Education & Family

Hunt warns against schools extremism in Birmingham

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Media captionTristram Hunt: "I welcome Birmingham City Council's investigation'

Tristram Hunt, Labour's shadow education secretary, has warned against religious extremism in schools.

In a speech to the NASUWT teachers' union, Mr Hunt said schools should not have "gender-based segregation" and that teachers must not be "undermined".

Mr Hunt welcomed Birmingham council's investigation into the "so-called Trojan Horse conspiracy".

The Department for Education is also examining claims of schools being "taken over" by Muslim hardliners.

The inquiries follow an anonymous letter alleging that factions within the Muslim community were seeking to gain influence over schools in Birmingham.

'Divide and isolate'

Mr Hunt, addressing the teachers' union conference in Birmingham, said he does not want a French-style separation of religion and education.

But he responded to what he described as "allegations of infiltration, intimidation and the pursuit of a divisive religious extremism through systems of school governorship".

"We need to be clear about the duties which a state-funded school is expected to fulfil," said Mr Hunt

"We cannot have narrow, religious motives - which seek to divide and isolate - dictating state schooling.

"We cannot have head teachers forced out; teachers undermined; curricula re-written; and cultural or gender-based segregation."

The city council this week launched its own inquiry into 25 schools.

Education Secretary Michael Gove also appointed a former counter-terror chief, Peter Clarke, to establish whether there was any substance to the allegations.

Ofsted has carried out inspections of 18 schools in Birmingham.

But the claims about such "take-overs" have been strongly rejected by schools caught up in these claims.

Tahir Alam, chair of governors at Park View School, has warned of a "witch hunt" and has dismissed the "ridiculous assertions".

Mr Hunt said that the concern about Birmingham shows the difficulty of an over-centralised control of schools - and he says Labour is planning to publish a review of the local oversight of schools.

He argued that the current local system for monitoring schools had been "comprehensively undermined".

He repeated calls for the end of the use of unqualified teachers in schools and called for improvements in ongoing professional training for teachers.

The Department for Education says it is right that state schools should have the same flexibility over hiring staff as private schools, so they can bring "great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists into the classroom".

A spokeswoman for the education department also rejected the suggestion that the structure for overseeing academies was a factor in concerns over extremism.

"It is nonsense to suggest the academies programme has led to or exacerbated these problems. In fact the majority of schools causing concern in Birmingham are council-run. Academies and free schools are subject to stricter scrutiny than council-run schools," she said.

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