Trojan Horse’ Saga, 2014

Trojan Horse Affair podcast, The New York Times, 2022

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A. How it all began

9 March 2014, Andrew Gilligan, a journalist with a penchant for Muslim scare stories, provided an alarmist account of a Muslim ‘take-over’ of a school in Birmingham, published in The Telegraph.  It referred to a document from which the saga was to take its name:

“The leaked document, purportedly a letter from one Muslim extremist to another, called it ‘Trojan Horse’ – an operation by fundamentalists to ‘take over’  state schools in the city of Birmingham, undermine the headteachers and ensure they were ‘run on Islamic principles’.”

Gilligan argued that this was leading to extremism and it focussed on one Muslim educationalist, Tahir Alam:

The chairman of governors at Park View, Tahir Alam, is a senior activist in the Muslim Council of Britain and vice-chair of the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS). His views, like the MCB’s, are hardline. In evidence for the MCB to the UN’s high commissioner for human rights in 2008, he said he would “caution against advocating that desegregation [in schools] should be actively pursued” and stressed the “obligatory nature” of the hijab for Muslim women and girls.

Tahir Alam response was as follows:

..As one of the people named in this anonymous document by a fictitious author, I wish to state that any reference to me is a malicious fabrication and completely untrue. I condemn the strategy outlined in this dodgy dossier, it goes against my values and the principles in campaigning and working for higher educational standards.

Mr. Gilligan provided a further contribution to the Telegraph on 24 April, quoting a Birmingham MPMr Alam … has been planning this for 15 years. He goes around making these schools religious by manipulating governors, and bringing in certain teachers. He was able to hone the [tactics] in Birmingham that he drafted in this report.

B. The OFSTED inspections

In April-May 2014 OFSTED inspected 21 schools in Birmingham and Luton. According to eye-witness reports, the inspectors were heavy-handed and arrogant. In some cases, the visiting team included Peter Clark, former national head of counter terrorismExamples of the questions that were put included,

To staff and governors: What is extremism? How do you prepare children for modern Britain?

To students: What would you do if the law was changed so you could not practice your religion in this country?

It seemed the inspections were less about gathering facts on academic achievement but more on adherence to the counter-terrorism PREVENT agenda.

Christine Quinn, the Executive Principal of Ninestiles Academy, as reported by the Guardian described the experience as “somewhat harrowing, in that it was unlike any other inspection”. “They were trying to establish whether we had mechanisms in place to know if elements of radicalism or extremism were in our school, and whether we knew how to recognise it, and that we had extensive policies on citizenship, personal, social and health education the sort of things to counteract any such elements.” For Mohammed Ashraf, a governor at Golden Hillock School, “Many of the questions seemed strange in comparison with a normal Ofsted. It became apparent during the interview, no matter what was said, the inspectors (had) already decided to condemn the school.”

C. The Sir Tim Bighouse et al letters

The Guardian, 3rd June 2014

Several major Ofsted reports are due to be published about the so-called “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham which are alleged to be at the centre of a plot to “Islamise” schools (Six schools criticised in Trojan Horse inquiry, 2 June).

The reports will be a landmark in British educational history and the history of Britain as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, for better or for worse.

First-hand accounts of the Ofsted inspections that have emerged are disturbing. They suggest that inspectors were poorly prepared and had an agenda that calls into question Ofsted’s claim to be objective and professional in its appraisal of standards in schools serving predominantly Muslim pupils.

Numerous sensationalised leaks have reinforced the perception of a pre-set agenda. It is beyond belief that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be “outstanding” are now widely reported as “inadequate”, despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership team and the same governing body. In at least one instance, these conflicting judgments were made by the same lead inspector. This has damaged not only the reputation of the schools but the integrity of the inspections process.

This is uncharted territory, with Ofsted seemingly being guided by an ideology at odds with the traditional British values which schools are meant to espouse, particularly fairness, justice and respect for others. We, the undersigned, believe that such an approach compromises not only Ofsted’s impartiality but also the British education system itself.

Tim Brighouse, Robin Richardson Former director of the Runnymede Trust, Salma Yaqoob, Tom Wylie Former HMI, Ibrahim HewittEducation consultant, S Sayyid University of Leeds, Arzu Merali Islamic Human Rights Commission, Sameena Choudry Equitable Education,Baljeet Singh Gill Ruskin College, Massoud Shadjareh Islamic Human Rights Commission, Farooq Murad Muslim Council of Britain,Arshad Ali Institute of Education, University of London, Maurice Irfan Coles, Abdoolkarim Vakil King’s College London, Gill Cressey Muslim Youthwork Foundation, Steph Green Ruskin College, Mustafa Draper, Abbas Shah, Tasawar Bashir, MG Khan Ruskin College

The Guardian – 29th July 2014

The new secretary of state for education, Nicky Morgan, makes various pledges following the “Trojan horse” reports on Birmingham schools. Several of her pledges are valuable. The basis for them, however, is unsound. Peter Clarke’s report is not “forensic”, as Nicky Morgan claims (Report, 22 July), but a biased mix of uncorroborated smear, anecdote, hoax and chatroom gossip.

It reflects neoconservative assumptions about the nature of extremism; ignores significant testimony and viewpoints; implies the essential problem in Birmingham is simply the influence of certain individuals; discusses governance but not curriculum; ignores the concerns and perceptions of parents and young people; and is unlikely to bear judicial scrutiny. The Trojan horse affair has done much damage in Birmingham, both to individuals and to community cohesion.

Political leaders have key roles in the urgent process of restoration and support for curriculum renewal. Alas, they will not be much helped by the official reports of Clarke, Ian Kershaw and Ofsted.

They will, though, be helped by the unique strength and goodwill of people in Birmingham itself.

Tim Brighouse, Gus John, Arun Kundnani, Sameena Choudry, Akram Khan-Cheema, Arzu Merali, Robin Richardson, Maurice Irfan Coles, Gill Cressey, Steph Green, Ashfaque Chowdhury, Ibrahim Hewitt, Baljeet Singh Gill, Arshad Ali, S Sayyid, Massoud Shadjareh, Abdool Karim Vakil and Tom Wylie

D. House of Commons Select Committee on Education statement


March 2015

The Trojan Horse affair epitomises many of the questions and concerns expressed elsewhere about the changing school landscape and the overlapping roles of the organisations responsible for oversight of schools. No evidence of extremism or radicalisation, apart from a single isolated incident, was found by any of the inquiries and there was no evidence of a sustained plot nor of a similar situation pertaining elsewhere in the country. Our report therefore covers the response of the Department for Education and Ofsted to the situation and wider lessons for the school system.

The number of overlapping inquiries contributed to the sense of crisis and confusion, and the number of reports, coming out at different times and often leaked in advance, was far from helpful. The scope for coordination between inquiries by the Education Funding Agency, Ofsted and others is restricted by their statutory roles but more coordination could and should have been achieved. All the reports included recommendations that went far beyond the situation in the particular schools concerned and the DfE should draw together the recommendations from all the investigations and set out its response.

Ofsted’s inability to identify problems at some Birmingham schools on first inspection when they were found shortly afterwards to be failing raises questions about the appropriateness of the framework and the reliability and robustness of Ofsted’s judgements and how they are reached. Confidence in Ofsted has been undermined and efforts should be made by the inspectorate to restore it in Birmingham and beyond.

The proven “lack of inquisitiveness” within the DfE prior to the receipt of the Trojan Horse letter may be partially explained by the general level of awareness of such issues at the time. However, the Department was slow to take an active interest between the receipt of the letter in December 2013 and March 2014 when the issue became public. This is more surprising, given the change in context and the heightened emphasis on combating radicalisation and extremism.

The greater autonomy of academies makes it easier for a group of similar-minded people to control a school. While it should be remembered that several of the governors criticised in Birmingham were local government appointees, the DfE needs to be alert to the risks of abuse of academy freedoms of all kinds and be able to respond quickly.

It is vital that information is shared effectively between the various bodies responsible for oversight of schools. This was a problem in Birmingham and the DfE needs to keep its new arrangements under review to ensure that they are working well.

The recent steps taken to strengthen the DfE’s Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division are welcome, all the more so for being overdue. We recommend that the Secretary of State make an annual written ministerial statement on the priorities and achievements of the DDCED. The British values which are now to be promoted in all schools are universal and an important part of what children should learn. We support the introduction of the requirement on all schools to ensure that such values are actively promoted to all students. Monitoring how they are promoted in individual schools must be done with common sense and sensitivity.

E. Sane Voices

Shamim Miah – July 2014

One thing is for certain, the current debate marks a significant milestone in the nature and function of the neo-liberal state as it re-frames race relation policy in Britain in light of the securitisation agenda. The severity of the Trojan Horse debate, as it aims to push through an assimilationist policy agenda, can be compared to the Stasi commission in 2003 and its enforcement of laicitein French schools.

This short article is based upon a review of all the 21 Ofsted inspection reports linked with the Birmingham Trojan Horse. I will argue that the significance of the Ofsted reports lies not only in the redefining of extremism to equate with Muslim cultural conservatism, with the implicit assumption that Muslims have sole monopoly over cultural conservatism, but also in the ways in which a seemingly ‘independent’ body is used by the state to embed the governments counter terrorism programme of Preventing violent extremism at the heart of inner city schooling. This article will further demonstrate how a reoccurring theme in all Ofsted reports, not only recommends all schools to implement ‘Prevent’ policies, but also urged them to integrate counter-terrorism measures through safeguarding policies. This discursive shift away from educational attainment and social inequality to securitisation of education is one of the crucial legacies arising from the Ofsted rulings.

Extract from:

Robin Richardson – July 2014

Most readers of this article will no doubt be familiar, at least broadly, with the affair. Some, however, may have been misinformed and misled by the appallingly partial coverage of it over the last four months in the majority of the UK press.  Neither Clarke nor Kershaw refers to the media hysteria, and neither therefore seems to be aware that some of the people who gave evidence to them, perhaps indeed most of the people who gave evidence to them, would  have been affected by it.  At the very least they could have quoted from a statement by the Bishop of Birmingham and other local religious leaders which was made shortly after the affair began: ‘We are profoundly concerned that some of the public media have distorted the discussion on what has become known as Operation Trojan Horse, demonising sections of the community in a completely unacceptable way.’ Similarly Nicky Morgan made no reference, when she rose to address the Commons about the Clarke report, to the flagrant inaccuracies and distortions and the virulent racist and anti-Muslim stereotypes, in much of this summer’s press coverage . . . The cumulative effect of Clarke’s report is to present the neoconservative and profoundly offensive view that Islam is ‘a swamp’ in which noisome creatures such as crocodiles and mosquitos thrive and are given nourishment and support. ‘Peter’ has delivered what his political and media friends hoped and asked for. His report is a grave disservice, however, to very many millions of others.

Extract from:

Baroness Warsi – report in The Independent, August 2014

But she has become increasingly frustrated at what she sees as the increasingly anti-Muslim rhetoric in parts of Government – in particular over the “Trojan Horse” affair.She is understood to have been concerned at the appointment of Peter Clarke, a former senior anti-terrorism policeman, to lead the inquiry into allegations hardline Islamists infiltrated Birmingham schools. She raised her worries with Mr Cameron but was overruled.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, March 2015 – ‘Will Heads Roll?’

Finally, we now have been given a balanced report of the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ saga that created a mass hysteria in the first few months of 2014. This is a credit to the Education Committee, who rose above politics for the sake of the education of our children.  According to Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), this educational affair had led to “a national panic”.  During the height of the one-sided debate, the Muslim community was demonised from many quarters and individuals were pilloried. Some Birmingham school governors and parents lost their normal life because of an unprecedented media attention on them. The school children there, most of whom are Muslims, felt they were victimised. It was an open season for Muslims and Muslim educationalists.

Will any heads roll or will anyone now apologise for allowing this hysteria to continue for so long? The nation deserves an apology from the former Education Secretary, Michael Gove. As the education committee has raised questions about the “appropriateness of Ofsted’s framework and the reliability and robustness of its judgements”, will the Ofsted head explain why, as an educationalist, he failed to keep politics out of education? Source: blog Head2Heart

F. Miscarriages of Justice

A man allegedly linked to the Trojan Horse scandal is facing a potential lifetime ban from being a school governor.Tahir Alam, said to be connected to a plot by hardline Muslim governors to take over a number of Birmingham schools, is expected to be handed the ban as part of a new crackdown by the Department for Education. [July 2015]