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Education News

Why Conservatives failed the test on Islamic schools

Richard Garner explains how the Tory leader's attack on the Government has unravelled

Conservative Party officials made two basic errors in their attack on two schools said to be run by a radical Islamic group, it emerged yesterday.

During Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday and in briefings afterwards the Conservatives claimed there was no evidence that the schools had been registered or inspected by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog; they also said the schools had received money from an anti-terrorism fund. But yesterday the claims were beginning to unravel. The most obvious mistake was the allegation that they appeared not to have been registered or inspected.

In fact, one of the two schools – in Slough, Berkshire – had posted a glowing commendation from Ofsted on its website. The report was easily accessible by Googling the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, and its veracity could be confirmed with Ofsted.

It praised the school for its "broad and balanced curriculum" and for its commitment to the "spiritual, moral, social and cultural development" of its 55 four- to 10-year-old pupils.

The second error, over the allegation that state finance from a fund designed to combat terrorism was being channelled into an extremist school dedicated to the overthrow of Western culture, was perhaps more serious.

The waters here were slightly muddier, although the Conservatives were mistaken again. Money from a government fund was paid to both schools – the second is in Haringey, north London – but the £113,000 concerned came from a fund designed to promote nursery education and distributed by local councils; the fund just happened to have the same name, Pathfinder, as the anti-terrorist fund.

Haringey council suspended funding when the controversy over the running of the two schools broke a month ago. An official inquiry has found "no evidence to suggest inappropriate content or influence in the school".

Slough council said it was satisfied with its school, citing the Ofsted report in the school's defence.

A third allegation concerned the extent of Hizb ut-Tahrir's involvement with the school. The Government has faced pressure to ban the organisation, which supports "Muslim liberation", for alleged extremist views.

David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, told the House of Commons: "Two schools have been established by an extremist Islamist foundation, the ISF, which is a front organisation for Hizb ut-Tahrir." He added: "Two of its four trustees are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and the headteacher and proprietor of one of the schools [in Slough] are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir."

Farah Ahmed, the head in question, told the BBC she was not a member. The proprietor of the Slough school, Yusra Hamilton, who is the wife of a Hizb ut-Tahrir member, has since resigned as a trustee of the school.

The Haringey school has told the local council it no longer has links with "any of the individuals alleged to have connections with Hizb ut-Tahrir".