A secular state school in Birmingham is under investigation by education officials for allegedly claiming £70,000 ($115,000) to pay for playground loudspeakers to summon pupils to Islamic prayers.
The inquiry by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) into Park View School, an academy with predominantly Muslim students, is also understood to be examining allegations of nepotism and misuse of funds.
The school sponsors two others in the city and is understood to have had plans to sponsor several more as part of an academy chain.
The EFA, which is part of the Department for Education (DfE), launched its investigation after an allegation by a whistleblower that the amount claimed by Park View for the loudspeakers was far greater than their cost.
“The EFA has been provided with evidence to show that although £70,000 was claimed for the speakers, they actually cost much less than half that price,” a source familiar with the inquiry said.
“So now the EFA will be going through the academy’s financial records from top to bottom. And what’s especially strange is why the speakers, which were going to be used to call kids to prayer, were needed at a non-faith school.”
While declining to comment directly on the allegation that Park View had overclaimed for the loudspeakers, Tahir Alam, chairman of the governors at the academy, said yesterday that they had cost “around £10,000”.
Their “primary use”, he added, is for “functions and performances within the hall, not for call to prayer”.
He said the school was co-operating with the EFA inquiry.
Alam complained: “We are disappointed by any suggestion that detail purported to be part of those confidential investigations is reaching the public domain and media before they have been raised with us and before an official report has been published.”
Earlier this month, an emergency inspection by Ofsted, the education watchdog [Office for Standards in Education], was understood to have found Park View’s leadership and management to be “inadequate” — the lowest of four ratings inspectors can issue.
Staff members were briefed last week about Ofsted’s findings. Ministers could use the report to demand the removal of the governing body or to withdraw funding.
Ofsted officials are set to conduct another inspection at Park View this week. This follows revelations by The Sunday Times last month that the DfE was investigating allegations by a former employee that non-Muslim staff were being sidelined.
The employee also alleged that the academy was attempting to teach Islamic studies despite not being a faith-based school.
Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, urged the DfE to replace the governing body at the academy. “Local council officers have taken their eye off the ball as well. The council has allowed these governors to take over these schools under the radar,” he said.
“Park View was providing children with Islamic studies sessions. Why was it doing that when there are Sunni mosques in the area?
“These governing bodies must now be replaced. Ofsted and the council must take action.”
The warnings from Mahmood follow revelations of an alleged campaign by Islamic hardliners to take over state schools, which is being investigated by Birmingham city council.
The campaign is outlined in a document, Trojan Horse, that purports to be the hardliners’ blueprint. There are suspicions that this was actually written by opponents of the introduction of Islamic practices to state schools in order to trigger an inquiry.
The DfE said yesterday: “Officials from the department are currently visiting Park View as part of ongoing monitoring following serious allegations made in relation to the school.
“Separately, Birmingham city council’s investigation into allegations made in relation to some local authority schools is also ongoing.
“All schools are subject to a tough inspection framework and must meet the high standards and requirements rightly expected.”