In response to allegations that Islamic extremists are engaged in a plot to infiltrate and takeover the management of a group of 21 schools in Birmingham, Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday ordered a system of surprise inspections to be conducted on schools.
His action comes even before the release of a series of reports by the United Kingdom’s independent school inspectorate Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills). Ofsted ordered a re-inspection of these schools in the wake of the anonymous “Trojan Horse” letter, made public this March, alleging an Islamicist takeover of Muslim majority schools in Birmingham.
The logic behind the snap inspections order is, reportedly, that it will leave school managements with no time to cover up their nefarious agendas when unwitting school inspectors come visiting. It was triggered by a report from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which oversees academies, on the Oldknow academy in Birmingham. The leaked report said that when informed of the EFA inspectors arrival, the management quickly organized a lesson on Christianity just for the visitors.
“Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham demands a robust reply,” Mr. Cameron was reported as saying.
The Ofsted reports are expected to downgrade several schools amongst the 21 that have been inspected, primarily owing to what is perceived as a failure of the managements to protect students from the risks of extremism.
The extremism-in-schools issue caused a minor political explosion in the Cabinet, with Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May accusing each other of inaction on the issue of tackling extremism. A furious Mr. Cameron stepped in to bring the sparring to a halt. Mr. Gove was made to apologise, and Ms. May’s special advisor Fiona Cunningham was asked to quit.
The Ofsted re-inspections are one among several inquiries ordered into the affair. Another inquiry ordered by Mr. Gove was into Islamic extremism in schools and headed by the former London Met police anti-terrorism chief, Sir Peter Clarke.
The school managements, parents, teachers and former teachers, and even former education officials have described the clamp down as politically motivated. A “hands- off Birmingham schools” campaign, headed by former Respect leader and city-councillor Salma Yaqoob has been formed in Birmingham. The Ofsted reports and the response of the government are expected to have a long-lasting impact on educational aspirations and race relations in Birmingham.