Oral statement to Parliament

Birmingham schools: Secretary of State for Education's statement

The Secretary of State for Education's oral statement to Parliament on Birmingham schools.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on schools in Birmingham.

Keeping our children safe - and ensuring our schools prepare them for life in modern Britain - could not be more important - it is my central mission.

Allegations made in what has become known as the Trojan Horse letter suggested children were not being kept safe in Birmingham schools.

Ofsted and Education Funding Agency have investigated those allegations. Their reports, and other relevant documents, have today been placed in the Library of the House. Let me set out their findings and my actions.

Ofsted states that “headteachers reported… an organised campaign to target.. schools…in order to alter their character and ethos,” with “a culture of fear and intimidation”.

Headteachers who had “a record of raising standards” reported they had been “marginalised or forced out of their jobs”.

One school leader was so frightened about speaking to the authorities that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket car park.

Ofsted concluded governors “are trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools”, specifically by narrowing the curriculum, manipulating staff appointments and using school funds inappropriately. Overall, Ofsted inspected 21 schools. Three were good or outstanding.

Twelve schools were found to require improvement.

The remaining 6 are inadequate and are in special measures.

Let me explain why.

At one secular primary school, terms such as “white prostitute” unsuitable for primary children’s ears, were used in Friday assemblies run exclusively by Muslim staff.

The school organised visits to Saudi Arabia open only to Muslim pupils.

Senior leaders told inspectors that a madrassah had been established and been paid for from the school’s budget.

Ofsted concluded the school was “not adequately ensuring that pupils have opportunities to learn about faith in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultures”.

At one secular secondary school, staff told officials the call to prayer was broadcast over the playground using loudspeakers.

Officials observed lessons had been narrowed to comply with conservative Islamic teachings - in biology, students were told “evolution is not what we believe”.

The school invited the preacher Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman to speak despite the fact that he is reported to have said:

Give victory to Muslims in Afghanistan… Give victory to all the Mujahideen all over the world. Oh Allah, prepare us for the jihad.

Ofsted concluded that “governors have failed to ensure that safeguarding requirements and other statutory duties are met”.

At another secular secondary school inspectors described “a state of crisis” with governors reportedly using school funds to pay private investigators to read the emails of senior leaders, Ofsted found a lack of action to protect students from extremism.

At a third secular secondary school, Ofsted found students are “vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which could include radicalisation”.

And at a secular primary Ofsted found, that “pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam”, and “subjects such as art and music have been removed - at the insistence of the governing body”.

Inspectors concluded that the school “does not adequately prepare students for life in modern Britain”.

Ofsted also reports failures on the part of Birmingham City Council.

They found that the council did not deal adequately with repeated complaints from headteachers. School leaders expressed “very little confidence” in the local authority and Ofsted concluded that Birmingham has not exercised adequate judgement. Indeed the chair of one of the schools found to be inadequate, Tahir Alam, was in a business relationship with the former Lead Member for Children and Young People.

Mr Speaker, these findings demand a robust, but also a considered, response.

It is important that no one allows concern about these findings to become a pretext for criticism of Islam itself, a great faith which brings spiritual nourishment to millions and daily inspires countless acts of generosity.

The overwhelming majority of British Muslim parents want their children to grow up in schools that open doors rather than close minds.

It is on their behalf that we have to act.

There are, of course, questions about whether warning signs have been missed.

There are certainly questions for Birmingham Council, Ofsted and the Department for Education.

I have today asked Birmingham Council to review their history on this issue, and the Chief Inspector has advised me that he will be considering the lessons learnt for Ofsted.

I am also concerned that the DfE may not have acted when it should. I am asking the Permanent Secretary to investigate how my department dealt with warnings both since the formation of this government in 2010 and before.

We all must acknowledge there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism.

But let me be clear, no government and no Home Secretary has done more to tackle extremism.

In the Prime Minister’s Munich speech of 2011;

In the Home Secretary’s own review of the Prevent Framework;

And in the conclusions of the government’s Extremism Task Force last year.

This government has made clear that we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent.

And since 2010 the DfE has increased its capacity to deal with extremism. We set up Whitehall’s first ever unit to counter extremism in public services with help from former intelligence and security professionals. That unit has developed since 2010 and we will continue to strengthen it.

Ofsted now train inspectors to understand and counter extremist Islamist ideology. And inspections of schools at risk, like those in Birmingham, are carried out by the most senior inspectors - overseen by Sir Michael Wilshaw himself.

But there is - of course more to do - and today’s reports make action urgent.

First, we need to take action in the schools found inadequate.

Academies will receive letters saying I am minded to terminate funding agreements.

Local authority schools are having governors replaced.

We have already spoken to successful academy providers who are ready to act as sponsors.

We need to strengthen our inspection regime even further.

The requirement to give notice of inspections clearly makes it more difficult to identify and detect danger signs.

Sir Michael Wilshaw and I have argued in the past that no-notice inspections can help identify when pupils are at risk.

I have asked him to consider the practicalities of moving to a situation where all schools know they may receive an unannounced inspection.

I will also work with Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure, as he recommends, that we can provide greater public assurance that all schools in a locality discharge their full statutory responsibilities and we will consider how Ofsted can better enforce the existing requirement that all schools teach a broad and balanced curriculum.

I have talked today to the leader of Birmingham Council and requested that it sets out an action plan to tackle extremism and keep children safe.

We already require independent schools, academies and free schools to respect British values.

Now we will consult on new rules that will strengthen this standard further, so that all schools actively promote British values.

And I will ask Ofsted to enforce an equivalent standard on maintained schools through changes to the Ofsted framework.

Several of the governors whose activities have been investigated by Ofsted have also been active in the Association of Muslim Schools UK - which has statutory responsibilities in relation to state Muslim faith schools.

So we have asked AMSUK to satisfy us that they are doing enough to protect children from extremism and we will take appropriate steps if their guarantees are insufficiently robust.

I have also spoken to the National College for Teaching and Leadership and we will further strengthen the rules so that from now on it is explicit that a teacher inviting an extremist speaker into a school can be banned from the profession.

I will, of course, report in July on progress in all the areas I have announced as well as publishing the findings of the report of Peter Clarke, who is investigating the background behind many of the broader allegations in the Trojan Horse letter.

The steps we are taking today are those we consider necessary to protect our children from extremism - and protect our nation’s traditions of tolerance and liberty.

Mr Speaker, the conclusions of the reports today are clear.

Things that should not have happened in our schools were allowed to happen.

Our children were exposed to things they should not have been exposed to.

As Education Secretary, I am taking decisive action to make sure those children are protected.

Schools that are proven to have failed will be taken over, put under new leadership and taken in a fresh new direction.

Any school could now be subject to rigorous, on the spot inspections - with no advance warning and no opportunities to conceal failure.

And we will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children.

What we have found was unacceptable. And we will put it right.

I commend this statement to the House.