Leyla, 10, and Odane, 11, were busy briefing their constituents on what they had achieved since being elected as MPs. The pupils explained how they had helped to raise cash to get some treatment for a six-year-old who had suffered a stroke. Now they were turning their attention to introducing the concept of fair trade to their school tuck shop.
Welcome to the Oasis Academy Hobmoor in the Yardley suburb of Birmingham which has just won praise from education standards watchdog Ofsted for the way it ensures British values are taught in its school, in a city scarred by the “Trojan Horse” affair.
One of its key initiatives has been the setting-up of a pupils’ parliament, with two MPs elected from every classroom. Pupils have to put their names forward to stand as candidates, draw up a manifesto and make a speech outlining what they will do if elected.
Some then become ministers – charged with looking after different aspects of school life – and two are elevated to first minister, the equivalent of prime minister.
The pupils stand as themselves – rather than represent any particular party – and both Leyla and Odane had to fight off challenges from rivals before they could take up their seats.
The class elected us because we gave a speech saying what we wanted to do,” said Leyla.
The elections, introduced for the first time last September, are scheduled to become an annual event in the school’s calendar.
“They have to listen to the voices of their constituents, once elected,” said the school’s principal, Paul Tarry, who has been in the post since the school became an academy two years ago. “There are 28 MPs, representing Year 1 [four- and five-year-olds] up to Year 6 (10- and 11-year-olds).
“The school uniform is blue but the MPs wear a mauve sweater. Creating a pupil voice in this school is a big thing for us.”
The school parliament has been instrumental in helping the school tackle issues such as democracy in the UK and the way Britain governs itself. The school is aiming to arrange a trip to London for its pupils, so they can see how the real Parliament works.
It was the situation in Birmingham over the “Trojan Horse” letter – alleging there was a plot by hard-line Islamists to take over the running of 20 of the city’s schools – that brought the teaching of British values to the fore. Former Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted all schools should be inspected on the way they taught such values to their pupils.
Five schools were declared “inadequate” as a result of an Ofsted investigation into the allegations. But the furore never reached Hobmoor, a 500-pupil school that shares a similar intake to those that were caught up in it. Of its 500 pupils, 50 per cent are British-Pakistanis, 15 per cent Bangladeshi-British and 15 per cent white British
“About 70 per cent of our children are Muslim,” said Mr Tarry, “and it’s been like that for several years now. I guess it would have been pretty different 25 years ago.”
The school had been declared “inadequate” while it was under local authority control, and was placed under the auspices of an executive head and headteacher of a neighbouring national support school. They managed to lift the school out of Ofsted’s “special measures” category and achieve a “good” rating.
With Mr Tarry’s ideas for further improvements impressing inspectors, it has continued its revival. Since his arrival, the school has become oversubscribed.
Now it is run by Oasis, which operates 44 academies throughout the country – all of which adopt a Christian ethos but are not schools of any particular faith, so do not have a bias in their admissions policies towards regular churchgoers.
“I’m not a Christian myself,” said Mr Tarry, “but the Muslim parents like the Christian ethos.
“I don’t mind it [what we teach] being called British values – they are pretty universal values that anyone could sign up to.”
The school is also keen to promote a cultural awareness of the city they live in among the pupils, and in its latest report on the school, Ofsted said: “Pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is well cared for. The school reinforces pupils’ understanding of British values well.”
Hobmoor was rated “good” by Ofsted – so it appears to be in an ideal position to help some of its fellow Birmingham schools to impart the “British values” now demanded by the body.Reuse content