A Muslim-majority academy at the centre of a row over alleged Islamic fundamentalism in Birmingham is the victim of a “witch-hunt”, a governor at the school has claimed.
David Hughes, a trustee and governor at Park View school in Birmingham for more than 15 years, said the secondary was under attack “under the pretext of concerns about extremism and threats to the education of pupils”.
In recent weeks the school, in the Alum Rock area of the city, has been subject to emergency investigations by the schools inspectorate Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency (EFA).
According to Liam Byrne, the local Labour MP, the inspections were triggered by “serious” complaints from former and present staff. There were reportedly concerns over financial mismanagement and alleged extremist preaching during assemblies. “When allegations are made, they need investigating. We can’t just ignore them,” Byrne said.
But Hughes, who is a Christian, accused the Ofsted team of giving “every indication of having no wish other than to condemn the school – even the outstanding features.”
Writing in the school’s spring newsletter, Hughes claimed “in all my time as a governor we have not received a single complaint about ‘extremism’ or ‘radicalism’. If we had we would have investigated it openly and thoroughly.”
Lee Donaghy, an assistant head at the academy, last month complained on Twitter about the allegedly inappropriate behaviour of the inspectors. Donaghy claimed Ofsted representatives asked teachers if they were “homophobic” and made jokes about the number of male Muslim staff members.
This week he also hit out at Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood, who recently claimed “there has been a serious bid to take over most of the schools in the east and south of the city.”
Mahmood on Tuesday joined Byrne and the eight other Birmingham MPs demanding that the education secretary, Michael Gove, launch a rapid full inquiry into claims that extremists conspired to take over city schools.
Donaghy asked on Twitter: : “How can somebody so utterly lacking in judgement & fairness as Khalid Mahmood justify their position in public life?”
An anonymous source told the Sunday Times in March that the school had spent £70,000 for “playground loudspeakers to summon pupils to Islamic prayers”. An unnamed former teacher told the Sunday Telegraph that another senior teacher at the academy “repeatedly endorsed the terrorist ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki at school assemblies”.
The school maintains: “The speakers were £900 and part of a PA system in the school hall, the cost of which did not exceed £10,000. The speakers are primarily used for functions rather than call to prayer.”
Hughes said in the newsletter that Park View “strongly denies” any endorsement of al-Awlaki.
Tahir Alam, chair of governors at the school, blames the snap inspections on an unsigned letter outlining an alleged Islamist plot to “take over” secular state schools in Birmingham.
Dubbed “Operation Trojan Horse”, the four-page document purported to be a “how to” guide for hardline Islamists wanting to commit jihad by overthrowing headteachers at state schools in Birmingham and beyond, and replacing them with compliant leaders who would run the schools on “strict Islamic principles”.
It also alleged that the Park View Trust – which runs Park View and two other nearby schools, Nansen primary and Golden Hillock – planned to take over further schools.
Byrne told constituents in a blogpost : “It is important that you know [that] the allegations which triggered the latest inspections were made by former and present staff at Park View, along with parents, and were made BEFORE the so-called Trojan Horse letter appeared in the press.”
Park View denies any involvement in such a plot. Police are investigating whether it is a hoax connected to an employment tribunal involving one of the schools named in the letter.
Writing to parents, Hughes defended the school, which he claimed is “the most successful school of its characteristics in Birmingham”.
“Fifteen years ago, when I first became a governor, the school was a much different place,” wrote Hughes. “Less than 20% of pupils were gaining five A*-Cs and in one year just one out of 90 pupils gained a grade C or above in maths. Just one! A lot of us found that completely unacceptable and made it our business to make a concerted, sustainable change.”
In 2013, 75% of pupils gained five A*-C grades at GCSE including English and maths, despite 72% of pupils being eligible for free school meals.
He acknowledged that there was room for improvement at Park View, just as at any other school, and that the governors had initially hoped the inspectors would provide constructive criticism. “However, I strongly suspect that is now very unlikely,” he said. “The revisit of the inspection team gave every indication of having no wish other than to condemn the school – even the outstanding features.”
Bitter staff blamed for school ‘smears’
A trustee of a school at the centre of claims of infiltration by Islamic extremists has blamed some of the allegations on embittered ex-staff and complained of a “witch hunt”. David Hughes, a director of the trust that runs Park View School in Birmingham, also attacked Ofsted by suggesting inspectors arrived with an agenda to condemn the academy.
His comments, in an open letter published in the school’s spring term newsletter, represents a change of tactics in its media strategy. Previously all its comments about the controversy were made by Tahir Alam, the chair of governors, who was accused in an anonymous letter of involvement in a plot to destabilise and take over nearby schools to introduce hardline Salafist Muslim practices. Mr Alam has vehemently denied such claims.
Mr Hughes made a point in the newsletter of describing himself as a practising Anglican and said that, when he first became a governor at the school 15 years ago it made no recognition to the fact that 90 per cent of pupils were Muslim. He was proud, he said, that it now served Halal food, had prayer facilities, allowed girls to wear headscarves and offered collective Islamic worship.
He accused critics of a “witch hunt” against the most successful school of its kind in Birmingham. Mr Hughes also appeared to confirm reports that two recent Ofsted inspections last month will be highly critical. “The revisit of the inspection team gave every indication of having no wish other than to condemn the school – even the outstanding features,” he wrote.
Unusually he referred by name to two ex-teachers at the school, Michael White and Nigel Sloan, who have expressed concerns about an Islamic agenda.
“Unfortunately some of those former staff members who are now sharing fictitious accounts with the media are the very same staff whose performance and expectations of pupils proved that they weren’t along for the journey,” Mr Hughes wrote. “If they had shown the same enthusiasm for making sure their pupils got a good education as they have for smearing the school in the media, Park View would have been a much different place.”
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “Inspectors are required to uphold the highest professional standards in their work and to ensure that everyone they encounter during inspections is treated fairly and with respect. These standards are assured through a code of conduct. Any concerns that a school has about the inspection should be raised during the inspection. If concerns have not been resolved, individuals or schools can raise a formal complaint with Ofsted in line with our published complaints policy.”