open season for lay people and professionals keen to pursue their own eccentric ideas about schooling: and when trust or governor vacancies occur, some perpetuate the very English tradition of inviting friends to join them. When the community is white it doesn't cause much comment. In mono-ethnic east Birmingham, however, it is seen as a Muslim plot to expose pupils to an undefined "extremism". [46]

43. This view was supported by an anonymous Birmingham head, also writing in the Guardian, who reported his/her own observations about how colleagues in other schools had been "marginalised, ignored, belittled and patronised" and in some cases forced out of jobs, before concluding:

    This isn't really about Islam: it's about how academies make it easy for governing bodies, a chair of governors, or a sponsor with an agenda-religious or otherwise-to completely undermine school leaders. There is simply no one stopping them.[47]

44. The DfE was criticised by both Ian Kershaw and Peter Clarke for the speed at which academy chains had been allowed to expand. Ian Kershaw recommended that "BCC, in consultation with the DFE, should review the process of due diligence in determining the suitability and capacity of a multi academy trust as a sponsor of a maintained school converting to academy status".[48] Peter Clarke told us that the process was currently "opaque" and that, in the case of Golden Hillock which had been sponsored by Park View Educational Trust, "no-one could actually set out for me a very clear timeline of decision-making, rationale and so on".[49]

45. Sir Michael Wilshaw told us in July 2014 that "There is a big debate to be had about how increasingly autonomous schools are going to have effective oversight".[50] In his statement to the House a month earlier, Mr Gove undertook to "work with Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure, as he recommends, that we can provide greater public assurance that all schools in a locality discharge their full statutory responsibilities".[51] He also stated that "one of the things that is clear from the action that has been taken in schools today is that academies and, for that matter, free schools, are subject to a higher level of accountability than local authority schools".[52] On 22 July Nicky Morgan was only slightly less categorical: "The expansion of the academy programme has been one of the great success stories of this Government, and the actions of a small number of individuals will not divert us from that path".[53] She told us: "I do not accept the premise that it is because of academisation that these problems happened. It is because of certain individuals that these problems happened".[54]

46. The Government nevertheless accepted Mr Clarke's recommendations that the process for academy conversion needed to be reviewed. Nicky Morgan told the House on 29 January that:

    Since Peter Clarke's report was published, my department has strengthened the process for converting to academy status or joining a multi-academy trust. New checks are now done on prospective trustees. Regional Schools Commissioners decide convertor applications using local intelligence, with help from local Headteacher Boards.[55]


47. The Trojan Horse Review Group asserted in their report that "the central challenge emerging from [Kershaw's] investigation and related matters is the credibility and transparency of the framework within which school governors operate." [56] Both Kershaw and Clarke found the behaviour of governors to be at the heart of what had occurred, leading to a series of recommendations on improving governance in schools. Ofsted came to similar conclusions and advised the Secretary of State on action to be taken to address common issues with regard to governance, including mandatory training, the introduction of professional governors and the publication of Registers of Interest.[57]

48. The DfE has responded to the recommendations by revising the Governor's Handbook to ensure that governors are aware of their responsibilities and the skills required and to address issues of whether governors have the capacity to serve in more than one school. The handbook now also advises all schools to publish information on their governing bodies on their websites.[58]

Whistle-blowing and warnings

49. One of the facts which emerged quickly from the Trojan Horse story was that the difficulties faced by the schools had been brought to the attention of Birmingham City Council and the DfE on several occasions prior to the receipt of the anonymous letter which precipitated the current investigations. In consequence, all the inquiry reports referred to the need for improvements in how information from whistle-blowers and more general warnings are handled by the agencies involved.

50. Peter Clarke recommended that BCC, the DfE, Education Funding Agency and Ofsted should review their respective channels for raising issues of concern, and that "The Department for Education should ensure that the receipt of sensitive complaints forms part of the new Regional School Commissioners' responsibilities, and that the Regional Schools Commissioners are able to refer complaints and concerns to the relevant agency for further investigation".[59] Sir Michael Wilshaw called for a review of whistleblowing procedures for all schools, including academies, and within local government and central government.[60]

51. The Clarke and Kershaw reports both referred to the importance of improving how information is shared between all those bodies which have responsibility for oversight of schools. For example, Ian Kershaw pointed out that Ofsted focusses on school governors in terms of support and challenge for the leadership of the school and their ability to improve school performance but not on their conduct more generally—"Ofsted does not inspect good financial management, the quality, breadth and balance of a school's curriculum offer to students, or the adequacy of governance generally". This leaves a "fundamental gap" and makes it vital that Ofsted, BCC, the DfE and the EFA gather and share information.[61] However, Mr Kershaw noted that "It is not possible to discern a relationship between BCC, Ofsted, the DfE and the Education Funding Agency in the process of sharing critical data and intelligence".

52. Peter Clarke added: "It seems that if you have got a structure that is inevitably split because of the range of agencies and departments involved, you need to make sure that information is shared in a timely and efficient manner across them."[62]

53. In her July 2014 statement, Nicky Morgan suggested that the new head teacher boards "will be the best people for teachers to turn to in the first instance" when issues emerge in their schools.[63] The DfE is putting in place new measures to address whistle-blowing, including improvements to the process for schools staff and the public to contact the Department and extending legal protections for staff making whistle-blowing allegations.[64] Its January 2015 update also set out the role of the Regional Schools Commissioners in handling and responding to safeguarding concerns and working with local authorities, Ofsted and others to ensure that all complaints and concerns are identified and reported to the DfE.[65]

Appointment of education commissioner

54. Following the publication of the Clarke report, the DfE announced that a new education commissioner would be appointed for Birmingham, reporting jointly to BCC and the Secretary of State. Nicky Morgan added in her statement that "If we are unable to make rapid progress with those new arrangements, I will not hesitate to use my powers to intervene further".[66] The appointment of the new education commissioner was considerably delayed and it was not until 24 September-two months after the statement-that it was announced that Sir Mike Tomlinson would take up the role. The Secretary of State explained to us that "it took time to find the right person over the course of the summer and to negotiate with them and their release from other activities".[67]

Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division

55. The DfE was the first Whitehall department to set up its own counter-extremism unit when the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division (DDCED) was established in late 2010 "to deliver DfE's commitments in the government's Prevent strategy, and to carry out financial and non-financial due diligence on those applying to set up free schools".[68] The unit works "to ensure that children and young people are safeguarded from extremists and extremist views in schools or in out-of-school-hours learning, and stop young people from becoming radicalised […] or acting on extreme views".[69]

56. In June 2014 the DDCED had 20 members of staff, some of whom were supporting the work of the Education Commissioner in his inquiry into Birmingham schools.[70] Mr Gove told the House on 9 June 2014: "Unreported and under-appreciated, [the unit] has prevented a number of extremist or unsuitable organisations from securing access to public funds". [71]

57. Peter Clarke was critical of the DDCED in his report. He told us:

    If the division wants to fulfil what its title suggests it should be doing, which is due diligence and counter-extremism, it needs to improve its capacity to actually mount an investigation […] I was surprised to find that actually, the department is not well-equipped at the moment to be an investigative body and to carry out its role of ensuring due diligence around a whole range of issues. I would suggest that it needs to up its game.[72]

58. In response to the Clarke report and the subsequent Wormald review, the DfE has acted to strengthen the Division. The Secretary of State told the House that she had "increased my Department's capacity and expertise in counter extremism—dramatically expanding the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Group in the DfE and placing it under the leadership of a full-time Director".[73] The complement of staff at the time of the Wormald review had grown to 25; following that review it is to be increased to 36.[74] Other measures include introducing a system for staff across the DfE to refer concerns about extremism to the DDCED; introducing a case handling system within DDCED for warnings received; establishing a Counter Extremism Steering Group; requiring briefing for all Deputy Directors on extremism; and introducing monthly reports from the DDCED to the DfE Management Committee on cases received and action taken.[75]

59. We suggested to the Secretary of State that she might consider publishing an annual report on the priorities and activities of the DDCED. She was enthusiastic about the proposal, responding "Certainly. It is always good to make clear to people what it is there for and what it has been doing".[76]

Conclusions and recommendations

60. Our recent report on academies and free schools addresses many of the issues of oversight which have arisen in the context of the Trojan Horse inquiries.[77] The greater autonomy of academies makes it easier for a group of similar-minded people to control a school. While it should be remembered that several of the governors criticised in Birmingham were local government appointees, the DfE needs to be alert to the risks of abuse of academy freedoms of all kinds and be able to respond quickly.

61. It is vital that information is shared effectively between the various bodies responsible for oversight of schools. This was a problem in Birmingham and the DfE needs to keep its new arrangements under review to ensure that they are working well.

62. The recent steps taken to strengthen the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division are welcome, all the more so for being overdue. The unit should also have a higher profile. We recommend that the Secretary of State make an annual written ministerial statement on the priorities and achievements of the DDCED.

46   "Trojan horse affair: five lessons we must learn", The Guardian, 17 June 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

47   "A Birmingham head: Trojan horse is not about Islam, it's about academies", The Guardian, 17 June 2014, accessed 3 March 2015 Back

48   Kershaw report, p.21 Back

49   Q208 Back

50   Q26 Back

51   HC Deb, 9 June 2014, col 266 Back

52   HC Deb, 9 June 2014, col 280-1  Back

53   HC Deb, 22 July 2014, col 1250 Back

54   Q405 Back

55   HC Deb, 29 January 2015, col 1017 Back

56   Trojan Horse Review group report, p.10 Back

57   HMCI: Advice note provided on academies and maintained schools in Birmingham to the Secretary of State for Education, 9 June 2014 Back

58   Implementation of recommendations from "Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the 'Trojan Horse' letter", DfE, 29 January 2015, p.7 Back

59   Clarke report, p.85 Back

60   HMCI: Advice note provided on academies and maintained schools in Birmingham to the Secretary of State for Education, 9 June 2014 Back

61   Kershaw report, p.14 Back

62   Q206 Back

63   HC Deb, 22 July 2014, col 1258  Back

64   Implementation of recommendations from "Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the 'Trojan Horse' letter", DfE, 29 January 2015, p.3 Back

65   Ibid Back

66   HC Deb, 22 July 2014, col 1248 Back

67   Q359 Back

68   Memorandum from the Department for Education Back

69   Ibid Back

70   Ibid Back

71   HC Deb, 9 June 2014, col 269 Back

72   Q226 Back

73   HC Deb, 29 January 2015, col 1017 Back

74   Wormald Review Back

75   Wormald Review Back

76   Q447 Back

77   Education Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2014-15, Academies and free schools, HC 258 Back

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Prepared 17 March 2015