Exclusive: Fresh doubt over Michael Gove’s version of ‘Trojan Horse’ affair

School head claims Education Secretary’s advisers were told of ‘plot’ four years ago

Whitehall Editor

Michael Gove’s handling of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair was under fresh scrutiny last night after it emerged that one of his closest political advisers attended the key meeting four years ago at which concerns were raised about Muslim hardliners trying to take control of Birmingham schools.

Elena Narozanski, then one of only two special advisers to the Education Secretary, was told in a 2010 meeting that Muslim governors were trying to destabilise headteachers and dictate the direction of secular state schools.

Afterwards she is said to have told one of the participants that she intended to raise the issue with Mr Gove and said “how interested” he was in the subject. Details of her involvement cast doubt over Mr Gove’s claims on Monday that he was unaware of the warnings received by his department years before the matter became public.

Ms Narozanski and Lord Hill, who is now Leader of the House of Lords and who was  also at the meeting, are both likely to be asked about what they knew and who they told as part of an inquiry by the Department for Education’s Permanent Secretary. Ms Narozanski is no longer employed by Mr Gove or the Department. The revelation comes from Tim Boyes, head of Queensbridge School in Birmingham, who was asked to attend the two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the Department for Education in December 2010.

He has previously revealed that he gave a presentation describing how staff and governors at one secondary school had formed an alliance to “destabilise the head” while at another school a “bloodless coup” was orchestrated.

But in an email to the shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt, Mr Boyes has now revealed that Ms Narozanski was also at the meeting along with Lord Hill.

A poster protesting against Michael Gove is displayed outside Oldknow Academy, one of the Birmingham Schools at the centre of the 'Trojan Horse' affair (Getty) A poster protesting against Michael Gove is displayed outside Oldknow Academy, one of the Birmingham Schools at the centre of the 'Trojan Horse' affair (Getty)
“There were various people present, but for most of the time the dominant presence was Elena Narozanski who was then a personal adviser to Mr Gove,” he wrote.

“At the end of the meeting she escorted me out of Sanctuary Buildings [the headquarters of the DfE] and told me how interested in this subject Mr Gove was.

“She said he would be very interested to hear what I had to say and asked if I would return for a ‘round table meeting with the Secretary of State’, asking if I could bring some others from Birmingham with me.”

The second meeting is understood not to have taken place.

Mr Hunt said last night that it was an “act of gross negligence” that no action was taken. “Michael Gove’s department – indeed his own adviser – received stark warnings about the problems in Birmingham schools four years ago,” he said.

“It is an act of gross negligence that his department took no action, leading to the mess we have today. Worse, Michael Gove’s response to the findings by Ofsted has been weak and inadequate. The school system is too open, too exposed to falling standards and undue influence.

“There is a complete lack of local oversight in the school system. Labour would end this, introducing new local directors of school standards to spot and root out problems before they set in.”

A DfE spokesman said last night that Mr Gove was “not at the meeting” nor was he “informed about its content”. He did not respond to questions about whether Mr Gove had separately been informed about the issues raised as a result of it.

In another difficult day for Mr Gove, he also had to deny claims by the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, that he had previously vetoed plans for unannounced inspections of schools – which he now claims to support.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools in England (PA) Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools in England (PA) He was also criticised implicitly for his response to the Birmingham crisis by his cabinet colleague and faith minister Baroness Warsi, who suggested that the government response to the problems in Birmingham could be stoking up community tensions.

Lady Warsi said there was a difference between Islamic extremism and religious conservativism – despite Mr Gove’s repeated suggestions that what went on in Birmingham was extremism.

At the weekend Mr Gove was forced to apologise after a bitter public row between his department and Theresa May’s Home Office over who was to blame for allowing the rise of extremism in schools. The row also led to the resignation of Ms May’s special adviser Fiona Cunningham.

When did you know about the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair? What Gove said

On Monday, Michael Gove was asked in the House of Commons about the ‘Trojan Horse plot’. In response to a question from Labour’s Tristram Hunt, he said:

“The Hon Gentleman asks about meetings between the Department for Education and the Birmingham headmaster Tim Boyes in 2010. I can confirm that I was not at that meeting, nor was I informed about its content. That is why I have asked the permanent secretary to investigate, and I have also asked him to look at other occasions before 2010 when warnings were reportedly given. The Hon Gentleman has previously alleged that I was warned by Mr Boyes in 2010 and did not act; that is not the case and I hope that he will make it clear in the future and withdraw that allegation.

“The Hon Gentleman asks about local oversight of all these schools... when Tim Boyes raised these issues in 2010, all these schools were facing local oversight from Birmingham city council, and as Sir Michael Wilshaw has concluded, Birmingham city council failed. As Ofsted makes clear, repeated warnings to those charged with local oversight were ignored. It was only after my department was informed about the allegations in the Trojan Horse letter that action was taken, and I thank Birmingham city council for its cooperation since then.”

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