Trojan Horse: 25 schools probed over alleged takeover plot
An investigation into an alleged hard-line Islamist takeover plot of Birmingham schools has widened, with 25 schools now under the spotlight.
Birmingham City Council said it had received more than 200 reports in relation to its inquiry.
It has appointed former head teacher Ian Kershaw as its chief advisor.
Anonymous claims hard-line Muslims were trying to take over the running of some city schools were made in a letter sent to local authorities last year.
The 25 schools now being looked at include primaries, secondaries and academies.
Besides the announcement about Ian Kershaw, who'll oversee the Trojan Horse investigation on behalf of the city council, there have been two other important appointments.
Stephen Rimmer will chair a second group which will include faith groups and figures from the local communities affected by the allegations.
He was brought to the West Midlands last year to lead an investigation into the abuse and sexual exploitation of children, but was previously employed by the Home Office as director of its Prevent strategy, set up to counter radicalisation.
And the Department for Education has also announced the appointment of its first Commissioner for Schools in the West Midlands.
Pank Patel will decide which schools can become academies and will monitor performance.
There has been a lot of criticism during the Trojan Horse inquiry that governance at academies has been too opaque.
The 200-plus reports to the council include emails and calls from staff, parents and governors.
The leader of Birmingham City Council, Sir Albert Bore, said: "No, I don't believe there is a plot, but there are issues we need to look at and look at very carefully - issues perhaps around how a governing body behaves, perhaps what is said and done around the school."
He said he was concerned the situation could endanger community relations but called on parents and others to be patient while the investigation was concluded.
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said an "urgent resolution" was needed, with parents looking for places for the new term.
The council's investigation, running in parallel to a separate inquiry by the Department for Education (DfE), is due to initially report back in May.
Mr Kershaw, who is managing director of Northern Education, will report to a newly-formed review group made up of MPs, councillors, national teaching and governors groups, the police and faith leaders.
The group will also oversee the work of the operational committee, which is co-ordinating the investigation of the allegations.
A follow-up report containing recommendations for schools locally, and for the DfE to look at nationally, is to be published by July.
Separately, Ofsted inspectors were sent in to 15 Birmingham schools in the weeks after the allegations came to light.
Concerns were raised last year when an undated and anonymous letter emerged outlining the alleged plot, dubbed "Operation Trojan Horse".Bradford contact
It claimed the plan aimed to make schools adhere to more Islamic principles and had already brought about leadership changes at four schools.
The letter was apparently penned by someone in Birmingham to a contact in Bradford.
Sir Albert said the city council had spoken to local authorities in both Manchester and Bradford.
"There are certainly issues in Bradford which have similarities with the issues being spoken about in Birmingham," he said.
This investigation in Birmingham - which the council is now expanding further - is already "new territory" for the Ofsted education watchdog.
It's the first time there have been so many co-ordinated school inspections targeted on concerns of religious extremism.
And Ofsted will try to cast light on a murky tale of anonymous letters and disputed claims of an "Islamic takeover" - allegations which the Department for Education describe as "very serious".
So far Ofsted has carried out inspections in 18 schools. The Department for Education had instigated 15 of these inspections - in addition to three already carried out by Ofsted.
These are a particular type of unannounced inspection - called Section 8 inspections - which are not about the general standard of education, but are in response to a specific concern.
These inspection reports, looking for evidence of whether there really has been unacceptable behaviour, are expected to be published next month.
Schools, parents and the wider community will then hear whether action needs to be taken.
Sir Albert claimed he was frustrated with the two-tier schools system in which academies operate outside the local authority's control and report directly to the DfE.
"We do not have the relationship with academies as we do with the community schools," he said.
Brigid Jones, the council's cabinet member for children and family services, said children should be able to work "without fear of intimidation".
She denied claims from some Muslim parents that a freeze on the recruitment of school governors, while it investigated the claims, was effectively a message that Muslim governors were not welcome.
"We have put a freeze on appointing governors across the city until we can be sure that they're being appointed robustly and in the right possible way," she said.
Since the Trojan Horse letter surfaced a number of school staff have come forward to make various allegations.
These include claims of boys and girls being segregated in classrooms and assemblies, sex education being banned and non-Muslim staff bullied.
Park View Education Trust, which was implicated in the original document, has rejected claims of a takeover.
Its chairman Tahir Alam said it was facing a "witch hunt" based on "all sorts of false allegations" and an internal investigation had found no evidence to substantiate the claims.