With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on schools in Birmingham.
Keeping our children safe and ensuring that our schools prepare them for life in modern Britain could not be more important; it is my Department’s central mission. Allegations made in what has become known as the Trojan horse letter suggested that children were not being kept safe in Birmingham schools. Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency have investigated those allegations. Their reports and other relevant documents have today been placed in the Library. 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,”
“a culture of fear and intimidation.”
Head teachers who had
“a record of raising standards”
reported that 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 that 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; 12 were found to require improvement. The remaining six 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, and senior leaders told inspectors that a madrassah had been established and paid for from the school’s budget. Ofsted concluded that 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 that the call to prayer was broadcast across the playground on loud speakers. Officials observed that lessons had been narrowed to comply with conservative Islamic teachings. In biology, students were told that
“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 mujaheddin 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 e-mails of senior leaders, and Ofsted found that there
was a lack of action to protect students from extremism. At a third secular secondary school, Ofsted found that students were
“vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which…include radicalisation”.
At a secular primary, Ofsted found that
“pupils have limited knowledge of religious beliefs other than Islam”
“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 reported failures on the part of Birmingham city council. It found that the council did not deal adequately with repeated complaints from head teachers. School leaders expressed “very little confidence” in the local authority, and Ofsted concluded that Birmingham had not exercised adequate judgement. These findings demand a robust but 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 that 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 critical questions about whether warning signs were missed. There are questions for Birmingham council, Ofsted and the Department for Education. Today, I have asked Birmingham council to review its history on this issue, and the chief inspector has advised me that he will consider the lessons learned for Ofsted. I am also concerned that the DFE may not have acted when it should have done. I am asking the permanent secretary to investigate how my Department dealt with warnings since the formation of this Government in 2010, and before. We must all acknowledge that there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism.
Let me make it clear that no Government and no Home Secretary have done more to tackle extremism than this Government and this Home Secretary. In the Prime Minister’s Munich speech of 2011, in the Home Secretary’s own review of the Prevent strategy, and in the conclusions of the Government’s extremism taskforce last year, this Government have made it clear that we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent. 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 trains 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 Michael Wilshaw himself.
There is, of course, more to do, and today’s reports make action urgent. First, we need to take action in the schools found to be inadequate. Academies will receive letters saying that I am minded to terminate funding agreements; in local authority schools, governors are being 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 the 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 that 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, requiring all those schools actively to 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 AMS UK to satisfy us that it is doing enough to protect children from extremism, and we will take appropriate steps if its guarantees are insufficiently robust.
I have 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 that 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 to protect our nation’s traditions of tolerance and liberty.
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 that they should not have been exposed to. As Education Secretary, I am taking decisive action to make sure that 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.
The events in Birmingham reveal an education policy in disarray, a Government more concerned about warring egos than school standards and a Prime Minister unable
to control his Cabinet. But while Ministers carry on their briefings, sackings and apology, the education and safeguarding of children in the great city Birmingham must be this House’s priority.
I appreciate the anxiety which parents and pupils are feeling in the midst of this debate. Our focus now has to be on ensuring successful futures for the schools identified today, because what the recent weeks has shown is that the Education Secretary’s vision of controlling every school from behind a desk in Whitehall does not work; that Ofsted has to think much more carefully about the nature of its inspection system; that Birmingham city council has, as Sir Albert Bore acknowledged, some tough questions to ask of the quality of leadership in its children and young people’s directorate; that current systems of schools governance are open to abuse; and that there is a broader debate to be had about education and faith, underperformance among minority ethnic groups and the limits of communalism in multicultural Britain. In an age of multiple religions, identities and cultures, we need to be clearer about what a state education means for children of all faiths and no faiths.
Having read the Ofsted reports, Sir Michael Wilshaw’s letter and the report of the Education Funding Agency, for advance notice of which I thank the Education Secretary, I share the Education Secretary’s concerns about the provision of education and the safeguarding of children in certain schools in Birmingham. It cannot be right that children have been at risk of marginalisation from mainstream society, cultural isolation or even radicalisation. Similarly, the focus on narrow attainment at the expense of students’ personal and social development is a cause for concern. Some of the other Ofsted reports highlight invitations to inappropriate speakers, the downgrading or elimination of sex and relationship education, gender segregation, staff intimidation and a failure to prepare pupils to live in a multicultural society.
Sir Michael reports governors
“trying to impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools.”
“They do not ensure that a broad and balanced curriculum equips pupils to live and work in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and democratic Britain.”
This is an issue for faith schools as well as non-faith schools. We cannot have such situations in any English schools, and the report by the Education Funding Agency on the culture, ethos and governments of Oldknow academy has raised similar concerns about a restricted curriculum and the furtherance of conservative Islamist views.
We now have at least four investigations into what is occurring in Birmingham schools and today the Education Secretary has announced yet another, but this is an attempt to evade his own responsibility as Secretary of State. It seems to be everyone else’s problem—the Home Secretary’s, Charles Farr’s, the city council’s—but not his own. The truth is that if he had been in charge of the management of his Department, these issues would not have arisen in recent years. The Secretary of State has said that he has acted with speed on the issue, but the truth is that Ministers have been ignoring it for four years. In 2010, the respected Birmingham head teacher
Tim Boyes made a presentation to the Department for Education highlighting the risk of a radical agenda infiltrating Birmingham schools, but nothing was done.
Will the Secretary of State confirm today which Ministers were present at Mr Boyes’s presentation, when he was first informed of the details of Mr Boyes’s presentation, when Ofsted was informed of the details of Mr Boyes’s presentation and when the Government’s extremism task force met to discuss Mr Boyes’s presentation? Or, as the Home Secretary has put it, is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010 and, if so, why did nobody act?
We do not need another massive review by the permanent secretary. Mr Boyes has provided the Department with information on his 2010 meeting and we need to know what steps the Ministers took and why the Secretary of State did not act. We need those answers here today, because the Labour party’s answer is absolutely clear. We need a local director of standards and accountability.
We know that Park View Educational Trust, the academy chain essential to the controversy, had a free school application turned down in 2013 on security grounds, yet the Secretary of State allowed the trust to take over Golden Hillock the same year. Can he explain why the trust was unfit to set up a free school but was still allowed to take over the Golden Hillock school, despite those security concerns? Who made that decision and what due diligence was undertaken?
The truth is that events in Birmingham point to a strategic failing in the Government’s education policy. The Secretary of State’s agenda has been an ideology of atomisation and fragmentation: teachers without qualifications; every school an island; a free market of provision; and an attempt to oversee it all from behind a desk in Whitehall. Birmingham has shown that that model is bust. Sir Michael Wilshaw speaks of successful schools in Birmingham having
“too few opportunities to share their successful practice with others.”
That is because of Government policy, and Sir Michael recommends a review of the education funding arrangements for auditing governance in academies and free schools, but the Education Secretary’s mantra of centralism and secrecy remains. He has learned nothing from this event. He says that he will personally look at funding agreements, once again from behind a desk in Whitehall, when what we need are local systems of oversight and accountability, with a system of local checks and balances.
The dramatic change in Ofsted rankings from outstanding to inadequate has also brought into sharp focus the need for inspection criteria that look beyond the exam factory model of recent years. We need young people to excel in their academic and vocational attainment, but to come out of school career-ready, college-ready and life-ready. That is why the Opposition welcomes Sir Michael Wilshaw’s request to have a broad and balanced curriculum added as a further criterion to the inspection framework. We think that it should go further, to look at the development of character, resilience and grit in our school system. The Labour party believes that sex and relationship education should be a part of that.
The events in Birmingham have brought to light a desperate weakness in Government thinking. On the one hand, there is an education policy designed to fragment and divide, isolate without oversight and increase the risks of radicalisation—
The Education Secretary speaks of requiring all schools to promote British values; all well and good. Among the greatest of British values is an education system that welcomes and integrates migrant communities, builds successful citizens in a multicultural society and secures safety and high standards for all, and the Education Secretary is failing to do so.
I thank Tristram Hunt for his comments and I agree that we need to focus on successful futures for these schools. I also agree that we need a broader debate, to ensure that all schools—faith and non-faith—make sure that children are integrated into modern Britain. But I regret the fact that in his comments he was not able to let us know the Labour party’s position on no-notice inspections. I am grateful to Mr Mahmood for stressing that he believes that no-notice inspections are right; I am also grateful to Dame Tessa Jowell for stressing that. But I am still none the wiser about the position of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central. I am afraid that I am also none the wiser about his position on whether or not it is right to promote British values in schools and right to take the other steps that we have taken.
The hon. Gentleman asks about meetings between the Department for Education and the Birmingham headmaster, Tim Boyes, in 2010. I can confirm that I was not at that meeting, nor was I informed about its content. That is why I have asked the permanent secretary to investigate, and I have also asked him to look at other occasions before 2010 when warnings were reportedly given. The hon. Gentleman has previously alleged that I was warned by Mr Boyes in 2010 and did not act; that is not the case and I hope that he will make it clear in the future, and withdraw that allegation.
The hon. Gentleman asks about local oversight of all these schools. It is important to stress that when Tim Boyes raised these issues in 2010 all these schools were facing local oversight from Birmingham city council, and as Sir Michael Wilshaw has concluded, Birmingham city council failed. As Ofsted makes clear, repeated warnings to those charged with local oversight were ignored. Indeed, it was only after my Department was informed about the allegations in the Trojan horse letter that action was taken, and I thank Birmingham city council for its co-operation since then.
The hon. Gentleman asks what action was taken overall since 2010. It would be quite wrong to allege, as he does, that the Department has taken no action on extremism since 2010; the opposite is the case. As the Home Secretary pointed out, we were the first Department outside her own to set up a counter-extremism unit. Unreported and under-appreciated, it has prevented a number of extremist or unsuitable organisations from securing access to public funds.
The hon. Gentleman asks about academies and free schools, and the autonomy that they enjoy. First, I must correct him: none of the schools that Ofsted inspected are free schools and all the evidence so far is that free
schools in Birmingham are proving a success. I must also correct him on the matter of oversight of academies. Academies are subject to sharper and more rigorous accountability than local authority schools. They are inspected not just by Ofsted but by the Education Funding Agency.
The hon. Gentleman also asks about curriculum inspection. Let me stress that it is already a requirement that schools have a broad and balanced curriculum; the question is enforcement. That means giving Ofsted the tools it needs, such as no-notice inspections and suitably qualified inspectors.
The problems identified today are serious and long-standing. They require us all to take action against all forms of extremism. I have been encouraged throughout my career by support from Opposition Members—Keith Vaz, Ian Austin, Hazel Blears and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr, among others—for a non-partisan approach to fighting extremism. I hope that, after his comments today, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central will reflect on the seriousness of these charges and recognise that this is not an appropriate vehicle on which he should make wider criticisms of the school reforms with which he and his party disagree. I hope that, in the future, we can count on him and others working across party boundaries to keep our children safe.
Beneath all this froth of what letters were written, by whom and to whom, is not the essential point this: at last we have a Secretary of State—the first—who is prepared in our state secular schools to take on Muslim sensibilities, or the sensibilities of anybody else, to ensure that all religions and all people are treated with equal respect?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Let me stress again—his question gives me the opportunity to do so—that there are exemplary Muslim faith schools and that the contribution of Britain’s Muslim community is immeasurable, and immeasurably for the good. But one of the things that both the Home Secretary and I have sought to do is ensure that in schools or other civic institutions the dangers of extremism, violent or non-violent, are countered head-on.
May I pick up on the Secretary of State’s previous point? Does he accept that in my constituency, where 30%-plus of the population are of the Muslim faith, there are plenty of schools—faith schools or secular schools—where 100% of pupils might be Muslim but that so far we have been able to avoid allegations of extremism of this kind? That is true elsewhere across the country. If we are to get the overwhelming majority of followers of the Muslim faith on board, it is crucial that we distinguish between those who are devout, but who embrace British values, and those who are extreme. We need to concentrate on those who are extreme and see them isolated.
I absolutely agree. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the work he has done to ensure that state-funded schools can provide children and parents in Blackburn with an Islamic faith education that equips them for the 21st century. Let me emphasise that there is
a key distinction, which this Government have drawn, between perfectly respectable religious conservatism, whatever the faith, and extremist activity. It is vital that that distinction is maintained.
Order. The hon. Gentleman’s chuntering in the background is of no interest or relevance whatsoever.
Is not a key issue that might give rise to extremism and the rejection of British values a cultural one: namely, the unwillingness or inability among some communities to speak English? Is not it important, therefore, to give appropriate financial support in those areas where we need to tackle potential exclusion, and even ghettoisation, to support the teaching of English at the earliest stage?
My hon. Friend is, as ever, absolutely right. A key element of the Prime Minister’s 2011 Munich speech was an insistence that we do everything possible to ensure that everyone who grows up in this country can speak English fluently, and that is one of the principal aims of our education programme.
At times over the past month or two, I have thought that this day would never come. These reports have been kept under wraps, hidden in full from parents, while they have been leaked in part left, right and centre. Parents, who should have been the first to know, have been the last to know about the contents of these reports. I am sure that the Secretary of State will want to apologise to the House for the contempt with which parents have been treated in this debate. Secondly, he knows that I have been at the forefront in calling for this Ofsted process. I am glad that Sir Michael Wilshaw has today said that there is no evidence of an organised plot to radicalise our children or introduce extremism into schools, but four out of the six academies—
Order. I do not know with what frequency the right hon. Gentleman contributes from the Back Benches—[Interruption.] Order. I recognise that these matters are of extreme salience to his constituents; I do not need him to tell me that. The simple fact is that his question, which is not yet a question, is far too long—[Interruption.] Order. We must leave it there for now.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the points he makes. It was vital that we ensured that the schools concerned had an opportunity to read the Ofsted reports before they were published and to let us know whether, in their view, there was any factual inaccuracy. It was vital—indeed, he made this point to me in a private meeting—that we did everything possible to ensure that these reports were bullet-proof against challenge. I absolutely share his desire to ensure that we do everything possible to reassure parents. The parents who have spoken out and have contacted Ofsted and the Department for Education want action to be taken, because, as is clear from the reports, the behaviour of certain governors, as reported, is unacceptable.
My right hon. Friend’s statement is extremely important. His ability to find the right line in reassuring parents
across the country that this is not happening everywhere and answering the question, “How did we get where we are?”, regarding some of these schools will be very important. Bearing in mind the possibility of any links outside the United Kingdom, will he assure me that if any information has come to light in the course of the investigations that might link with any other inquiry that has been held in the United Kingdom, or identifies any links to any organisations abroad that might, through their work, be threatening us, it will be made available to the appropriate authorities?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, whose knowledge of these issues as a former middle east Minister is unparalleled. Peter Clarke will use his expertise to marshal and gather all the information necessary to see whether there is any influence, untoward or otherwise, from outside this country.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that this inquiry will not tar all the Muslim community in Birmingham, other than a few individuals who took it on themselves to lead with this issue and try to wreck the whole community and its reputation? Will he also confirm that the schools will be put back to normal as soon as possible and that whatever structural changes are due are made quickly so that in September children return to a proper education?
Absolutely: I can provide assurances on both those points. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been outstanding in his efforts to ensure community cohesion in Birmingham? He has been one of the first and clearest voices in this House warning us about the dangers of extremism, and his commitment to his constituents is second to none.
Does the Secretary of State agree that there is uncertainty among many parents about what their children are entitled to be taught in school? Would it not reassure parents if the Government introduced a minimum curriculum entitlement that all state-funded schools would teach?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Schools are, of course, already required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. I hope that in the weeks ahead we can have an informed debate about the correct balance between the autonomy that schools and head teachers properly enjoy in order to innovate and to have their professional expertise respected and a guarantee to parents that their children are being taught in a way that conforms with the values that we both share.
British values, which the Secretary of State wants to promote, include the rule of law. I am therefore quite troubled by the part of his statement where he said that 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. Surely that is unacceptable, whether the school is secular or a faith school. It needs to be made clear that these standards must apply to schools universally.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Let me stress that prior to the publication of these reports and of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s covering letter, some questioned whether these investigations were worth while. I pay tribute to her for emphasising how important it is that we deal with the findings. I also pay tribute to the shadow Secretary of State for making it clear that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s integrity is unimpeachable.
I thank the Secretary of State for the opportunity to see the papers in advance, there being two schools affected in my constituency. The National Association of Head Teachers has expressed concern that the system of investigation and inspection is rather inchoate and suggested that a more coherent system of investigation of allegations is needed. I agree—does the Secretary of State?
It is absolutely right that we review how we investigate the problems that have been identified. As Ms Stuart pointed out, it is clear that Ofsted has uncovered a number of unacceptable practices. It is also clear that the Education Funding Agency has additional powers in relation to academies that have been incredibly useful in this regard as well. I am entirely open to considering how, in future, we can provide parents with guarantees that their children are safe.
It is clear from the reports published today that the central charge that there has been an organised plot to import extremism that has radicalised children in Birmingham has not been met. What there has been is unacceptably poor and bad governance, which has let children, parents and staff down, and which must be tackled. Those two things are not the same. Does the Secretary of State therefore regret the tone of the debate, which has sent a clear message to Muslim parents in Birmingham and beyond that the education of their children will be viewed through the prism of national security?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the opportunity to make two points. She is absolutely right. When the allegations were raised in the original Trojan horse letter, it was important that they were investigated, and the findings we have today are the findings that Ofsted and the Education Funding Agency are competent to deliver.
Peter Clarke is also looking into some of the broader allegations. One of the reasons he was chosen is that if people have been unfairly alleged to have taken part in activities of which they are entirely innocent, there can be no more effective figure to exonerate them than Peter Clarke.
I would also emphasise that Sheik Shady al-Suleiman spoke at one of these schools and his comments are now on the record of the House. I think that anyone listening to those comments would recognise that such a speaker in a school is exposing children to the dangers of extremism.
We will consult on the statement of British values shortly.
Amid the general hysteria that has been whipped up over these anonymous allegations, does the Secretary of State accept that there are many decent, good, hard-working school governors in Birmingham who give up their time freely? One of the schools mentioned, Golden Hillock, is right on the edge of the adjoining constituency to mine and many of my constituents’ children go to it. They cannot understand the picture that has been painted of its governors, including the chairman, Mohammed Shafique, and others whom I know, who have been at the forefront of fighting radicalism and terrorism in local communities.
The Secretary of State has rightly said that it is important that there is community cohesion. Could he therefore explain why Ofsted removed the requirement in the Ofsted inspection to demonstrate what steps schools were taking to address community cohesion? Did Ofsted do that off its own back, did the Secretary of State give his approval, or did he tell Ofsted to remove the obligation?
Ofsted clearly has the capacity to detect when schools are not adhering to the responsibility to deliver community cohesion, as the reports published today clearly demonstrate. I will not be drawn into the question of individual governors, but let me take this opportunity to underline the broader point the hon. Gentleman makes that there are many who are committed to state education in Birmingham who are doing a superb job, including governors, teachers and school leaders. I should add that maintained schools, faith schools, academies and free schools in Birmingham are all contributing to the renaissance of state education in that city. That only makes it more important that we deal with those schools that are failing to protect children and failing to prepare them for the 21st century.
I know at first hand how seriously my right hon. Friend takes the issue of extremism in our schools. Does he agree that there is a sharp contrast between the speed with which he and his Department took action to tackle failing schools and to investigate extremism and the lacklustre approach of Birmingham city council? Will he therefore investigate what oversight Birmingham had over Saltley science college, a community school where Ofsted has just reported the governors spent tens of thousands of pounds of school funds on private investigators, private solicitors and meals in restaurants, and where, according to Ofsted, governance is inadequate and staff are intimidated?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Department for Education has been faster to react to concerns expressed about schools and to deal with failure than many local authorities. The case of Saltley, a local authority maintained school, is shocking, but let me stress that Birmingham city council is now fully seized of the importance of dealing with this problem. Let me pay tribute to Sir Albert Bore, whom I met earlier today, who now understands fully the vital importance of working with central Government to
deal with it. Local government has failed in the past. We need to ensure that central and local government work together to deal with this problem.
May I first welcome the fact that we seem to be moving inexorably towards a national curriculum that is applied nationally? That is progress.
In the spirit of the Secretary of State’s last answer, will he ask his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to delve into the Home Office archives for a research report of 10 years ago—funded by the Government—which examined the cultural isolation of, and the lessons to be learned from, schools in Burnley and adjoining Blackburn? The report was counter-intuitive, but it would now be extremely helpful in going forward.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he is referring to the Cantle report, which we have looked at in the past. Certainly, there is a body of work that helps us to understand some of the challenges of separate communities and of how to secure better integration.
On the question of the curriculum, the one thing I would say is that I am confused about Labour’s position on the national curriculum. Labour Members seem to want to extend it to all schools, but the shadow Secretary of State has said that all schools should have the ability to opt out completely from it. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has the benefit of experience and that the shadow Minister does not, but until we get a consensus view from the Labour party I will listen to Sir Michael Wilshaw.
As Ms Stuart said, these findings would be unacceptable in any school—secular or faith, state or independent. This affront to British values may well extend to other schools outside the area that Ofsted has already inspected. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is no hiding place in any part of the British education system for the misogyny and homophobia that underpin so much of the religious fundamentalism in some of our schools?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Inevitably, there was only so much I could say in the time allocated about the weaknesses in the schools identified. She homes in on one problem, which is that children who are at risk of being exposed to extremist views are often at risk of being exposed to views that are fundamentally offensive to those of us who believe in the equality of all human beings. Therefore, if there are concerns—anywhere in this House or outside—about children being exposed to those views or at danger of being exposed to those views, I hope that individuals will feel able to contact Ofsted using the new whistleblowing framework outlined by Sir Michael Wilshaw to ensure rapid investigation.
All faiths should subscribe to universal human values and universal human rights, including equal treatment of men and women. Where there is clear evidence in our
schools of unacceptable practices, as there is in the case of a small minority of schools in Birmingham, it should be dealt with decisively. However, does the Secretary of State accept that it is important for politicians to act responsibly, and that it is wrong to use inflammatory language or to take steps that send the wrong message? To that end, what were the grounds for appointing a former of head of counter-terrorism to investigate Birmingham’s schools, and was it wise to do so?
It was absolutely wise to appoint Peter Clarke to his role as commissioner. It is important to stress that he is looking at some of the wider allegations that were raised in the Trojan horse letter. Some of the allegations in the letter appear to be unfounded; others appear to be supported by the evidence that we have gathered. We need to make sure that Birmingham city council and every agency have the capacity necessary to keep children safe.
It is important to recognise that Peter Clarke has not just the investigative capability but the experience of working with the Charity Commission to ensure that public funds are properly used and that the public are properly protected. If the hon. Gentleman has any concerns about the integrity, probity or authority of Peter Clarke, he should please bring them to me. The time has come to recognise that the situation in Birmingham is sufficiently serious that a public servant of Peter Clarke’s skill is exactly the right person to investigate.
I listened intently to the lengthy contribution of the shadow Secretary of State. I worry that he has developed political amnesia. As we have heard, the roots of the issue in Birmingham run deep and include Birmingham city council. Will the Secretary of the State assure the House that Peter Clarke will look fully at the allegation that the previous Government failed to act on a report of an attempted hard-line Muslim takeover of a school in Birmingham as far back as 2008?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I will stress two things. First, the permanent secretary will look to see exactly how the Department responded to warnings before and after the formation of this Government. Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, before 2010, a number of individuals who were associated with extremist views and organisations were supported by public funds or invited to advise the last Government on anti-extremism. That does not happen under this Government as a result of her leadership. It would be gracious of Tristram Hunt to acknowledge the leadership that the Home Secretary has shown and the improvement in our counter-extremism strategy as a result.
I have no objection to no-notice inspections. They have worked in other areas. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there is no evidence before him of this kind of activity taking place in other areas of the country, and that his support of faith schools remains unshakeable? May I also put to him the question that the Home Secretary asked me to put to him? Has he replied to her letter of
I believe that my statement today provides a full response to all the concerns that were raised in the letter in respect of Birmingham city council’s failure in the past, on which Sir Michael Wilshaw has reported, and the warnings that my Department was given in 2010. I am also delighted to reinforce my support not just for faith schools, but for free schools that have a faith ethos, such as the outstanding Krishna Avanti primary school in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency, which I had the pleasure of opening. I underline the request for him or any other Member of the House who has concerns about extremism in any part of the country to please bring them to my attention and the attention of Ofsted. Mr Ward has brought concerns to my attention about issues in Bradford. I am pleased to say that the Labour local authority in Bradford is currently dealing with those.
We are hearing about the despicable things that have happened in Birmingham and it is quite right that they should be investigated, but I have a slight concern. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have some of the best education in faith schools of all religions across this country, and that we must not condemn all faith schools just because of something that might have happened in one area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is one of the pleasures of my job to visit voluntary aided schools and schools with a faith ethos that do an outstanding job of respecting the religious beliefs of children and making sure those children are fit for a life in modern Britain. It is important to stress that none of the schools that we are talking about are faith schools. One of the issues is that they are secular schools that governors have sought to turn into faith schools of a particular narrow kind in a way that is unacceptable.
Since the Secretary of State took on his job, he has limited local accountability and Ofsted oversight, and has fought attempts to publish the costs and funding agreements of schools and to reveal who is advising those schools and his Department, and on what basis. Given that he has fought openness and transparency from his Department tooth and nail, will he tell us, following the recent appalling events, whether he understands the importance of transparency to education and whether his Department will operate on a completely different basis from now on?
I understand the hon. Lady’s point. She has taken the opportunity of this statement to raise one or two other questions. I believe absolutely in the importance of openness and transparency. I also think that it is important that the advice that is given by officials in confidence to shape ministerial decisions is protected as a safe space. I also agree that it is vital that when we discover things that have gone wrong in the education system, as is shown by the reports today, we publish in full.
As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Islamophobia, may I say that we have heard time and again from the community about its desire to tackle extremism? We have also heard evidence that the news coverage of issues such as this
one, if they are reported wrongly, can increase feelings of insecurity, suspicion and alienation. In some instances, the wrong type of language has been used. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to do everything we can to help the community, and that accurate reporting of the established facts is really important?
I could not agree more. We must proceed on the basis of facts and evidence, and ensure that that evidence is rigorously assessed and judged fairly. My hon. Friend makes an important point about Islamophobia. I tried in my statement, and I will try on every platform I am given, to emphasise the fundamental difference between Islam as a great faith that brings spiritual nourishment to millions and inspires daily acts of generosity by thousands, and the narrow perversion of that religion, which is extremist Islamist ideology.
The Government fund Prevent co-ordinators in 30 local authorities where there is a perceived view of extremism. What work does the Secretary of State expect those co-ordinators to do in local schools? Over the past year how many reports were made by those co-ordinators to his Department?
I salute the work of Prevent co-ordinators. Immediately after these concerns were expressed, Birmingham city council sought funding from the Home Office for an additional Prevent co-ordinator to work with schools, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary authorised. A Prevent co-ordinator from east London has now joined Ofsted to ensure that all Ofsted inspectors who deal with issues of this kind are trained to deal with the signs of extremist, Islamist ideology. I am, of course, more than happy to work with the hon. Lady and others to ensure that we augment the good work of those Prevent co-ordinators who have been successful in dealing with problems of that kind.
The Secretary of State began by describing keeping children safe and preparing them for life in modern Britain as his Department’s central mission. Is he satisfied that he has the means to ensure that that happens, whether or not their school is funded by the taxpayer?
That is a very good point. Today we have outlined that we plan to consult on independent school standards, so that schools that are not funded by the taxpayer must meet basic standards of promoting British values, or the Education Secretary will have the capacity to close them down. We are also taking steps to work with the Association of Muslim Schools UK to see what more can be done.
The Education Secretary either omitted or did not get the opportunity fully to respond to the question from my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt about Park View. For the sake of clarity, will he explain why Park View was not allowed to open a free school but was allowed to sponsor Golden Hillock to become an academy?
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, in particular his commitment to put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school must deliver for children. Does he agree that the reason this country has been able to offer sanctuary to people from around the world of different races and faith for so long is precisely because of a simple covenant of citizenship: “Come here, speak our language, respect our heritage and values and you are welcome”?
I absolutely agree. One strength of the United Kingdom is that it has provided a safe and warm home for people of every faith over hundreds of years. It is critical that we ensure that our traditions of liberty and tolerance are protected so that everyone, whatever their background, can feel that sense of pride in this nation and allegiance to other citizens, which all of us would want to celebrate as the best of British.
Thousands of schools report directly to the Secretary of State with no formal opportunity for local oversight. Will he accept that what happened in Birmingham shows how important it is to have full local oversight? That is the only way to look after the interests of all children and young people in our schools up and down the country.
I agree that local representatives, whether in local authorities or as local MPs, should play a part in helping to ensure that children are safe. It is also important to recognise that the local authority in this case failed in the past, and that when the specific allegations in the Trojan horse letter were shared with the Department for Education, it was rapid in seeking to deal with those problems and ensuring that appropriate inspection and action was taken.
I welcome the decisive action taken by the Secretary of State today and the consultation on the promotion of British values. Does he agree that a very clear British value is that young girls and women should be seen and heard in the classroom, not relegated to the back of the room? Will he consult specifically on whether we will be teaching them the communication skills and confidence they need if they are hidden, in our schools and colleges, behind a niqab or burqa?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. One of the concerns raised in several reports was what appeared to be unacceptable segregation in the classroom. Another point I would make is that there are real questions about how sex and relationships education was taught in some of these schools. It is vital that schools should be places where young girls find their voices, rather than feeling that they are being silenced.
As a former teacher, I welcome the Secretary of State’s defence of faith and faith-based schooling. However, I believe that the atomisation of our schooling system is a problem. Does he not concur that a greater form of solidarity between local schools would help to self-police this type of extremism?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We are seeing a level of collaboration between schools—through teaching school alliances,
academy chains and informal partnerships—that is a very powerful driver of improved standards. It ensures that individual teachers, who may have concerns about what is happening in their own school, have access to a wider network of professionals who can help them to deal with the challenges they face.
I will do everything in my power—I hope every agency will—to help Peter Clarke in his job.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I infer from what he is saying that he is talking about further education colleges and perhaps even universities.
On specific concerns about specific institutions for under-16s that do not fall within my remit, I infer from that that the hon. Gentleman is thinking about independent schools or even, possibly, supplementary schools. As far as independent schools are concerned, we are consulting on toughening independent school standards, as I mentioned to my hon. Friend Duncan Hames. In respect of supplementary schools, sometimes known as madrassahs, we will shortly publish a code governing how madrassahs should operate. At the moment, the plan is that the code should be voluntary, but I am, of course, open to debate and contribution in the House on how to make it as effective as possible.
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the opening of the new Langley Green mosque in my constituency, which was a multi-faith event. Does the Secretary of State agree that that illustrates the importance of inclusivity, which the vast majority of the Muslim community want in our education system, both in Birmingham and across the country?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I think one of the things that is clear from the action that has been taken in schools today is that academies, and,
for that matter, free schools, are subject to a higher level of accountability than local authority schools. One of the things I will be looking at is how we can ensure that local authority schools are held to a similar level of accountability in the future, not least for the discharge of public money.
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether what has been discovered in Birmingham is confined to Birmingham? He will know of rumours of links between Birmingham schools and Bradford schools. Will he tell us whether it is sheer coincidence that Feversham college, a Muslim girls’ school that is one of the highest performing schools in the country, has been notified today that it will have an Ofsted inspection tomorrow?
I would make two points. First, the original Trojan horse letter, which as we know contained a number of facts and allegations that proved to be unfounded, was allegedly a letter sent to individuals in Bradford. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support in alerting me to some potential concerns. I know that Bradford council has taken them seriously, and I look forward to remaining in touch with Bradford—and, indeed, any other local authority that has concerns. The Department for Education is there to support and help if, for example, governors need to be removed and an interim executive board put in place. Secondly, as for what he tells me about Feversham college, I have no prior warning of any Ofsted inspections, which are quite properly an operational matter for the chief inspector unless I specifically request an inspection because of information that has been passed to me.
The Secretary of State’s failure to pinpoint these problems sooner makes it absolutely clear that he cannot micro-manage schools from Westminster. Will he now consider adopting a policy akin to Labour’s proposal for local directors of school standards, which would enable schools to be more accountable locally and would help to flag up these types of problems a lot sooner?
Noting that Ofsted has already put the spotlight on the quality of school leadership and management as part of the inspection, and recognising the Government’s focus on the skills of governing bodies rather than just on stakeholder representation, does the Secretary of State agree that that, combined with further accountability to the regional commissioners, will strengthen the resolve of councils to get rid of failing governors and is a step in the right direction?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, who has shown brilliant leadership on the issue of improving governance. As well as all of his important points, there are some specific recommendations on strengthening governance from Sir Michael Wilshaw that recommend themselves to me.
The Secretary of State will have heard my earlier question to the Home Secretary—one of many questions that she failed to answer this afternoon, so I am going to ask him the same question. We know of the correspondence between
his Department and other agencies about these issues in 2010. When did he become aware of it, and what has gone so wrong in his Department that it has taken an anonymous letter in 2014 to get action on something that it knew about in 2010?
The Secretary of State has reported Ofsted’s concern that governors are trying to impose a narrow faith-based ideology on what are non-faith schools, but that is also not in the public interest in faith-based schools, and surely it is part of the purpose of faith schools to deliver a faith-based ideology. Since we have had three decades of unhappy experience of violent division in Northern Ireland being reinforced by state-funded, faith-based education, is it not now about time that we asked people, if they want to exercise the freedom to have a faith-based education for their children, not to expect the rest of us to pay for it because it is not in the public interest?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his point. In the light of what has been revealed, it is important to have a debate about the proper place of faith in education, but I have to say that I respectfully disagree with him. I think that the role of a number of faith institutions from a variety of faiths in education has been all to the good.
Of course we must draw an important distinction between devout conservatism—whether it be Catholic, evangelical, Christian or Muslim—on the one hand, and extremism on the other hand. But has not all of this shown that the Achilles heel in the Secretary of State’s education policy is that there are more and more schools now in which there are fewer and fewer means of preventing fundamentalist indoctrination?
I do not accept that that is the case. If we look at the problems identified, I believe that they arose well before this Government were formed, and that it is as a result of this Government—and, in particular, as a result of the higher level of accountability that exists in academies and free schools—that we were able to take the exemplary action that we did.
In Birmingham and across the country, thousands of men and women are giving valuable voluntary service to act as school governors. Will my right hon. Friend explain what happens if there is a suspicion that a school governor is promoting extremism and what statutory powers there are in those circumstances to remove a school governor from an LEA-controlled school or an academy?
We are consulting on how we can ensure that we can remove governors if there is any suggestion that they have been involved in extremist activity in independent schools, and also extend that power in order to bar them from serving as governors in any local authority schools in the future.
The Secretary of State has provided a welcome clarification today by stating that he was not at the 2010 meeting at which Tim Boyes gave his presentation, and I am sure that he can extend the same clarification to any of his ministerial colleagues. However, as a former Minister, I know that action points will have been made at that meeting. Given the importance of this matter, will the Secretary of State now agree to publish those action points—without jeopardising the integrity and confidentiality of individual civil servants—and reveal what arose from them? Was any action taken?
That is a fair question. Let me say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, I have asked the permanent secretary to look at our responses to all the warnings that the Department has received, and I think that it would be premature for me to release anything before he has finished his report. Secondly, I have described—both in my statement and in my response to what was said by Tristram Hunt—some of the actions taken by my Department which have provided it with a more robust set of tools to deal with extremism than have been available before.
The Secretary of State has described some shocking behaviour—shocking not only to Muslim parents, but to all parents. Does he agree that the failure of Birmingham city council to deal with this problem over a long period demonstrates the importance of the academies programme, which takes powers away from politicians and bureaucrats and hands them to teachers?
My hon. Friend has made an important point. Some of the most outstanding schools in Birmingham are currently academies and free schools. Indeed, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central has previously praised Liam Nolan, the head teacher of Perry Beeches school, who runs an academy chain and has opened free schools. I think that the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to conflate the growth of academies and free schools—and the consequent improvement in school standards—and a risk of extremism constitutes an attempt to jump on an opportunistic bandwagon, which, sadly, is becoming a characteristic of his approach to opposition.
My hon. Friend has made a very good point. I have been disappointed by some of the comments made by the west midlands police and crime commissioner. I hope that today, following the publication of the reports, the commissioner will have an opportunity to reflect, to think again, and to discharge his responsibilities more effectively.
On Friday, in my constituency, I was approached by some Muslim parents and, indeed, Muslim teachers who were very concerned about the tone of this debate, and who felt that the Muslim community were being branded as extremists. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all of us who are involved in the debate should be cool-headed and avoid using incendiary language such as “Islamist plots”—when such plots do not appear to exist—and “draining the swamp”? Does he also agree that many state schools with a high proportion of Muslim students, and indeed Muslim faith schools, offer a good, well-rounded education?
Clear requirements apply to all voluntarily aided faith schools. They are, of course, allowed to make provision for appropriate worship and for freedom of conscience, but they must also offer a broad and balanced curriculum, as has always been the case. They must also respect British values, and, as a result of the proposals on which I intend to consult from today, they will always be required to promote those values actively in the future as well.
In the light of what we have learned today, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with what appears to be the Home Secretary’s view—that there is no real need to increase spending on anti-extremist programmes?
I totally agree with the Home Secretary and I think that her leadership on counter-extremism has been exemplary.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the findings of these reports demonstrate the need to ensure that there is a breadth of views on school governing bodies? One way of achieving that is to ensure that there are governors of different faiths on governing bodies and that they are encouraged to take a proactive role so that pupils receive a balanced education.
My hon. Friend makes a characteristically acute and pertinent point.
I welcome what the Secretary of State is doing in this area. I was appalled by some of the report’s findings, particularly the comment by Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, where he distorted the concept of jihad and linked it to Afghanistan, which is often used by extremists to recruit people to radicalisation. Linked to that, does the Secretary of State agree that Sunday schools at places of worship should also be encouraged to teach British values and that sermons should be taught in English and not simply in Urdu or Arabic, to ensure that distortion is tackled?
My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. He is right that the concept of jihad in Islam is a complex one and that it is possible to talk about it as a form of internal struggle. However, in the reported comments of Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, it is clear that he is not using jihad in that context. My hon. Friend raises broader questions about how we deal with supplementary schools and Sunday schools in madrassahs. We will consult on how to deal with those.
I understand that my right hon. Friend has already introduced standards that allow the teaching of extremist views to be barred. Will he also advertise whistleblower lines more widely, so that teachers and parents can contact the Department for Education directly?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We want to ensure that whistleblowers and others who have concerns can contact Ofsted in particular, so that inspection can be swift and effective.