‘No Trojan Horse extremism links’ Birmingham teachers hear

Birmingham Mail jihadist plotBirmingham City Council officials investigating an alleged plot by Muslim hardliners to take control of schools say they have seen no evidence of links to extremism, BBC News has learned.

But they have found “significant grievances” about governance and leadership, some on a large scale.

Officials were secretly recorded at a meeting with governors and teachers on Wednesday and a copy sent to the BBC. Birmingham City Council did not comment as the investigation is ongoing.

Education watchdog Ofsted and the Department for Education are also looking into the claims.

More than 20 schools in Birmingham are being investigated after a letter, apparently sent to someone in Bradford, claimed a Muslim faction had sought to gain influence over schools and remove staff who were not sympathetic to its religious agenda.

Wednesday’s meeting was held to give an opportunity for teachers and staff from the schools who have featured in the investigations to speak directly to Birmingham City Council’s chief executive, Mark Rogers, and Peter Hay, its director of children’s services.

Although they are not directly controlled by the local education authority, representatives from academy schools were also present.

The meeting was taped by one of the attendees and the recording has been sent to the BBC, as well as other media organisations.

It is clear from the tone of the meeting that the authority is frustrated by the lack of information it has received from Oftsed and the Department for Education.

The meeting was told that the council’s plans to publish interim findings of its own investigation, led by Ian Kershaw, had been delayed until the first week of June.

That is at around the same time that Ofsted will publish the reports of inspections carried out at 21 schools in the city.

The city will not see any advance copies of the results of the Ofsted inspections, but will receive the overview reports the night before they are made public.

Mr Rogers warned those present to expect a “firestorm” when the reports were published, and to prepare for “significant structural changes” within the education department as a result of the findings.

Mr Hay said that the council had uncovered nothing which indicated any extremist links at any of the schools but many significant “grievances” related to what he described as “HR issues”, some of which were long-standing and on a large scale.

The teachers and governors expressed a number of worries. Some schools felt the Ofsted inspection process had been unfair.

Another said that it had never been told why it was being investigated, and could only guess that it was because one of its governors had links to another school which had been subject to the alleged plot.

Many at the meeting expressed unease at the appointment of the former head of the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Unit, Peter Clarke, as an education commissioner to run a separate investigation for Education Secretary Michael Gove.

One person described Mr Clarke as “the witch-finder general”, but the council said it was happy with his appointment, that he was the right man for the job and there would be no duplication between the parallel inquiries.

Birmingham clearly expects to come in for as much criticism, if not more, than any individual schools, and said that a separate Ofsted inspection into its Children’s Services Department, which has been rated as inadequate for five years, will be published at the end of May.

BBC News, 10 May 2014