Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw takes charge of Birmingham ‘Islamist’ schools inquiry
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Sunday 20 April 2014
The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is to take personal charge of the investigation into claims that Muslim hardliners have taken over a number of schools in Birmingham and begun segregating boys and girls in class.
Sir Michael, the head of the educational standards watchdog Ofsted, will visit Birmingham this week to oversee inspection reports on 25 schools in the city visited following the allegations.
His decision coincides with complaints that Ofsted inspectors visiting the schools were asking teachers “inappropriate” questions.
Roger King, a Birmingham executive member of the National Union of Teachers, said one inspector had told a teacher: “We’re failing your school because it’s not teaching anti-terrorism and therefore there is a safeguarding issue.”
Mr King added that schoolgirls had been asked why they were not sitting next to boys. He claimed that, even before inspection reports had been completed, some of the schools had been told by inspectors: “We’re failing your school.”
Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said such an approach was a clear breach of inspection guidelines and that she would be raising the issue with Ofsted.
Mr King said the questioning was “not what Ofsted is there for” and raised concerns over the objectivity of the inspections.
Earlier, in a debate at the teaching union’s annual conference in Brighton, Douglas Morgan, a Birmingham delegate, said both pupils and staff in inspected schools had been asked by Ofsted inspectors: “Are you homophobic?”
He added: “There may well be things that need to be investigated but they don’t have to be investigated by the person who led the inquiry into the 7/7 bombings in London.” This was a reference to the decision by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to appoint Peter Clarke, the former head of the Counter Terrorism Unit of the Metropolitan Police, to head an inquiry into the allegations. That decision has also been criticised by the West Midlands police.
Mr Morgan said that the investigation, sparked by an anonymous letter claiming Islamists were engaged in a plot to take over the running of schools in the city, was “all about demonising Muslims”.
Mr King said there were “some concerns” that needed to be investigated. These included complaints that governors had overstepped the mark in becoming involved in the day-to-day decisions about running schools, rather than leaving those up to the headteacher. However, he said this need not necessarily be confined to governing bodies run by Muslims.
He said he had not personally received any complaint about boys and girls being segregated or subjected to “inflammatory Islamic assemblies”. Sunday’s developments followed a newspaper report that up to six of the 25 schools inspected were likely to be failed by Ofsted, with inspectors citing “inadequate” leadership and management as the reason.
The Sunday Telegraph claimed a further nine of the schools had been told they “require improvement”. Only one had been given a completely clean bill of health.
The report quoted a source as saying: “Almost all of the reports to a greater or lesser extent are pointing out flaws in leadership, management or safeguarding driven by an Islamist political ideology. Sometimes the flaws are slight, in some cases they are very severe ... Those to be put in special measures are those where [radical] governors are effectively running the school.”
Delegates at the NUT conference are expected to have an emergency debate on the issue this week.
Three investigations have been set up into the allegations: one by Ofsted, one by the Department for Education and one by Birmingham City Council. The Ofsted inspection reports are expected to be published next month.
A spokeswoman for Ofsted 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."
If a school was dissatisfied with an inspection, it could lodge an official complaint.
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