Oral statement to Parliament

Birmingham schools: update from Nicky Morgan

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Secretary of State for Education provides an update on progress in Birmingham schools.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to update the House on progress in implementing the recommendations contained in Peter Clarke’s report into Birmingham’s schools.

The government accepted every one of Peter Clarke’s recommendations, and I am today placing a document in the libraries of both Houses outlining the progress that has been made on each one. I am pleased to report that since I last updated the House in July, all of the recommendations have either been implemented or are on track and that - as a result - I am confident that if the events we witnessed in Birmingham were repeated again today they would be identified and dealt with more quickly and in a far more effective way.

However, let me be clear that there is no room for complacency - both in the specific case of Birmingham, and more generally. We must always remain vigilant. There is no more important responsibility than keeping children safe and giving them the chance of a first-class education that prepares them for life in modern Britain.

That is why I am determined that we should not only act when and where we receive information of concern, we should also build resilience into the system to ensure it is more able to withstand attempts to undermine or subvert it.

We are addressing both concerns.

On the specific issue of Birmingham, a significant amount has been achieved. The job is not done - the problems we encountered in Birmingham arose over a number of years and will not be resolved overnight - but we have already made considerable progress.

We have acted quickly in the schools most affected by the issues in Peter Clarke’s report. New trustees are in place at all the academies, led by outstanding and dedicated headteachers able to tackle the troubling legacy of previous trustees. I am enormously grateful for their work.

There is good progress at 2 of the 3 Park View academies. More needs to be done at Park View Academy itself, where the significant number of suspended staff has hampered progress, but through the regional schools commissioners’ network my department has been supporting the trustees to find new staff, and will consider all reasonable requests for additional funding if and where it can help.

In respect of Oldknow Academy, the trustees have voted to bring in ARK, a well-established multi-academy sponsor with the capacity and capability to turn the academy around. I am confident that this arrangement will deliver the right results for the children at that school.

I am also pleased to report that yesterday the Park View educational trustees announced that Golden Hillock will also join the ARK network. This decision is a significant step along the road to ensuring that its pupils get the best possible chance to fulfil their potential.

In April 2014, Ofsted judged that Saltley School and Specialist Science College required special measures. The governing body resigned in June and an interim executive board was appointed. Since 1 September, Washwood Heath Academy - which was praised by Ofsted last year for its “strong lead on issues of religious extremism” - has been responsible for leadership in Saltley. It is now sponsoring Saltley’s application to convert to academy status. This will happen on 1 March.

Peter Clarke recommended that my department should consider the case for taking formal action against individual governors, or teachers who may have breached the teacher standards. The 2 academy trusts at the centre of concerns have already suspended a significant number of staff, pending disciplinary hearings.

I can also confirm that the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) is investigating a number of teachers, and officials are considering formal action against other individuals involved. We must take prompt and decisive action, but must also follow established and fair processes. I expect to see further progress in this area very shortly, but it is important to note that all cases will be judged against the strengthened advice I have issued to the NCTL.

Some key people involved in Birmingham schools were also leading figures in the Association of Muslim Schools UK (AMSUK), which performs some statutory functions in state-funded Muslim schools. These individuals have been removed from their positions, and AMSUK now has a new constitution recognising the importance of member schools upholding and promoting fundamental British values. The department will continue to monitor closely how AMSUK implements that constitution, to be sure it is suitable for its statutory role.

So, Mr Speaker, we have acted swiftly to turn around the academies mentioned in Peter Clarke’s report, but his investigation also recommended that Birmingham city council should review systems, processes and policies for supporting maintained schools in the city.

For this reason I appointed Sir Mike Tomlinson as Education Commissioner for Birmingham in September last year to work with the council and oversee the necessary reforms. I would like to thank Sir Mike and his deputy, Colin Diamond, for their invaluable work to date.

The House will also be aware that Sir Bob Kerslake published his review of governance in Birmingham city council in December. This showed the scale of the challenge. I am pleased that Sir Bob recommended that both Sir Mike and Lord Warner, who continues as Children’s Social Care Commissioner in Birmingham until March, should be ex-officio members of an improvement panel that will oversee much needed reform.

The council now has an education services improvement plan, which I welcome. But they have much more to do to put that into practice. And schools need to be confident that any concerns they raise with the council will be tackled quickly and effectively.

I met the leader of the council earlier this month, with the cabinet member for children’s services and senior council officers. I told them I was concerned that reform is too slow, and that I want to see much stronger leadership. If the council do not take urgent steps to improve their leadership capacity, I am prepared to make use of the powers available to me to issue a statutory direction to the council. I will continue to keep this under review.

I can tell the House that I have extended Sir Mike Tomlinson’s appointment to March 2016 to oversee the council’s delivery of the plan they have developed.

Mr Speaker, as I said earlier we need not only to act on individual cases but to build greater resilience into the system too.

As Peter Clarke recommended, I have increased my department’s capacity and expertise in counter-extremism - dramatically expanding the Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Group in the DfE and placing it under the leadership of a full-time director. We will make further changes within the department in response to my Permanent Secretary’s report, which was laid before the House on Friday 16 January - for example establishing a counter-extremism steering group that ensures the whole department recognises and acts upon its responsibilities in this area.

Since Peter Clarke’s report was published, my department has strengthened the process for converting to academy status or joining a multi-academy trust. New checks are now done on prospective trustees. Regional schools commissioners decide convertor applications using local intelligence, with help from local headteacher boards. Academies must also now publish registers of trustees’ interests and inform the Education Funding Agency (EFA) of changes to trustees. We are consulting on similar requirements on registers of interest for governors of maintained schools.

We have made important changes and clarifications to the Governors’ Handbook, with clear expectations about skills and capacity, and the information governors need to provide. We are also responding to recommendations on Prevent training, by changing statutory safeguarding guidance.

I want school staff and the public to feel confident about reporting safeguarding concerns, including extremism, to the department. I intend to extend the scope for extending legal protections to school staff making ‘whistleblowing’ allegations. Ofsted is also reviewing its arrangements for handling complaints, to make sure these adequately capture extremism concerns.

On 25 November, Ofsted published an advice note on no-notice inspection, having indicated already that they would broaden their criteria for considering when to conduct them. There were 35 unannounced inspections in the autumn term. While the chief inspector has confirmed that Ofsted will not routinely inspect schools without notice, it does so where concerns arise, such as in a number of inspections in Tower Hamlets in October. This has already proven to be an effective approach.

Other important changes over the last 6 months, including to the inspection handbook for publicly funded schools, respond partly to lessons from Birmingham. The handbook makes clear that inspectors should assess how schools keep children safe from the risks of extremism and radicalisation, and how they promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.

Mr Speaker, I want to be clear that it is right that all schools of whatever type should promote these values. They lie at the heart of our country and society. They help to open young people’s minds, making them into citizens who respect difference, who welcome disagreement and who challenge intolerance. They are the attributes that have in this century and the last made our country one of the greatest forces for good. They are the values that bind us together. The values that mean that despite the many differences in our nation, we can find a way to move forward together.

These values unite rather than divide. And so I say again that no school should be exempt from promoting them, just as no school should be exempt from promoting rigorous academic standards. It is not one rule for some and another for the rest, but a fair and transparent system that has the best interests of children at its heart.

Every school should be promoting fundamental British values, not just because they act as a bulwark against extremism, but because it is the right thing to do.

Mr Speaker, this government will not tolerate extremism of any kind. It turns one against another. It warps minds. It causes harm and division in communities. And it can ultimately lead to support for terrorism.

The battle against it begins at school where young people learn to be active, resilient and tolerant citizens, ready to seize the rich opportunities of modern Britain. That is why I am proud that no government has done more to tackle extremism in schools than this government, and we shall continue to do so in the years to come.

I commend this statement to the House.