MICHAEL GOVE is preparing to send hit squads of inspectors into dozens of state schools where conservative Islamic practices are allegedly damaging children’s education.
The education secretary has ripped up the rule book for inspectors so that they can fail schools where “religious conservatism is getting in the way of learning and a balanced curriculum”.
This means that governing bodies and head teachers of schools judged inadequate on such grounds can be replaced.
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The move is primarily focused on Birmingham where claims that secular schools have been taken over by Islamic hardliners are already being investigated. Similar allegations have now emerged in Bradford and Manchester.
Fifteen schools in Birmingham have been inspected this month by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, at the request of the Department for Education (DfE). The reports, due to be published after Easter, are expected to find a common pattern of problems in some of the schools inspected.
Allegations include the takeover of governing bodies by Islamic fundamentalists, harassment of non-Muslim heads, bullying of female staff and the segregation of girls and boys in lessons.
If enough of the schools are judged “inadequate” by Ofsted, a second wave of snap inspections of state and private schools in the city, many run by Muslim heads, will begin, DfE officials told The Sunday Times this weekend.
“The investigations will be done over several phases over the next few months and will help narrow down the schools that require further investigation by the DfE and those that are deemed OK and not connected to the Islamicisation,” a Whitehall source said. Of particular concern is primary schoolchildren being radicalised and exposed to extremist ideologies.
“Extreme religious conservatism often acts as an entry to later problems,” a DfE source said. “A child who is brought up, age eight, nine, 10, believing that you should segregate the sexes and hand out Islamic textbooks is more likely to be radicalised in later life.”
He added: “In our view female staff being bullied in schools and segregated assemblies are very serious matters.”
So far no evidence is understood to have been found of incitement to terrorism, a criminal offence, although the source said that whistleblowers had alleged that some pupils had been subjected to bullying, which could be a criminal offence if proved. The DfE and Birmingham city council have been inundated with claims about efforts by Muslim governors to impose Islamic practices and squeeze out non-Muslim staff. Last week, the council ordered a freeze on the appointment of any new school governors.
This weekend, Labour MPs blamed Gove for failing to act swiftly over the crisis. Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said: “Michael Gove has demonstrated a shocking degree of complacency. His failure to act on the warning signs is putting the schooling of our children at risk.”
Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill and a former cabinet minister, is among 10 MPs who have written to Gove. “We have not even had the courtesy of a reply,” said Byrne, who also wants an independent review of how governors are appointed. He accused the DfE of failing to supervise academy schools properly, which are a flagship Tory reform and free from council control.
Fresh claims have also emerged in Manchester and Bradford. At Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College and Carlton Bolling College, both in Bradford, there are claims that head teachers have come under pressure from Muslim governors to introduce Islamic practices.
A whistleblower has told The Sunday Times that the new Muslim head at Ladypool Primary School in Birmingham scaled back Christmas celebrations after her appointment in September.
Last month The Sunday Times revealed the existence of a document entitled Operation Trojan Horse that purported to be a blueprint for how to wrest control of schools in Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester.
A police inquiry has begun into the document but its authorship has not been established. One theory is that it was written by those opposed to the introduction of Islamic practices in state schools in an effort to prompt an inquiry.
Park View Academy in Birmingham has been at the centre of the controversy. The academy has faced claims of nepotism and the misuse of public funds, including an alleged claim of £70,000 for loudspeakers in the playground to summon pupils to Islamic prayers.
Two other schools run by the Park View Educational Trust are among the 15 inspected by Ofsted.
While many of the schools involved have a high number of Muslim pupils, often exceeding 90%, many of their parents are worried that their choice to send their children to a secular school is being undermined.