A Birmingham headteacher whose school was among 18 in the city inspected as part of an investigation into alleged infiltration by Muslim fundamentalists has described the experience as harrowing.
Christine Quinn, the executive principal of Ninestiles academy, in Acocks Green, confirmed that Ofsted inspectors commissioned by the education secretary, Michael Gove, had visited the school before the Easter break.
She said the inspectors had insisted they had not received any complaints or concerns about the Birmingham school, which received Ofsted’s highest rating of “outstanding” last October, but that she understood it was in the context of investigations into Operation Trojan Horse, an alleged Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham. The visit was a surprise, she said, and “somewhat harrowing, in that it was unlike any other inspection”.
The inspectors checked whether the school taught citizenship and sex education, she said. “They were trying to establish whether we had the mechanisms in place to know if elements of radicalism or extremism were in our school, and whether we knew how to recognise it, and that we had an extensive policies on citizenship, personal, social and health education – those sort of things – to counteract any such elements.”
Inspectors also wanted to know how Quinn could be sure that any guests invited to speak at the school were bona fide and that teachers could not “sneak them into a lesson unnoticed”. In addition, the Ofsted representatives wanted reassurance that the school carefully monitored who it let rooms to, and which charities benfited from pupils collecting during bake sales and other fundraising drives.
Quinn said she had yet to receive the inspection report after the inspectors’ visit, but “the sooner all the reports are published, the better for all schools in Birmingham”.
Other schools investigated in recent weeks have complained about the behaviour of Ofsted inspectors.
Officials at the Department for Education, and Ofsted, are under investigation over leaks in the Trojan Horse inquiry. Birmingham council’s leader, Sir Albert Bore, said the Cabinet Office was investigating the unauthorised release of information to a national newspaper. He spoke after reports in the Telegraph claimed that six city schools were to be put into special measures following the Trojan Horse inquiry.
In a letter sent to the Guardian this week, Mohammed Ashraf, a governor at Golden Hillock school, complained that inspectors had asked strange questions, such as “if a child said he was gay what would the school do?” and “who leads your Friday prayer?” He said: “Many of the questions seemed strange in comparison with a normal Ofsted. It became apparent during the interview, no matter what was said, the inspectors [had] already decided to condemn the school.”
Ashraf added: “What hope do we have with future appointments of governors from the local community if they are to be branded ‘hardliners and Islamists’ if the schools perform well? This will certainly deter many people in inner-city communities giving up their free time and joining governing bodies. Many see the whole issue as racist, to have another dig at Muslims before a general election.”
Roger King, the National Union of Teachers executive member for Birmingham, said at the weekend that some NUT members had complained that the inspectors had asked inappropriate questions, such as “asking the staff, ‘are you homophobic?’, asking the girl pupils who didn’t happen to be sitting next to boys, ‘are you made to sit in different places?'”
Birmingham’s city council leader, Bore, on Wednesday confirmed the names of 18 schools inspected by Ofsted in recent weeks at Gove’s behest. All were in central or east-central Birmingham, which has a high concentration of south Asian immigrant families, particularly Pakistani Muslims. Many were judged outstanding last time Ofsted inspectors visited, before the claims of an organised plot by hardline Islamists called Operation Trojan Horse that boasted of “taking over” schools in Birmingham and running them on “strict Islamic principles”.
The “outstanding” schools included Waverley, which Quinn previously told the Guardian had been targeted by Muslim hardliners 10 years ago when she worked there. Waverley was also recently subject to a snap inspection despite being judged by Ofsted as “outstanding” in late 2012. Another secondary, Small Heath, was also given Ofsted’s top rating last summer. Other top-rated schools subject to the recent emergency inspections included Regents Park primary (judged outstanding by Ofsted in November 2011), Oldknow academy, in Small Heath, (given an “outstanding report last January) and Park View academy, labelled outstanding in 2012.
Tahir Alam, chair of governors at Park View, was named as one of the alleged plotters in an unsigned document purporting to outline Operation Trojan Horse. He denied the allegations and called the document a “malicious hoax” too readily believed by an Islamophobic media.
Another school inspected as part of Ofsted’s inquiry into Operation Trojan horse was Saltley school and specialist science college, whose Sikh head, Balwant Bains, quit at the end of last year. Friends of Bains have told reporters he was ousted by Islamic fundamentalists though he has yet to comment publicly. An earlier emergency Ofsted report in November last year, just before Bains left, said “the dysfunctional relationship between the governors and the headteacher is damaging the school’s capacity to improve”.
On Wednesday Ofsted published a report into Montgomery primary academy, one of the 18 schools, which was inspected on 20 March. The report says the inspection was triggered because of concerns about the school’s predecessor school, Montgomery primary, which turned into the academy in October 2012. Then, an interim executive board was brought in to replace the governors and overhaul the school leadership. The latest Ofsted report said the school was “making reasonable progress in raising standards for all pupils”.
Another snap inspection was made in March of Ladypool primary school after concerns about management at an earlier inspection. Both the Montgomery and Ladypool inspections were unrelated to Trojan Horse. However Ofsted says inspectors have been back to both Montgomery and Ladypool primaries in recent weeks at Gove’s request to investigate allegations of Islamist extremism.
The other schools inspected by Ofsted in recent weeks, according to Bore, were: Welford primary in Handsworth (judged as good by Ofsted in 2013), Adderley primary school in Saltley (judged good in January 2012), Alston primary in Bordesley Green East (judged inadequate in 2013, with an emergency inspection in January saying the school was “making reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures”), Golden Hillock in Sparkhill (judged as requiring improvement, in 2013), Gracelands nursery school (deemed good in May 2013), Highfield junior and infant school (which was said to require improvement according to the June 2013 Ofsted), Marlborough junior school in Small Heath (judged good last June) and Nansen primary (judged satisfactory in 2010).