The Department for Education — inept or nasty?

Is the Department of Education inept or is it nasty? Is it thoughtless and inconsiderate or is it, worse, callous and cruel? Has it taken its eye off the ball or is it, much more seriously, contemptuous of its legal and ethical duties to have due regard for the consequences of its actions and policies? Is it guilty not only of errors of judgement but also of deceit and bad faith?

These questions are about individual ministers and, at all pay-grades, civil servants. Also they are about systems, routines, procedures, habits, ways of doing things, and not doing things. And they are about the collective mindsets which underlie the DfE’s organisational culture – they are not only about racist actions, for example, but about institutional racism as well. And they of course apply not only to the DfE itself but also to agencies set up by and accountable to the DfE, for example the National College for Teaching and Leadership (ACTL), and to external consultants and advisers whom the DfE and its agencies from time to time engage, for example lawyers and legal teams for specific cases.

In the present context these questions arise from consideration of how, over the last three years, the DfE has handled and mishandled the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham. The latest twist in this tangled and tortuous saga occurred on 30 May 2017, and was summarised with headlines such as Trojan Horse case against five Birmingham teachers thrown out by tribunal (Daily Telegraph) and Five teachers accused in Trojan horse affair free to return to classroom (Guardian).

A panel looking into allegations against some headteachers and other senior teachers had transferred its attention to the behaviour of the DfE itself, and had referred to repeated failures on the part of government lawyers to share crucial evidence that could have been of substantial assistance to the headteachers’ case, and that could have radically undermined the DfE’s own case. (Also, incidentally, the transcripts might well have confirmed what many observers suspected, which is that an earlier inquiry, the so-called Clarke inquiry, has been amateurish and improper in the way it was and was not conducted.) This was not merely a technicality of slight importance but, on the contrary, an abuse of justice whose seriousness was such that the panel had had no option but to end the hearings.

‘It is fundamental to the proper administration of justice,’ the panel pointed out, that an investigation such as the one it had been conducting ‘must be able to rely on the regulatory authority [namely, in this instance, the NCTL, set up by the DfE] acting in a way which ensures the integrity of the process.’ It continued: ‘There has been an abuse of the process which is of such seriousness that it offends the panel’s sense of justice and propriety.’

The panel also considered there had been a ‘lack of candour and openness’ by the DfE and ‘a lack of cooperation in assisting the panel to get to the bottom of what happened’. Serious errors had been far-reaching, it said, and had extended over the entire life of the case.

‘Such failures arise out of decisions which were consciously made,’ the panel declared, but also it considered that the DfE’s deliberate decision to withhold essential evidence represented ‘an extraordinarily serious error of judgment as opposed to bad faith’. The DfE had been inept, the panel in effect concluded, but not nasty.

However, is the distinction between being inept and being nasty really so very clearcut? Is it helpful, in instances such as this, to distinguish between errors of judgement on the one hand and bad faith on the other? Neglect and negligence can be criminal, not just bad manners or administrative oversights, and can cause real and lasting harm to certain individuals, and to the contexts in which individuals interact and have their being.

‘Without scheming to do wrong, or to make others unhappy,’ said Jane Austen two hundred years ago, ‘there may be error, and there may be misery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to others’ feelings, and want of resolution, will do the business.’

It is almost certainly the case in the present instance (though not argued or even suggested by the Trojan Horse tribunal) that the DfE’s errors were in part or even largely due to hostility towards Islam and Muslims, and to callous indifference towards the misery for Muslims it was itself causing.

Did institutional racism and Islamophobia underlie not only the DfE’s careless conduct at the disciplinary tribunal but also how it perceived and reacted to the Trojan Horse forgery in the first place? Did racism and Islamophobia underlie the amateurish reports which the DfE in due course sponsored? Did they deeply affect the flawed Prevent and British Values projects which it then promoted, and zealously promotes still? Does the DfE realise, really realise, that the rule of law applies to itself as well as to everyone else?

Well, those are questions for thorough investigation at another time and in another place. In the meanwhile profound sympathy is due to the individuals, schools, families and communities in Birmingham that have been harmed over the last three years by the actions and non-actions of the DfE, and much corrective and restorative work needs to be done.

Robin Richardson, 1 June 2017, slightly updated 2 June

Notes

There is further information about the panel’s statement in news items by John Dickens in Schools Week, and Richard Adams in the Guardian, both on 30 May:

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/trojan-horse-nctl-drops-disciplinary-case-against-5-teachers/

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/30/trojan-horse-tribunal-five-birmingham-teachers-islam

The panel’s statement itself is published in full at <a https://www.matrixlaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Panel-decision-and-reasons-on-behalf-of-the-Secretary-of-State-for-Education-in-respect-of-applications-for-the-proceedings-to-be-discontinued.pdf

There is an interesting legal opinion of the panel’s statement at >https://lawyerwatch.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/cryptic-trojan-who-takes-responsibility-if-disclosure-is-the-achilles-heel/

There is substantial discussion of the Trojan Horse affair and related issues in British Values and British Identity: muddles, mixtures and ways ahead by Robin Richardson, London Review of Education, autumn 2015. It can be read at http://www.insted.co.uk/london-review-education.pdf

Islamophobia 2017 – challenges for us all

AN ANNIVERSARY PROJECT

2017 is the twentieth anniversary of the landmark 1997 Runnymede Trust Report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. A project is being planned to mark the anniversary. The aims of the project are:

  • to renew awareness of the causes, nature, facets and dangers of Islamophobia
  • to help develop and strengthen counter-narratives relating to citizenship, secularism, pluralism and justice
  • to provide resources, lesson plans, activities and course outlines for schools, colleges, universities and communities, and for training and awareness-raising events of various kinds.

THREE PRINCIPAL STRANDS

The project has three strands:

  • LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD: public lectures and events in Leeds and London to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1997 report – 19 October 2017 in London and 12 November 2017 in Leeds.
  • BLOGPOSTS: critique, reaction and responses hosted by ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies.
  • RESOURCING EDUCATORS: an archive of lesson plans, exercises, training programmes and course outlines. September/November 2017.

If you would like to contribute to the blog or the resources archive, or both, please send an indication of your interest to admin@islamophobia2017.org.uk. Also, please send  suggestions and requests, if you wish, about the specific topics and issues you hope this project will address.

PLANNING

The project is being organised jointly by the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies at the University of Leeds, the Insted Consultancy, the Muslim Youthwork Foundation and ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies.

The current members of the planning group for the project are Sameena Choudry (Equitable Education consultancy), Gill Cressey (Coventry University), MG Khan (Ruskin College, Oxford), Robin Richardson (formerly at the Runnymede Trust), S.Sayyid (University of Leeds) and AbdoolKarim Vakil (King’s College London).

INTERNATIONAL DIMENSION

The project focuses on the situation in the UK, as did the report published 20 years ago. But it also takes account of scholarship, issues, activism and creative developments in other countries as well.

BACKGROUND

The 1997 Runnymede report can be accessed via the following link: http://www.runnymedetrust.org/companies/17/74/Islamophobia-A-Challenge-for-Us-All.html.

A follow-up report published by Trentham Books in 2004 can be found at http://www.insted.co.uk/islambook.pdf

Many key theoretical issues are discussed in Thinking through Islamophobia: global perspectives, edited by S. Sayyid and AbdoolKarim Vakil, Hurst Publishers 2011.

FURTHER INFORMATION

The project has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Islamophobia2017

A website is being built at http://islamophobia2017.org.uk/

POSTER

A poster about the project can be downloaded from http://www.islamophobia2017.org.uk/pdf/islamophobia2017-finalweb.pdf

 

A low dishonest year

trump-and-farage

On Monday 14 November 2016 Alan Bennett jotted a brief note in his diary. There is ‘a nauseating picture,’ he wrote, ‘on the front of the Guardian of Trump and Farage together’. He added: ‘with “nauseating” in this case not just a word. It does genuinely make one feel sick.’

All over the world many millions of other people felt sick too, and felt not only disgusted and nauseous but also fearful and despairing.

in the famous words of W H Auden in 1939, people felt lost in ‘a low dishonest decade’, where ‘waves of anger and fear/ circulate over the bright/ and darkened lands of the earth,/ obsessing our private lives.’

Auden referred to the ‘unmentionable odour of death’ offending and obsessing the lives of millions. A similar odour is around at the end of 2016, this low dishonest year.

In order not to forget the worries and weariness with which 2016 ends, but also in order to help nurture hope and determination to keep on keeping on ( to show ‘an affirming flame’, in Auden’s phrase), here at the end of 2016 are links to a handful of reflections and proposals:

British Values, Brexit and Trump a meditation for today, December 2016

Making our states fair again post-election reflections, November 2016

Grief, anger and re-engagement post-referendum thoughts and action, July 2016

And to help remember some of the background context here are some further pieces:

A multi-storied nation religion and belief in modern Britain, July 2016

Islamophobia, still a challenge for us all ‘what Muslims really think’, May 2016

Learning to live together British values and Prevent, February 2016

British identity and British values muddles, mixtures and ways ahead, autumn 2015

References

Alan Bennett’s diary for 2016 is published in the London Review of Books, 5 January 2017, at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n01/alan-bennett/diary

 

 

 

 

Brexit, Trump and All That

‘We’re out!’, they crowed, we’re out and proud,

self-styled ‘real people’, triumphant and loud.

Thus began a meditation at a conference last week on development education. The meditation continued:

They’d got their country back, their turf and their ways,

the ones known by their forebears in good old days,

when foreigners everywhere, whatever their race,

were neither here nor uppity, knowing their place.

The meditation can be read in full at http://www.insted.co.uk/meditation.pdf

 

 

 

New in 2016

The blog of the Insted consultancy, previously named Insted Consultancy News, has a new name – The Prose and the Passion. The phrase is derived from a famous plea by E. M Forster (1879—1970) in his novel Howards End (1910). ‘Only connect the prose and the passion,’ he said, ‘and both will be exalted.’

Five papers were added to the Insted website in early 2016, and can be accessed at http://www.insted.co.uk/, or else by clicking on the links below.

Learning to live together in 2016: British values and preventing extremism, introductory remarks at a conference for headteachers, January 2016, http://www.insted.co.uk/learning-to-live-together.pdf

Challenging extremism through education: reflections, responses and resources, details of about 70 recent items in newspapers and the blogosphere, including several which propose constructive ways ahead in the education system, http://www.insted.co.uk/challenging-extremism-through-education.pdf

British identity and British values: muddles, mixtures and ways ahead, an article first published in the London Review of Education,  September 2015, http://www.insted.co.uk/london-review-education.pdf

The promotion of British values: a model school policy statement, reflecting ways of integrating fundamental British values into a school’s overall policy framework, http://www.insted.co.uk/values.pdf

School governors and British values: a statement of concern,  notes on the apparent failure of the Department for Education to have due regard for natural justice and the rule of law in its dealings with Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham, summer and autumn 2015, http://www.insted.co.uk/school-governors.pdf

The Prose and the Passion blog is managed by Robin Richardson. An interview with him about his career and work over the years, conducted in 2012 on behalf of the International Association for Intercultural Education, can be read at http://www.insted.co.uk/interview-with-robin-richardson.pdf.

The Great British Values Disaster

The time is late January 2015. The place is a university campus somewhere in England. ‘Kill Islam,’ says a piece of graffiti scrawled in big red letters on one of the university’s buildings, ‘before it kills you’. A student at the university writes: ‘Every time you come back onto campus, you’re reminded of it. When you’re trying to focus, it’s that nagging thought in the back of your head that keeps coming back.’

He continues: ‘And there’s the constant question that you ask yourself: do I belong here? … On campus, where I’m supposed to feel safe, there are people who actively call for the killing of people like me. I came to university to get an education, not to be the object of vitriolic hate.’

There is increasing anxiety and insecurity amongst many British Muslims at present, an increasing feeling of not belonging here, not belonging even in the places where they should feel most safe, the country’s universities, colleges, schools and nurseries. Such feelings have been exacerbated by the actions of government, and by government inspection regimes such as Ofsted. In this connection the recent requirement for all schools to actively promote what the government calls fundamental British values (FBV) is playing a particularly insidious and damaging role. The requirement leads to widespread miseducation about the nature of British history, society and culture, and to zealously insensitive and counter-productive inspections by Ofsted.

The difficulties and dangers inherent in FBV are outlined in an article by Bill Bolloten and Robin Richardson, published yesterday on the website of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). It can be read at http://www.irr.org.uk/news/the-great-british-values-disaster-education-security-and-vitriolic-hate/

Also at the IRR website there’s a timely article by Arun Kundnani about the profound dangers for the education system which are inherent in the new counter-terrorism and security legislation. The article can be read at http://www.irr.org.uk/news/counter-terrorism-policy-and-re-analysing-extremism/. Kundnani shows that things are likely to get worse for the student cited above, and for everyone, before they get better.

Charlie Hebdo, free speech, us-and-them thinking

First reflections on what is happening

Headline writers and politicians throughout the western world have been in agreement – the attack on Charlie Hebdo on 7 January was part of a war on freedom, a war on the foundations of western democracy. Anyone who does not express total solidarity with the victims by, for example, holding up a Je suis Charlie slogan, and does not declare their unwavering commitment to freedom of speech, is on the side of the terrorists. This has been the dominant narrative in virtually all the coverage so far in the mainstream media, and in the vast majority of speeches and statements by political leaders.

Only a handful of voices have so far queried this dominant narrative – only a handful have stressed that you can NOT ONLY have profound sympathy for the victims and for their families, friends, colleagues and close followers; and can NOT ONLY deplore the cruelty and callousness of the murderers; and can NOT ONLY care about freedom of expression; but can ALSO deplore the simplistic, hypocritical, racist, Islamophobic and deeply damaging us-and-them thinking that has been at the heart of the mainstream media coverage, and of most political speeches.

Here are links to 28 fine articles that query and deplore the dominant narrative, and that indicate alternative approaches to understanding what is going on. They are listed in no particular order.

__________________________________

1. Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo
by Jon Wilson
http://labourlist.org/2015/01/je-ne-suis-pas-charlie-hebdo/

2. The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie
by Brian Klug
http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

3. Charlie Hebdo and the hypocrisy of pencils
by Corey Oakley
http://redflag.org.au/node/4373

4. I am Charlie, and I guard the Master’s house
by Nadine El-Enany and Sarah Keenan
http://criticallegalthinking.com/2015/01/13/charlie-guard-masters-house/

5. Where monoculturalism leads
by Liz Fekete
http://www.irr.org.uk/news/where-monoculturalism-leads/

6. Why I am not Charlie
by Scott Long
http://paper-bird.net/2015/01/09/why-i-am-not-charlie/

7. No, we’re not all Charlie Hebdo, nor should we be
by Ben Hayes
https://www.opendemocracy.net/ben-hayes/no-we’re-not-all-charlie-hebdo-nor-should-we-be

8. Equal in Paris
by Thomas Chatterton Williams
https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/equal-in-paris/

9. Mourning the Parisian journalists, yet noticing the hypocrisy
by Michael Lerner
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/mourning-the-parisian-jou_b_6442550.html

10. The danger of polarised debate
by Gary Younge
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/11/charie-hebdo-danger-polarised-debate-paris-attacks

11. Smiling Muslims: leave the gun, take the cannoli
by Hamid Dabashi
http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/c7c085dd-968d-4995-8f1f-314806a0d748

12. We must not forget the responsibility that goes with free speech
by Tariq Modood
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/01/12/in-remembering-the-charlie-hebdo-attack-we-must-not-forget-the-responsibility-that-goes-with-free-speech/

13. When blasphemy is bigotry
by Chloe Patton
http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/recognise-historical-discussing

14. From the radical left towards Islamophobia
by Alain Gresh
http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/18705071-5026-49d5-9bc7-e7c2ab282941

15. Free speech does not mean freedom from criticism
by Jacob Canfield
http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2015/01/in-the-wake-of-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-does-not-mean-freedom-from-criticism/

16. Fed up with the hypocrisy of the free speech fundamentalists
by Mehdi Hasan
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/charlie-hebdo-free-speech_b_6462584.html

17. Piety or rage?
by Seyla Benhabib
http://www.hannaharendtcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Piety-or-Rage.pdf

18. Moral clarity
by Adam Shatz
http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/adam-shatz/moral-clarity/

19. The Charlie Hebdo tragedy
by Christopher Page
https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/charlie-hebdo-tragedy/

20. Heroic but also racist
by Jordan Weissmann
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/01/charlie_hebdo_the_french_satirical_magazine_is_heroic_it_is_also_racist.html

21. West’s sickening moral hijack of Paris massacre
by Finean Cunningham
http://mycatbirdseat.com/2015/01/89159wests-sickening-moral-hijack-of-paris-massacre/

22. Is the Charlie Hebdo attack really a struggle over European values?
by Myriam Francois-Cerrah
http://www.newstatesman.com/myriam-francois-cerrah

23. Free speech is not an absolute value
by Simon Dawes
https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/simon-dawes/charlie-hebdo-free-speech-but-not-as-absolute-value

24. Is solidarity without identity possible?
by Cinzia Arruzza
http://www.publicseminar.org/2015/01/is-solidarity-without-identity-possible/#.VLLvpJIgGK0

25. Unmournable bodies
by Teju Cole
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/unmournable-bodies

26. Four reasons why I’m tired of Islamophobia
by Khalishah Stevens
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/09/4-reasons-why-je-suis-fatigue-from-islamophobia/

27. Rival sanctities
by Glen Newey
http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/glen-newey/rival-sanctities/

28. Us and them
by Matt Carr
http://infernalmachine.co.uk/us-and-them/

_________________________________________
This list was compiled in partnership with Bill Bolloten, 14 January 2015. It was later expanded to contain 80 items, and the longer version was published at http://www.insted.co.uk/beyond-us-them.pdf.