British regulators have placed five Muslim-dominated public schools in the city of Birmingham under "special measures" after inspectors found that pupils there were being systematically exposed to radical Islamic propaganda.
Ofsted, the agency that regulates British schools, carried out emergency inspections of 21 primary and secondary public schools in Birmingham after a document surfaced in March 2014 that purported to outline a plot—dubbed Operation Trojan Horse—by Muslim fundamentalists to Islamize public schools in England and Wales.
The inspection reports, which Ofsted made public on June 9, show that Muslim hardliners are indeed seeking to run at least five public schools in Birmingham according to a "conservative Islamic perspective." But the report does not cite evidence of an organized plot by extremists.
Ofsted inspectors found that one school was playing the Muslim call to prayer over loudspeakers in the playground, while another was found with books promoting stoning, lashing and execution. Yet another school had invited a Muslim hate preacher known for his support of militant Islam to speak to students.
In some schools, girls are actively being dissuaded from speaking to boys and from taking part in extra-curricular visits and activities. Boys and girls are also taught separately in religious education and personal development lessons.
The inspection report for the Nansen Primary School reveals that when teachers wanted pupils to take part in a nativity play, Muslim administrators "insisted on vetting a copy of the script for its suitability and told staff they must not use a doll as the baby Jesus." The report also says:
"Pupils do not get a broad education. Subjects such as art and music have been removed for some year groups at the insistence of the governing body.
"Pupils have only a superficial knowledge and understanding of religions and beliefs other than Islam. The lack of leadership of religious education means that teachers are ill-informed about what to teach and how to teach this subject. Pupils' cultural development is inadequate because the academy does not help pupils to develop an understanding of the diversity of traditions, religions and customs in modern British society. This leaves pupils at risk of cultural isolation.
"Currently, the academy has a weekly whole-school assembly, which is of an Islamic character. The governing body has not received permission from the Education Funding Agency for an exemption from providing a broadly Christian act of worship. This means that [the] governing body fails to meet this aspect of their responsibilities."
The inspection report for the Oldknow Academy says the school is "taking on the practices of an Islamic faith school" and that non-Muslim staff and pupils have been excluded from an annual trip to Saudi Arabia for three years running. The report adds:
"The curriculum is inadequate because it does not foster an appreciation of, and respect for, pupils' own or other cultures. It does not promote tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions. In addition, a small group of governors is making significant changes to the ethos and culture of the academy without full consultation. They are endeavoring to promote a particular and narrow faith-based ideology in what is a maintained and non-faith academy.
"Some staff told Her Majesty's Inspectors that they feel afraid to speak out against recent changes in the academy for fear of losing their jobs.
"Currently, the academy has two Islamic faith assemblies each week and additional, optional Friday prayer. Birmingham City Mission has been delivering Christian Acts of Collective Worship at Oldknow, once a term, since 2006. Its recent assembly was cancelled and the Mission's offer of an alternative date was not taken up. No further visits have been requested. The academy's Christmas special assembly was also cancelled.
"During a recent academy fête, raffles and tombolas were banned because they are considered un-Islamic.
"During the inspection senior leaders told Her Majesty's Inspectors that a madrasa [a school for teaching Islamic theology] had been established in the academy and had been paid for from the academy's budget."
Oldknow Academy in Birmingham, England. (Image source: BBC video screenshot)
In a so-called advice note summarizing the inspections, Ofsted Director Michael Wilshaw writes that his inspectors found a "culture of fear and intimidation" in some schools and that not enough was being done to "protect children from extremism." He adds:
"Some head teachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards, said that they have been marginalized or forced out of their jobs.
"Some head teachers reported that there has been an organised campaign to target certain schools in Birmingham in order to alter their character and ethos.
"In one primary school, governors opposed the head teacher's commitment to mixed-gender swimming lessons. The Chair of Governors in another school, against the wishes of the head teacher, introduced madrasa programs of study into the personal, health and social education curriculum.
"The evidence shows that governors have recently exerted inappropriate influence on policy and the day-to-day running of several schools in Birmingham. In other schools, leaders have struggled to resist attempts by governing bodies to use their powers to change the school in line with governors' personal views.
"In several of the schools inspected, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain. It is my view that the active promotion of a narrow set of values and beliefs in some of the schools is making children vulnerable to segregation and emotional dislocation from wider society.
"They do not ensure that a broad and balanced curriculum equips pupils to live and work in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and democratic Britain. As a result, children are not being encouraged to develop tolerant attitudes towards all faiths and all cultures.
Wilshaw also berates the Birmingham City Council for failing to "keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalization and extremism."
In response to the findings, British Education Secretary Michael Gove told Parliament on June 9 that from now on, all 20,000 primary and secondary schools in the United Kingdom will be required to "actively promote British values."
Gove also said he would revamp the regulatory process to allow more centralized control of British schools. Moreover, he promised to draft new rules allowing Ofsted to conduct snap inspections of any school with no warning.
The move comes amid reports that the previous practice of giving advance notice of an inspection allowed schools in Birmingham to put on hastily arranged shows of cultural inclusivity.
A report by the Education Funding Agency—which conducted its own investigation of the so-called Trojan Horse schools—indicated that school administrators ordered teachers to temporarily add Christianity to the learning schedule to appease visiting inspectors.
This may explain why several of the schools that failed Ofsted inspections in 2014 were rated good or outstanding in 2012 and 2013.
But the heads of the downgraded schools say they are the subject of a government witch-hunt. David Hughes, the vice chair of Park View Educational Trust—which runs three of the schools at the center of the row—said he would file a lawsuit against the government to try to force Ofsted to reverse its findings. In a statement Hughes said:
"We wholeheartedly dispute the validity of these gradings. Park View, Golden Hillock and Nansens are categorically not inadequate schools. 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. 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."
Meanwhile, Sky News reported on June 3 that senior leaders at three schools in Birmingham alerted the government more than two decades ago about the rising influence of Muslim extremists in the school system, but that their concerns were dismissed because of political correctness.
In a letter to education ministers—copied to then Prime Minister John Major—the school heads warned that the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir was gaining an alarming influence over schools in Birmingham.
The former chair of governors at Golden Hillock School, John Ray, told Sky News that had the government acted back then, the current trend—in which conservative Muslims have been able to dominate school leaderships—could have been averted.
"The Trojan Horse plot reveals something, something that is true," Ray said. "It reveals a mess that the city council has not been able to check—the development of this whole infiltration of this ceding in of governors of one particular ideology. They are not people who have the welfare of these children at heart."
"I think the city council but also central government and all parties were very reluctant to question the received wisdom that suggests it is fair enough that a separate Islamic identity should be stressed," Ray added.
Separately, the BBC reported on June 2 that Birmingham officials were warned that hardline Muslims were trying to extend their influence in Birmingham schools as early as 2008. The BBC also reported on May 28 that the British Education Ministry was warned of the same problem in 2010, about three years before the document alleging the Trojan Horse plot became public. But no action was taken in either case.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.