Birmingham Schools

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 11:14 am on 29 January 2015.

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Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education 11:14, 29 January 2015

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

The Government have 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. I am pleased to report that since I last updated the House in July, all the recommendations have been implemented or are on track. As a result, I am confident that if the events we witnessed in Birmingham were repeated again, they would be identified and dealt with more quickly and far more effectively.

However, let me be clear that there is no room for complacency either in the specific case of Birmingham or 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, but build resilience into the system to ensure that 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 head teachers who are able to tackle the troubling legacy of previous trustees. I am enormously grateful to them for their work.

There has been good progress at two of the three 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 supported the trustees to find new staff, and it 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 that arrangement will deliver the right results for the children at that school.

I am pleased to report that yesterday the trustees of the Park View Educational Trust 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, leadership at Saltley has been the responsibility of Washwood Heath academy, which was praised by Ofsted last year for its

“strong lead on issues of religious extremism.”

It is now sponsoring Saltley’s application to convert to academy status, which 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 their teacher standards. The two academy trusts at the centre of concerns have already suspended a significant number of staff pending disciplinary hearings. I can confirm that the National College for Teaching and Leadership is investigating a number of teachers and that officials are considering formal action against other individuals involved. We must take prompt and decisive action, but we 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 that I have issued to the NCTL.

Some key people involved in Birmingham schools were leading figures in the Association of Muslim Schools UK, which performs some statutory functions in state-funded Muslim schools. They have now been removed from their positions, and AMSUK now has a new constitution that recognises 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 that it is suitable for its statutory role.

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 the systems, processes and policies for supporting maintained schools in the city. For that reason, I appointed Sir Mike Tomlinson as education commissioner for Birmingham last September 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. That showed the scale of the challenge. I am pleased that Sir Bob recommended that 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 the much needed reform.

The council now has an education services improvement plan, which I welcome, but it has much more to do to put it into practice. 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, along with the cabinet member for children’s services and senior council officers. I told them that I was concerned that the reform was too slow, and that I wanted to see much stronger leadership. If the council does not take urgent steps to improve its leadership capacity, I am prepared to use the powers available to me to issue a statutory direction to the council. I will continue to keep that 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 it has developed.

As I said earlier, we need not only to act on individual cases, but to build greater resilience into the system. As Peter Clarke recommended, I have increased my

Department’s capacity and expertise in counter-extremism by dramatically expanding the due diligence and counter-extremism group in the Department and placing it under the leadership of a full-time director. We will make further changes in the Department in response to my permanent secretary’s report, which was laid before the House on Friday 16 January. For example, we will establish a counter-extremism steering group to ensure that the whole Department recognises and acts on 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, and regional schools commissioners decide on convertor applications using local intelligence, with help from local head teacher boards. Academies must also publish registers of trustees’ interests and inform the Education Funding Agency of changes of 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 that governors need to provide. We are also responding to the recommendations on Prevent training by changing the statutory safeguarding guidance.

I want school staff and the public to feel confident about reporting safeguarding concerns, including about extremism, to the Department. I intend to extend the scope of legal protections to school staff who make whistleblowing allegations. Ofsted is also reviewing its arrangements for handling complaints to ensure that they adequately capture concerns about extremism.

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

Other important changes that have been made over the last six months, including to the inspection handbook for publicly funded schools, respond partly to the lessons from Birmingham. The handbook makes it 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.

I want to be clear that all schools of whatever type should promote those 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, welcome disagreement and 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. They are 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, 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. There 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.

The Government will not tolerate extremism of any kind. It turns one against another, warps minds, and causes harm and division in communities. 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 who are ready to seize the rich opportunities of modern Britain. That is why I am proud that no Government have 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.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Shadow Secretary of State for Education 11:24, 29 January 2015

I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance notice of it.

It is well to begin at the start of this unfortunate episode. In 2010 the then Schools Minister, Lord Hill, was told by the Birmingham head teacher Tim Boyes of serious concerns about attempted takeovers of Birmingham schools by activists and governors with a radical Islamist agenda. The Government did nothing with that information. In the words of the permanent secretary, the Department showed a sustained

“lack of inquisitiveness on issues relating to potential extremism or destabilisation of schools by external interests.”

Meetings were not followed up, warnings were ignored. Only when the so-called Trojan horse affair hit the newspapers did Ministers think it would be a good idea to act to safeguard the children of Birmingham. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to come here and say “We have acted quickly in the schools affected,” but for four years they did nothing at all.

The Clarke report found that messages circulated among some of the school staff concerned included

“explicit homophobia; highly offensive comments about British service personnel; a stated ambition to increase segregation in the school; disparagement of strands of Islam; scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings; and a constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”

I agree with the Secretary of State that there can be no place for such intolerance in British society, and especially not in our schools. Recent events in Paris and Peshawar and heightened concerns over anti-Semitism make that all the more important. We welcome the teaching of British or enlightenment values as part of the syllabus and the Government’s new commitment to a broad and balanced curriculum as part of the school inspection system, not least because it has long been Labour party policy.

However, the Clarke report also revealed that the speed of the Government’s academisation policy and their aggressive fragmentation of the schools system had increased the risk of radical takeover. Peter Clarke heavily criticised the Government’s policy

“by which single schools are able to convert to academy status.”

He found that there was no

“suitable system for holding the new academies accountable for financial and management issues”,

and concluded that the Government’s accountability policy amounted to “benign neglect”. It was the pupils at Golden Hillock, at Nansen primary school, at Park View, at Oldknow and at Saltley school who suffered because of that neglect.

Although the Opposition fully accept that the challenge of dealing with minority achievement in high-poverty inner-urban areas, the growth of conservative Islam and faith and identity in a state education system are issues beyond party politics, we do hold the Government to account for a chaotic and disjointed schools policy that has increased the threat to child safety and attainment.

Sadly, the Government’s response has fallen short. The Secretary of State still thinks it is possible to run thousands of schools from behind a desk in Whitehall. She is confident that if the events that we witnessed in Birmingham were repeated today, they would be “identified and dealt with”. I hate to say it, but the Government’s chaotic reforms offer no such certainty. The structures and systems for that are not in place, and we have a fragmented and chaotic schools landscape with no system of oversight and accountability, not least in Birmingham.

Can the Secretary of State explain the difference between the functions of Ian Kershaw, Bob Kerslake, Mike Tomlinson, Colin Diamond, Lord Warner, the regional schools commissioner and the regional Ofsted inspector? Who is in charge of schools in Birmingham? Where do parents go if they have a concern? If the Secretary of State thinks we need a middle tier in Birmingham, why not in Bradford? Why not in Plymouth? Why not in Newcastle? Why not introduce some system back into our schools?

We welcome the arrival of the Ark academy chain, but in the light of the problems with Park View academy trust, will the Secretary of State explain why she still refuses to allow Ofsted to inspect academy chains? What oversight will we have of future academy chain problems?

Like me, the Secretary of State has received reports about private faith schools and allegations of discrimination. Is she satisfied that she is doing everything she can to prevent radicalisation and discrimination in private faith schools? What resources in her Department are dedicated to that? Is she satisfied with the inspection regime for these schools?

What reform mechanism has the Secretary of State proposed for Ofsted? What lessons has it learned from taking a school from outstanding to special measures almost overnight? Does she think that Ofsted inspectors currently have the capacity and the skills to judge schools in the difficult terrain of British values?

The events in Birmingham that were discovered last year are deeply worrying. They showed a school system atomised, fragmented and unable to deliver for the parents and pupils it serves. The Government’s chaotic schools policy exacerbated the risk, and nothing the Secretary of State has said today will convince the people of Birmingham that she has a proper plan for Britain’s second city or for safeguarding and attainment across England’s schools.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

I welcome the support from the shadow Secretary of State for the fact that there is no place for extremism or intolerance in our schools, and for the teaching and promotion of fundamental British values. Let me turn to the points that he made in response to my statement. He will be aware that the permanent secretary did not only review the events of the past four years; in fact, he went back much further, including to times when members of the hon. Gentleman’s party—including the shadow Chancellor—were Secretary of State for Education.

The permanent secretary’s report found that the Department had not missed any warnings—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would stop talking, he would be able to hear the answers—[Interruption.] He is clearly not interested in hearing the answers even though he said that the issue was not about partisan politics. He talked about our policies, but they have delivered improvements than mean 1 million more children are in good or outstanding schools since 2010. That is thanks to this Government’s reforms.

The permanent secretary’s review concluded that Ministers from both sides of the House had not missed warnings but had shown a lack of inquisitiveness, and we are putting procedures in place. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Peter Clarke’s report set out compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham, but he is wrong to say that that is down to Government policy or the reforms that we have put in place since 2010. Given that the hon. Gentleman is a historian, I am surprised that he has not gone back to look at the history of these events. The problems started much earlier, before this Government, and even before the conversion of schools to academies. This Government have had to react, to listen to the accusations in the letter and to work with members of the hon. Gentleman’s party on Birmingham city council. Academies are more accountable under the new system, and we have improved the education of 1 million children in this country.

The hon. Gentleman completely overlooks the role of the regional schools commissioners, who are extremely active in relation to the schools in Birmingham. He asks who is in charge in Birmingham. I am surprised that he does not know the name of his own party’s lead member for children’s services. In my statement, I made it clear that the leadership capacity of Birmingham city council left much to be desired. The hon. Gentleman does not appear to understand the difference between children’s services, the Bob Kerslake review of the governance of Birmingham city council—which should worry him, given that it is his party that is in charge in Birmingham—and the education of children in Birmingham.

In relation to the inspection of academy chains, I have made it very clear, both in evidence to the Select Committee and in the House, that while we fully support the way in which Ofsted talk to academy chains and the support that it offers to schools, looking at a head office will never give it any experience.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned private faith schools and supplementary schools. Local authorities have a duty in relation to the safeguarding of all children in their local areas and we continue to look at any other regulations or protections that are needed.

As I said in my statement, we are putting in place whistleblowing provisions so that those who are aware of, and concerned about, what is going on in a school will have an easy mechanism to report their concerns to the Department. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware of the evidence that Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, gave to the Select Committee yesterday on training put in place for Ofsted inspectors to inspect on the issue of British values.

We have made it clear that there is no place for extremism in any school. We have made strong progress, as Members will see from the documents I am placing in the House of Commons Library today, on the recommendations in the Peter Clarke report. We are tackling this problem at both ends: taking determined action where we find areas of concern and building resilience into the system—a resilience that was lacking under the 13 years of the previous Labour Government.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

The Ofsted report into Birmingham schools that came out in June found that

“Often, the curriculum, culture and values now promoted in these schools reflect the personal views of a small number of governors.”

I welcome the measures the Secretary of State has announced. She touched on whistleblowing, which is a specific recommendation of the Ofsted report. Will she provide more detail on how that is going to work, particularly in relation to governors and parents who might want to whistleblow? She mentioned legal protections for members of staff only. Why does she think the system will be more effective than it has proved in the past in what are, in many cases, very closed communities?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As he says, we are working with Ofsted to improve procedures for schools on whistleblowing. We are also strengthening the way anyone can contact the Department to raise concerns. I mentioned the strengthening of the due diligence and counter-extremism group—I think my hon. Friend was a Minister in the Department when the group was set up by the previous Secretary of State for Education—in order to take these issues extremely seriously and to tackle them. Concerns can be raised by parents, governors and members of the general public. We are also considering extending legal protections in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 for school staff making whistleblowing allegations. We continue to work with local authorities and regional schools commissioners. The wider point is that, until the Clarke report was published last year, there was perhaps a general disbelief that these sorts of things could be going on in our schools. We are now very well aware of the risks to our children.

Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and her offer of additional resources to Park View school to get the teachers who are needed. I know that she would want to recognise a number of parents, including Sabina Kauser, Waheed Saleem and Arshad Malik, who helped to rebuild the governance along with Adrian Packer, Bev Mabey and the extraordinary group of teachers who came in to help restore the schools and ensure that, thanks to their work over the summer, they opened on time in September.

I very much welcome the emphasis that the Secretary of State put on the teaching of British values, in particular democracy and the rule of law. She will agree, I know, that it is important that we practise what we preach. It was therefore regrettable that parent members of the trust were not able to be elected by parents at the school. Instead, the trust took a decision to go through the most mind-bending process of selection to hand-pick parents to serve at trust level. I hope she will now encourage the trust to revisit that decision and ensure that democracy prevails.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the tone and spirit of his remarks. He has worked incredibly hard with the schools in his constituency and the wider Birmingham area in the aftermath of the reports from last year. He is absolutely right. We do not want the message to go out that we do not want people from Muslim communities or any other community to stand as governors of their schools. I am happy to look at the particular issue he has raised. I join him in thanking all those who worked so hard last summer to get the schools open. At the end of the day, this is all about making sure that the young people at the heart of those schools get the best possible education to fulfil their potential.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Teachers, governors, pupils and parents should be focused on promoting rigorous academic standards and not on pursuing particular agendas, whether relating to extremism or anything else. With regard to the role of school governors, is there no commitment or undertaking they have to sign to say that they will be committed individually to the promotion of British values, so that we can hold errant governors and teachers to account?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

Although we do not ask them to sign something, all governors are subject to the governors handbook, which was updated last September with some important changes and clarifications. In particular, one paragraph mentions the need for governors to ensure that a school’s ethos promotes the fundamental British values I mentioned in my statement. We could give the matter some consideration, but as my hon. Friend will know, just because someone signs a piece of paper does not necessarily mean that they have taken onboard all that it requires. One thing this matter has taught us is the need for cultural change as well.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

Does the Secretary of State agree that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in our country do not want to take over schools and are not extremists, but just want a darn good education for their children?

The Secretary of State’s remarks have disappointed me, because there is a systemic failure. For whatever reason, the Government have bypassed local authorities’ power to exercise authority over, and supervision of, schools. We all know that is true. I am in contact with people who rushed to save the Birmingham situation, and they say that the problem is a lack of power locally. Everything has to go through the Department for Education, which rushes in to help, but it does not have the capacity either. If senior advisers, including Ofsted, are saying that there is systemic failure with the academy model, surely she should recognise that and do something about it.

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

The hon. Gentleman started so well, and I certainly agree that the majority of Muslims in this country want the best education for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. The Clarke report identified just a very small number of people with a particular ideology.

I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman, however, when he talks as if there was some golden age in the role of local authorities. I mentioned in my statement that we were working hard with Sir Mike Tomlinson, the commissioner, to build the capacity of Birmingham city council. The council is critical to learning the lessons from last year, but it has some way to go in implementing the plan. I should also point out that the head teachers who identified the problems went to the local authority, but rather than their problems being dealt with or their concerns being listened to, they were encouraged to enter into a compromise agreement and then moved. Those are not the actions of a responsible local authority.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, South Leicestershire

I was surprised by the comments of the Opposition spokesman, given that the problems identified sprang from the failed policies of the past, particularly the discredited policy of multiculturalism promoted by the Labour party. I commend my right hon. Friend for her statement. Does she agree that it is important that every child is taught the Judeo-Christian tradition and history of this country, from which has sprung our values of parliamentary democracy, tolerance and freedom of speech and expression, notwithstanding past intolerance, and that many people have come to this country because of those freedoms?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

I thank my right hon. Friend for his points. He is absolutely right that we want every school to be teaching their pupils a broad and balanced curriculum and not only to respect things such as democracy, but to have mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. We are a much stronger country because of everybody who has come here and the freedoms, protections and opportunities we have offered—as he will know, being like me an MP for a constituency in Leicestershire, in which lies that fabulously rich city of Leicester.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham

The Secretary of State will know, as I do, that one of the tools that the previous trustees used was isolation. They prohibited any relationship with neighbouring schools or any school that did not share their warped philosophy. The Education Select Committee report published this week on academies and free schools identified that 47% of converter academies—schools that have converted to academy status since 2010—were stand-alone academies, which worried us enormously. We felt that Ofsted had a role and that no school should receive an outstanding judgment unless there were positive signs of co-operation with other schools. Does she agree that that would be one structural way of trying to prevent what happened in Birmingham from happening again?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

I shall certainly look at this week’s Education Select Committee report in detail. One thing explored in previous evidence sessions—I gave evidence to that inquiry—was the growth of collaboration, which we are seeing up and down the country, regardless of the type of school. When I visit schools up and down the country, whether they be converter stand-alone academies, part of a chain or still working within the local authority, and talk to heads and teachers, I see evidence of how much collaboration there has been and how much strength heads and teachers are drawing from working with other schools—locally, but thanks to modern technology, also in other parts of the country and even other parts of the world.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee

If our constituents have problems with the delivery of public services, ultimately they have recourse to the ombudsman. That was true of parents who had problems with working relationships in their children’s schools until 2012, when the Government changed the policy. Now, if a parent has a problem with an academy, they can go to the Education Funding Agency, but not with a complaint about the school, only with a complaint about the operation of the complaints procedure itself. Does that not need addressing?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

We of course have a very strong inspection system through Ofsted. In my experience as Secretary of State for Education over the course of the past few months, parents find many ways in which to complain, whether it be through Ofsted, the EFA or directly to me as Secretary of State or via the Department for Education. There are mechanisms to enable parents to raise complaints about their children’s schools, but of course they often start with the local school itself.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The matters raised by the Education Secretary today, particularly the work she mentioned about her Department’s counter-extremism group, overlap considerably with the issues covered in the Home Office consultation on the Prevent duty, which closes tomorrow. I know that some groups in my constituency are keen to have some input. How can they have input into the work of the counter-extremism group in the right hon. Lady’s Department as well as influence the Prevent duty?

Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan Minister for Women and Equalities, The Secretary of State for Education

I welcome all and any engagement that any groups want with the Prevent duty. I recommend that they contact the Department directly. They can come straight through to my office, and we would make sure that their thoughts were shared with the appropriate officials either in my Department or the Home Office.