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DfE to appoint Education Commissioner at Birmingham after 'Trojan Horse' report

Ministers have intervened at Birmingham City Council following a critical report on alleged Islamic extremist attempts to take over school governing bodies.

An education commissioner will be appointed and Department for Communities and Local Government’s permanent secretary Sir Bob Kerslake – a former chief executive of Sheffield City Council – will review Birmingham’s governance.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore has conceded that the city did too little to deal with similar allegations for fear of accusations of racism and that its commitment to community cohesion outweighed its role in tackling school problems.

The claims first surfaced last winter in an anonymous letter known as the Trojan Horse.

Then Education Secretary Michael Gove appointed former police national co-ordinator for counter terrorism Peter Clarke to investigate in a move condemned in April by the West Midlands chief constable Chris Sims, who said “people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role”.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told Parliament this week that Clarke’s report had found “compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham”.

She said there was no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism, but people in influential positions held “a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith [and] have failed to challenge the extremist views of others”.

Members of the Park View Educational Trust had destabilised head teachers and there had been misconduct at some other schools.

Morgan said the report showed Birmingham City Council was aware of the allegations long before the letter surfaced.

The education commissioner, yet to be named, will report jointly to her and to Birmingham chief executive Mark Rogers.

“If we are unable to make rapid progress with these new arrangements, I will not hesitate to use my powers to intervene further,” Morgan warned.

Those criticised at Park View Educational Trust have now resigned, and the Department for Education’s funding agreement with the Oldknow Trust has been ended while an interim board has replaced what Morgan called “the failing governing body of Saltley school.”

The council commissioned a separate review of the allegations from former headteacher Ian Kershaw.

He too found no evidence of a conspiracy to promote violent extremism or radicalisation, but did discern “clear patterns of behaviour which supported a determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, to influence educational and religious provision”.

Sir Albert said: “We must acknowledge that Ian Kershaw’s report shows we have serious governance issues in a small number of schools in east Birmingham, because of serious malpractice by members of governing bodies.

“This has been compounded by the inability of head teachers and other governors to counter this behaviour and by the failure of the city council to intervene to instil proper governance.”

He admitted the city council “has not played its part in monitoring, identifying and dealing with these serious issues correctly". 

Bore added: “The report has highlighted areas where we have either taken no action, were too slow to take action, or have simply done the wrong thing. The report further states this has often been because of the risk of being seen as racist or Islamophobic.

“Our proper commitment to cohesion in communities sometimes overrode the need to tackle difficult questions about what was happening in a small number of schools.”

Mark Smulian

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