Education & Family

'Counter-extremism' boost in schools

Nicky Morgan Image copyright EPA
Image caption Nicky Morgan says "counter-extremism" in schools will have a bigger role

Tackling the threat of extremism in England's schools is to be made a higher priority, says Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

In a statement on the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham, Mrs Morgan said her department would expand the role of "counter-extremism" in schools.

"We will not tolerate extremism of any kind," Mrs Morgan told MPs.

But Labour's Tristram Hunt said ministers had failed to react to warnings about Birmingham schools.

The education secretary's statement to the House of Commons provided an update on the so-called Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham.

This follows investigations into claims of attempts to take over some schools in the city, undermining head teachers and pursuing a hard-line Muslim ethos.

'Values'

Mrs Morgan told MPs that schools failed by Ofsted now had different leadership, including being run by different academy trusts.

There were individual staff who remained suspended, she told MPs. And she said the role of Sir Mike Tomlinson to oversee Birmingham's schools would be extended until March 2016.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Golden Hillock is one the Birmingham schools transferred to another academy trust

If improvement plans in Birmingham were not implemented, Mrs Morgan warned, there could be further intervention.

In response, Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and family services on Birmingham City Council, said that the Department for Education had still to "accept the failings in both the department and its academies".

She said it was disappointing that while Birmingham had been open to an external review over the Trojan Horse problems, the claims against the Department for Education had only been subjected to an internal inquiry.

'Counter-extremism'

Mrs Morgan told MPs that the concerns over Birmingham schools were such that there would now be a much bigger role for "counter-extremism" within the Department for Education.

There would be a separate counter-extremism steering group and a stronger role in checking against such risks, she said.

She warned that there would be no tolerance of extremism, which she said could ultimately lead to support for terrorism.

In the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal, ministers announced the need for schools to promote "British values".

But this has proved controversial, with recent claims, including from Christian schools, that it was resulting in unintended consequences.

There have been complaints that Ofsted inspections have used the "British values" requirement in a way that is unreasonable.

Mrs Morgan defended the principle of all schools having to promote such values, saying that these were the "values that bind us together" and should "unite rather than divide".

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said that the problems with Trojan Horse schools reflected the failures of ministers to respond to warnings.

He told MPs that for the past four years, "the government did nothing" to stop the threat of extremism.

Mr Hunt said that the underlying problem had been that the system of oversight of academies was too weak and created the opportunity for schools to be taken over.

The leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, said there were still unresolved problems with how schools were governed and it was "too easy for single individuals to exert undue influence over large numbers of schools".

"There are still fundamental flaws in the system of local oversight for schools. We operate in a highly autonomous and fragmented system. There is no substitute for strong local relationships which can spot troubles before they emerge."

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