Criticisms directed towards Ofsted in light of the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal warrant headlines. The lack of extremism or radicalisation found in any report (apart from a single isolated incident) nor any evidence of a sustained plot (in Birmingham or nationwide) to overtake schools warrants headlines.
So what was the one serious example? A film promoting violent jihadism was shown in one classroom and the teacher avoided reprimand. Unacceptable but the committee agreed that one example did not justify headline claims of that students were exposed to extremism by teachers. As the report noted:
“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”. We agree”.
But a lack of headlines that address the impacts upon pupils in Birmingham is noteworthy. In light of the forensic media and political interest, Park View Academy saw the number of pupils achieving five or more A* to Cs (including maths and English) drop to 58 per cent (down from 75 per cent in 2013). Senior sources at Golden Hillock reported a similar drop (from 52 per cent to 45 per cent).
The committee heard from Councillor Jones that:
“A lot of the children in the schools affected have had a very difficult time […] There has been relentless negative media coverage of them, their communities, their religion, their schools, in the press, day in and day out”
After the latest Ofsted inspection, published in January 2015, found that Park View failed to make progress towards removing special measures, largely to due to high volume of staff absence, which affected the quality of teaching, alongside the behaviour and progress of students’. Other schools made progress towards ending special measures.
Many of the affected students are from poor ethnic minority backgrounds. At Park View, almost all pupils are non-white and eligibility for the pupil premium (those known to be eligible for free school meals, in the care of the local authority or with a parent or carer in the Armed Services) is well above the national average (72 per cent).
At Golden Hillock, the biggest minority groups are from Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, a very high proportion are eligible for the pupil premium, but just over 50 per cent achieved five A* to Cs at GCSE (including English and Maths) in 2013.
Whilst Nansen Primary School has a majority of pupils from Somali and Pakistani backgrounds, their eligibility for the pupil premium is also well above the national average, many need help just to get free school meals.
The pattern remains the same at Oldknow Academy, where nearly all pupils are from various ethnic minority groups. Eligibility for the pupil premium is twice the national average.
Saltley School also has a higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils and eligibility for free school meals is disproportionately above the national average. Sweeping condemnation might also condemn these vulnerable students.
Confidence in Ofsted was shaken in one respect because ‘inspectors lost objectivity and came to some overly negative conclusions because of the surrounding political and media storm’. Other criticisms questioned the robustness of their initial judgements.
So what did the scandal teach us? For some, the scandal proved a deeply held suspicion that some Muslims promote intolerant, illiberal and potentially illegal views, which left unchecked, risk corrupting the minds of future generations.
That corrupting influence hinted at violent extremism. Instead, extremism became redefined by the non-violent and overreaching hand of religious orthodoxy in non-faith schools (despite a majority of students being Muslim).
Religiosity (in its various agreeable and disagreeable manifestations), when within the law, risks being ‘choked’ by a ‘muscular’ implementation of British values. Universal but not uniquely ‘British’ values remain hotly contested and debated. Implementing these values also caught out other faith-based schools.
But as the report concluded “The children in the schools affected in Birmingham deserve better from all involved”. A crucial point often lost in this debate.