UK

'Trojan Horse' report an unhelpful epitaph for Michael Gove

Nansen Primary School Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nansen is one of three schools run by Park View

"There has been a co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action carried out by a number of associated individuals to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into a few schools in Birmingham."

That is the key view of the next official report on the "Trojan Horse" saga, a story about a purported plot to "Islamicise" a group of Birmingham state schools.

At the centre of this report is the Park View Educational Trust, which runs three state schools.

The document, written by Peter Clarke, a former senior counter-terrorism policeman, has been leaked to the Guardian.

Us and them

It really reinforces what we knew: a small group of friends pushed some of the city's schools towards Islamic social conservatism.

That, Mr Clarke says, created an atmosphere where extremism might flourish and an us-and-them attitude to non-Muslims might emerge.

In that category, Mr Clarke found other instances of worrying incidents that were first reported on Newsnight.

Mr Clarke found messages from a chat group on the WhatsApp mobile messaging app called the "Park View Brotherhood".

Newsnight had learned that the police were seeking transcripts of these chats a few months ago. They seem to have got them.

Fair whacking

Birmingham City Council gets a fair whacking.

According to the Guardian, Mr Clarke says: "There was never a serious attempt to see if there was a pattern to what was happening in school governing bodies.

"The council's approach has been variously described to me as appeasement and a failure in their duty of care towards their employees."

The report is also a rather unhelpful epitaph to Michael Gove's tenure at the Department for Education (DfE).

The document, commissioned by the DfE, is quite harsh on its own role as a consequence of the former education secretary's most significant reform.

Image copyright BBC/PA
Image caption Five schools were put in special measures by Ofsted last month

He introduced the "converter academies"; schools that opt for the status are no longer funded through and supervised by their local authorities, nor do they need to follow the national curriculum and teacher pay scales.

Instead, they are independent schools in the state system, joined to the DfE.

Back in 2010, the department expected only 200 conversions a year, but around 3,000 schools have now adopted the status, enticed by more money and autonomy.

Simple financial controls

This is supposed to be a lighter touch regime.

Rather than actively supervising schools, it relies on Ofsted, tough exam performance measures and simple financial controls to keep them in line.

But, Mr Clarke suggests, maybe that's not enough.

The Guardian reports that he writes: "In theory, academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine.

"This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies."

No adequate alternative

This is a widely held view of the key problem in Mr Gove's reforms, even among his friends: in his haste to increase autonomy from local authorities and national structures, Mr Gove did not build an adequate alternative supervisory architecture.

Some people think there is no need for this supervision.

Maybe that is true, but that view is hard to square with the high level of scrutiny that the DfE gives to free schools - a new academy opened from scratch.

For example, Newsnight revealed that Park View School was barred from opening a free school by one part of the DfE on security grounds.

But Park View School itself, a converter academy, was left to continue by another wing of the institution - and allowed to take over new schools.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Peter Clarke is a former counter-terrorism officer

The DfE allowed Park View to rumble on and, according to the department's own reports, invite speakers with extreme views to address pupils.

But Philip Nye, a journalist, has reported that the DfE insists an Islamic free school group must provide it with "details of all guest speakers, as well as of all donations made by the trust or its pupils".

What to make of all of this?

In a brief look back over Mr Gove's tenure, broadcast earlier this week, I suggested that his big legacy would be that England's head teachers would increase their, already high, level of autonomy.

Tired of changes?

But, I suggested, the precise institutional architecture of his reforms would not last.

I did not have this specific issue in mind, but it is one of the myriad things that can go wrong in schools that are neither recorded in league tables nor seen by inspectors.

This might mean some kind of surgery on the DfE to make it better able to perform this role.

Maybe its roles will be separated. Or, as Labour proposes, maybe there will be a new local layer of government to take on the role.

Teachers might be tired of endless reorganisations. Sorry, it isn't over yet.

Related Topics

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites