Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, has watered down the findings of former national head of counter terrorism’s investigation into extremism at Birmingham schools as a “spectrum of behaviours.”
For the first time Morgan clarified that there was “no evidence of radicalisation or terrorism or violent extremism” despite five schools with mainly Muslim pupils in the city were placed in special measures following media and politicians campaign against these schools.
In an exclusive interview with The Muslim News Editor, Ahmed J Versi, she said she was not aware there would be other investigations on the scale of Birmingham and acceded that she would also consider including Islamophobia as part Key Stages 2, 3 & 4 Personal, Social, Health & Citizenship Education.
The controversial investigation into what was dubbed a Trojan Horse conspiracy began with claims led by former Education Secretary, Michael Gove, of on an organised takeover of state schools by “jihadists” before the debate moved onto “extremists” then directed against “conservative” Muslims and a now focus is on a need to promote fundamental British values.
“What Peter Clark’s report had found was that there was no evidence of radicalisation or terrorism or violent extremism in the schools in Birmingham, but there were examples, I think he called it a ‘concerted attempt’, by a small number of people, to follow a particular ideology, or an extremist ideology”, Morgan said.
The “spectrum of behaviours” by the schools were, according to Morgan, “things like anti-Western assemblies or the segregation of girls and boys for no educational reasons.” Also there were “discussions and examples of things like homophobia, which we do not accept in this country”, she added.
The teaching of creationism was a further concern. Yet, if both creationism and homophobia are taught in Muslim schools or schools with Muslim majority pupils, the schools are regarded by the Government as “extremists”. However, when they are taught in Christian and Jewish schools the label of extremism is not used. Morgan replied that other schools do not have “anti-Western assemblies and anti-Christian chanting”.
Morgan said the Government will not fund early years [children up to five years old] education schools where “creationism is taught as a fact”. However, the Education Secretary added that this shouldn’t “stop the talking about religious stories or Biblical stories of anything like that.” Rather it was when it was “taught as a scientific fact” that the public funding will be stopped.
“The point is that if you’re actually teaching only that, and you’re again closing young minds to other possibilities, particularly at a young age”, she insisted. “There are a majority of nurseries, a majority of schools, a majority of parents who absolutely want young minds to be opened and not to be closed and that’s what we are seeking to support in the promotion of fundamental British values which I think are shared by people up and down the country regardless of their religion, faith or ethnic background.”
When challenged about the sensationalist way Trojan Horse issue was handled by ministers and her predecessor, Morgan said she could not comment on actions of other before she took over the education portfolio. But she agreed that ministers and anyone involved in the community as leaders have to be “very conscious of the language we use and make sure it is appropriate, proportionate and absolutely not seen to be criticizing one particular community.”
Birmingham schools “weren’t targeted” because they were overwhelmingly Muslim, she insisted. “It was a question of following where the letter, where the intelligence, where the conversations, where the head teachers have reported that they have had issues. So it was acting on information.”
On the discredited basis upon which the knee-jerk investigations were launched, she still remained defensive of her colleague, Gove. “I think anybody would expect that if we received any kind of a letter about what is being taught in schools which could relate to some of the views and accusations that we saw in Birmingham, but it could also relate to child abuse, it could relate to children being put at risk through anything. I think we absolutely have to take anything like that seriously and check it out and that’s what happened.”