The UK government announced that English schools would be required to teach “British values” after inspectors found governors with hardline Muslim views had intimidated teachers and imposed religiously motivated restrictions at several schools.
Inspectors were called in after an anonymous letter alleged a plot called “Operation Trojan Horse” by Muslim fundamentalists to infiltrate schools in Birmingham.
Authorities believe the letter was a hoax, but the alleged plot triggered several inquiries and inflamed tensions in Britain’s second-largest city, which has a large Muslim population.
Inspectors said yesterday they had found a “culture of fear and intimidation” at a minority of the 21 schools it inspected, and five of them failed to protect students from extremism.
The five “Trojan Horse” schools – including three academies from the Park View Educational Trust – are being placed in “special measures”. A sixth was also labelled inadequate for its poor educational standards.
Chief schools inspector Michael Wilshaw said there was evidence of an “organised campaign to target certain schools” by some members of their governing bodies.
Inspectors said governors had promoted a “narrow faith-based ideology” at some schools, whose students are overwhelmingly from Muslim backgrounds.
At one school, governors attempted to ban mixed-sex swimming lessons; at another, music lessons were dropped AS they were “un-Islamic”; and at a third, governors vetted the script for a nativity play and told staff they could not use a doll to represent the baby Jesus.
“Staff and some head teachers variously described feeling ‘intimidated’, ‘undermined’ or ‘bullied’ by governors, and sometimes by senior staff, into making changes they did not support,” Mr Wilshaw said.
Park View Educational Trust, which runs three of the criticised schools, rejected the inspectors’ verdict and said it would launch a legal challenge. Vice-chairman David Hughes said the inspectors “came to our schools looking for extremism”.
The “Trojan Horse” furore exposed a feud between Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May, who is responsible for law and order. Newspaper reports based on leaks and anonymous briefings saw each department blame the other for failing to tackle the roots of extremism.
Mr Gove told the House of Commons yesterday that he planned new rules to ensure that “all schools actively promote British values”, such as democracy, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths..
He said that the funding agreements for the three academies will now be terminated – with new sponsors lined up to take them over.
But there may be little consensus on what those values are – or what constitutes extremism.
The Muslim Council of Britain said it was concerned that the inspectors were conflating religious belief and extremism.
It said in a statement that “extremism will not be confronted if Muslims and their religious practices are considered as, at best, contrary to the values of this country, and at worst, seen as “the swamp” that feeds extremism.”