I am today (16 January 2015) publishing the results of a review by my Permanent Secretary into whether the Department for Education (or predecessor departments) had received warnings relating to extremism in Birmingham schools, and how any such warnings had been dealt with. Copies of this report will be laid in the libraries of both Houses.
This review was commissioned by my predecessor in June 2014. It was prompted by the receipt of the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter in Birmingham in December 2013, and subsequent reviews by Peter Clarke, Ian Kershaw and Ofsted, which noted, amongst other things, that warning signs about potential extremism in Birmingham schools had been missed by local agencies over a long period of time. Media reports in May and June 2014 suggested that specific warnings had been given to the department, in 2010, 2008 to 2009 and 1994.
The review has looked at a 20-year period between 1994 and December 2013, focusing specifically on:
- what, if any, warnings were received
- what the nature of those warnings was
- whether those warnings were dealt with appropriately
- what follow-up actions were taken, and whether these were appropriate given the role of the department at the time
The review has found no instances where specific warnings were ignored by the department and no cases where departmental officials or ministers acted inappropriately. It has, however, found that the department has in the past lacked inquisitiveness on this issue, and that procedures could have been tighter than they were. It notes that the department needs always to be vigilant and inquisitive, and have robust systems in place if it is to play its part in preventing and countering the issues identified in Peter Clarke’s report.
I endorse this view and all of the recommendations contained in the review. In light of the review’s findings and events in Birmingham, the Permanent Secretary is taking further measures within the department:
- strengthening the size of the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division (DDCEG) to 36 staff and establishing it as a standalone group with a director with sole responsibility for this area of work (1)
- introducing a formal system for staff across the department to refer concerns about extremism to DDCEG. This includes a clear process for staff recognising what might constitute such an issue and a requirement that any instances are reported to DDCEG
- introducing a formal case handling system within DDCEG for logging and managing warnings received from both DfE staff or from external sources
- widening the DDCEG’s remit to include a proactive role identifying potential future trouble spots
- establishing a counter extremism steering group, which will be chaired by the Director for DDCEG and will support delivery of the department’s overall vision and aims by providing coherent strategic oversight of the activity which makes up the due diligence and counter extremism programme
- introducing a requirement for all deputy directors to receive briefing on extremism, the department’s procedures and how it might affect DfE’s work, and to be clear about the arrangements needed within their divisions to deal with any issues arising
- introducing a system for the DDCEG to report monthly to the department’s management committee on cases received and action taken
The department’s internal audit function will conduct a review of these actions after 3 months and will advise the Permanent Secretary and the department’s management committee on implementation progress. There will be regular 6-monthly checks by internal audit on implementation, with advice to the management committee.
The aims of these actions are threefold:
- to ensure that the DDCEG has the right resources, systems and remit to deal with any future warnings
- to ensure that identifying and taking action on warnings is seen as a priority in all parts of the department, not just in DDCEG
- to ensure that the department becomes and remains inquisitive on this issue
These actions should apply equally to warnings of ‘extremism’ from whatever source.
Work is ongoing on the wider issues relating to Birmingham, and I will update the House in due course.
(1) The current unit, established in 2010, has thus far reported to a Director who also had other responsibilities.