Lessons from Birmingham

Submitted by AWL on 29 July, 2014 - 6:19 Author: Liam Conway, NUT Exec member (pc)

There have been two reports into Birmingham schools; one commissioned by Birmingham Council, written by Ian Kershaw, a former Head Teacher from Coventry, the other by Peter Clarke, former counter-terrorism chief at the Met.

Both reports relied on similar sources: comments from people who had worked at the schools in various capacities, including head teachers and teachers who had been forced out because they objected to the way the schools were being run. Clarke’s report was heavily influenced by the testimony of over 50 people he interviewed. Both reports came to similar, shocking, conclusions.

Whatever the motives of those who commissioned or wrote the reports, the evidence presented should be something that greatly concerns socialists. The common view in the NUT that the original “Trojan Horse” letter was a hoax is not relevant. What matters is whether its contents are supported by the evidence, which very much appears to be the case.

The reports’ findings are credible. The way that girls were being separated out from boys and treated differently, the way that the curriculum was being narrowed. Cancelling a netball tournament because the organisers were not able to guarantee that men would not be present is not acceptable in an educational context. Sex and relationship education being taught with reference to an Islamic moral framework under which boyfriend/girlfriend relationships as well as homosexual relationships are not acceptable is wrong.

Since Clarke and Kershaw reported new evidence about the Chair of Governors at Nansen Primary school, Shahid Akmal, has emerged. He is heard on film saying, “White women have the least amount of morals”, and arguing that it is justifiable to exile gays and what he calls adulterers. He believes that the job of schooling is to prepare girls for a life of domesticity in the home. Akmal had music removed from the curriculum. He is a bigoted, homophobic man who should not be running schools.

Similar views to these were revealed in the social network conversations of what was termed the “Park View Brotherhood”. This male-only group included teachers within the Park View Trust, one of whom was the Vice Principal of Nansen Primary School, Razwan Faraz. During one conversation Faraz says, “These animals (gay people) are going out full force. As teachers we must be aware and counter their satanic ways of influencing young people.”

The Muslim community needs protecting from people like this. The biggest victims of not standing up against the likes of Shahid Akmal and Razwan Faraz are Muslim children. The NUT is committed to equal rights in education for all. Such a claim is not real unless we challenge right-wing ideologues who want to take education back in time to when it was less equal and less tolerant. Evidence suggests that the NUT, understandably concerned to give no quarter to Gove and Ofsted, failed to stand up for its own policies or to recognise real problems at these schools.

At the Birmingham NUT Executive meeting of 12 June the SWP and RS21 proposed a motion under the broad ambit of “Hands Off Our Schools” — that the focus of any campaigning should be Islamophobia and that no credence should be given to any of the claims made about educational practices in the schools.

In the light of the Clarke and Kershaw reports such a position is politically unsustainable for socialists. These schools were being directed by right wing “leaders” of the Muslim community, whose views on education are not shared by the majority of Muslims. I was brought up a Catholic and attended schools heavily influenced by priests and nuns. This is like the left taking its view of what Catholics think from what the local Parish priest says.

A key contributing factor in these developments is the structure and governance of schooling and this goes beyond the crude privatisation inherent in Free Schools and Academies.

There has been a general decline in the democratic control of schooling. This has allowed powerful “community leaders” or financial interests to promote narrow views of education. The answer to this is to return all schools to democratic local authority control with elected governing bodies in every school, including a bigger role for elected staff and parent governors.

We are having problems in other areas of accountability too. For example there have been a series of frauds in school, most recently at Haberdasher Aske’s in south London. This is also a product of the erosion of democratic controls.

The ability of the unions to negotiate across all schools is disappearing rapidly, replaced by piecemeal negotiation, school-by-school or academy trust by academy trust.

In Birmingham some schools are Academies, some not. Birmingham City Council appears to have abrogated its responsibility for fear of being called Islamophobic. There is evidence that Birmingham Council tried to gag teachers who were trying to speak out about what was happening in these schools. Compromise agreements were made with the teachers, involving financial settlements in return for keeping quiet. This again is not acceptable.

Last year a not dissimilar situation occurred in Leicester at Uplands Junior School. I think the local NUT in Leicester took a different approach than in Birmingham, calling for the resignation of the head teacher and organising three days of strike action. People like Shahid Akmal and Razwan Faraz should have been forced out by the NUT, not through investigations by Clarke and Kershaw or Ofsted reports.

Perhaps there should have been an independent trade union enquiry into what went on in Birmingham but for sure there are serious lessons to be learned here. It is not enough to put a cross wherever the Government puts a tick. We have to actually dirty our hands and find out honestly what is going on and come up with independent labour movement responses based on justice and the ending of wrong-doing. This did not happen in the Birmingham schools.

Instead the NUT continues to put hands over eyes and fingers in ears, exemplified by the latest NUT press release which focuses on the “Islamist plot” story rather than the real story of the warping of children’s education.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.