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9 Jun, 2014 16:40

‘Muslim plot’ in UK: Inspector report exposes culture of ‘fear and intimidation’ at schools

‘Muslim plot’ in UK: Inspector report exposes culture of ‘fear and intimidation’ at schools

Britain’s chief school inspector has found a “shocking” culture of fear and intimidation in UK schools after an anonymous plot threatening the “Islamization” of UK schools led to Prime Minister David Cameron announcing random inspections.

“Some of our findings are deeply worrying, and in some ways quite shocking,” said Michael Wilshaw, head of the Ofsted school inspection body in a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove. “In the most serious cases, a culture of fear and intimidation has taken grip.”

The official report found that, “Birmingham City Council has failed to support a number of schools in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalization and extremism.”

Gove said Monday in a statement to the House of Commons after the report’s release that “all schools will be required to promote British values.”

Gove promises that schools will in future have to promote British values BUT can't say what they are or when we'll see them

— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) June 9, 2014

“This is an issue for faith schools as well as non-faith schools,” Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt told the Commons.

It all started with an unverified, anonymous letter, allegedly written by hardline Islamists, making its way into government hands back in March, prompting investigations into a so-called “Trojan Horse” plot, which entailed a takeover of the British education system by Muslim teachers.

The teachers allegedly intended to move any staff who disagreed with their beliefs out of the way, as well as imposing the kind of school discipline advocated by devout Islamists.

Michael Gove makes his statement this afternoon - but look at his colleagues' body language .... Every picture... pic.twitter.com/51gixPdPC1

— Labour Left (@LabourLeft) June 9, 2014

The letter’s contents detailed “deeply concerning” details of a strategy to adopt a number of Islamic cultural facets, including a system of school governors and the hiring and teaching of staff who would work to promote an Islamic religious agenda with its own rules and moral regulations.

The letter with the alleged Islamization plot has brought to attention past and present findings of investigations into some Birmingham schools that do not conform to the current national curriculum.

Oldknow Academy, in the inner-city area of Small Heath, Birmingham, was discovered to be “taking on the practices of an Islamic faith school.” Non-Muslim staff and pupils had been intentionally excluded from a yearly trip to Saudi Arabia three times, Ofsted said.

On Monday, fresh findings of the Ofsted education inspection authority were released, giving further credence to the Trojan Horse plot idea. The five Birmingham schools of the 21 inspected will now be downgraded to inadequate – Ofsted’s lowest rating.

A decision was made Monday to publicly tackle the alleged threat seen in the findings. In a statement, Cameron said he would deal with it: “Protecting our children is one of the first duties of the government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response,” a statement from his office read.

Some parliamentarians are worried that the absence of a single curriculum oversight authority, disbanded in 2011, opens schools up to a number of questionable practices. This concern has been voiced especially by David Blunkett, the Labour former education secretary.

Past and present investigations did reveal some concrete indicators that this is an issue warranting further attention. Blunkett is worried that too much power has been left in the hands of the Department of Education.

Britain's Education Secretary Michael Gove (Reuters)

Greater exposure was given to the Muslim issue recently when Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Michael Gove – two of Cameron’s top hard-line ministers – blamed each other for its apparent mishandling.

In order to effectively clamp down on any alleged Islamic extremist conversions before they have a chance to develop, Cameron has announced that the government’s chief school inspector will be assessing plans for random snap inspections of schools.

The prospect of Islamic extremism taking root has “no place in our society,” the PM stated, so the inspections will most likely be maintaining a constant presence in British schools, reporting back to Cameron himself. This was announced at the Monday meeting of the special task force on the issue.

Some MPs from the centrist Labour Party, however, see the strategy as “weak and inadequate,” which follows on from the experience of 2012-2013, when five of the aforementioned schools in the Ofsted survey had had been given two days’ notice by inspectors, and received glowing reviews.

Monday’s findings, however, have the company running one of the schools fiercely defending itself and complaining that the whole issue is overblown and its activities being completely misrepresented by the inspection authority.

"Our Ofsted inspections were ordered in a climate of suspicion, created by the hoax Trojan letter and by the anonymous unproven allegations about our schools in the media,”
the company said. “Ofsted inspectors came to our schools looking for extremism, looking for segregation, looking for proof that our children have religion forced upon them as part of an Islamic plot."

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May (Reuters)

"The Ofsted reports find absolutely no evidence of this because this is categorically not what is happening at our schools. Our schools do not tolerate or promote extremism of any kind. We have made a major commitment to raising all students' awareness of extremism; people who know and have worked with our schools are appalled at the way we have been misrepresented."

The company promised to challenge the inspection authority’s findings in court.

Nonetheless, Islamic extremism is being taken very seriously by Britain and the row between May and Gove had Cameron frustrated. The education minister believes that Britain’s strategy to “prevent” extreme messages being spread needs to be stepped up, while the home secretary’s views are that antagonizing mainstream Muslims would not be a smart move. This is when Gove went to Cameron with requests to do something and the dispute spilled over into the media, unfortunately for the PM.

Cameron recently informed his colleagues at the G7 summit in Brussels that he’s “set up the UK extremism task force after the appalling murder of Lee Rigby because I wanted to make sure that the government is doing everything that it could to drive extremism out of our schools, our colleges, off our campuses, out of prisons, out of every part of national life.”