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

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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

 

 

 

 

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.

Equalities and British values

There has been much talk in recent months about ‘fundamental British values’ – FBV for short. A substantial symposium on this topic traces the origins of FBV in highly dubious and controversial counter-terrorism policies and measures, and reviews the criticisms of it that have been made by practitioners and observers. Also, the symposium quotes some of the criticisms that have been made of the simplistic and damaging way Ofsted has been approaching FBV, and the muddled, confused and confusing ‘guidance’ that has been issued by the Department for Education.

The symposium has been compiled by Robin Richardson and Bill Bolloten and will be published in late January 2015 in the journal Race Equality Teaching (RET). A copy of the whole journal can be purchased at a much reduced price if ordered before 15 January. Details of this offer are at http://ioepress.co.uk/books/race-equality-teaching/ret-special-issue-323/

The editorial introduction to this issue of RET urges that the Department for Education should make itself compliant with its duty under the Equality Act 2010 to publish specific and measurable objectives. The DfE rightly declares the rule of law is a fundamental value underlying British society. But in relation to the Equality Act the DfE itself flagrantly ignores what the rule of law requires.

Ofsted, at least, until recently observed the rule of law in relation to the Equality Act. But, as pointed out in a further editorial article in the new issue of RET, it no longer publishes guidance to inspectors about what the law requires and it is therefore no longer transparent. This is both unfair and unhelpful, and may be open to legal challenge.

There are then several articles about the training needs of teachers. Gus John writes about the need for teachers to be thoroughly familiar with the work and influence of Black authors and activists; Sarah Soyei about the importance of knowing one’s own standpoints and biases; Sue Sanders about the dangers of either/or thinking; Kate Hollinshead about clarity of language; and Bethany O’Reilly about the need for teachers not only to learn but also to unlearn.

Of course, it’s not only teachers who have much to unlearn in relation to equalities. Political leaders need to unlearn too. And so, argues this special issue of Race Equality Teaching, do Ofsted and the Department for Education.

Race Equality Teaching is published by the Institute of Educatiion, London. Normally it is available only on a subscription basis, and individual subscriptions are £39 for three issues each year. But in this instance the Institute is offering copies for just £5 each, plus postage, if ordered before printing starts on 15 January 2015. There’s a link to an order form at http://ioepress.co.uk/books/race-equality-teaching/ret-special-issue-323/.

Equalities in education – urgent message

An urgent message to political leaders

‘Politicians in all four of the UK’s education systems are faced, as you know all too well, by both short-term and long-term challenges. It was always thus, of course … The long-term challenges are about the capacity of schools to grapple with the impact of technology on education; increasing inequality combined with decreasing social mobility; preparation for work at a time of phenomenal change in labour markets; and literacy and numeracy amongst the lowest attaining 20 per cent of young people.

‘… Against the backdrop of short-term and long-term challenges such as these, we urge you to take seriously your legal and moral responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. This is not, we emphasise, an add-on matter – it’s not additional to the other challenges. On the contrary, you simply cannot deal effectively with the other challenges unless you start with the Equality Act, and put and keep it at the very heart of all you do.’

Thus begins the editorial introduction to the next issue of Race Equality Teaching (RET). The issue is about the whole equalities agenda in education, not about race equality alone. Normally RET is only available through an annual subscription of £39. But this issue is available for only £5 if orders are placed before printing begins on 8 September. If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, please click on this link: http://ioepress.co.uk/books/race-equality-teaching/ret-special-issue-322/.

There are nine articles in this special issue and all are writen by experts in the topic they are concerned with. The authors and topics are as follows:
Sameena Choudry: Watching and checking on progress
Artemi Sakellariadis: Issuing a ticket but keeping the door locked
Catherine McNamara and Jay Stewart: One person’s journey at one school
Karamat Iqbal: Working out what to do with us immigrants
Gilroy Brown and Maurice Irfan Coles: Our children should know themselves
Mark Jennett: Pink is for girls and jobs are for boys
Sue Sanders and Arthur Sullivan: The long shadow of Section 28
Lizz Bennett and Laura Pidcock: Critical thinking and safe spaces
Sarah Soyei, Kate Hollinshead and Yvette Thomas: Identity-based bullying

Personalised copies of the issue will be sent to political leaders, and to bodies such as Ofsted and the EHRC.
There will be a follow-up special issue of RET later in the year, similarly about the whole equalities agenda and similarly available at a vastly rediced price. It will include articles on the pupil premium grant; spiritual, moral, social and cultural development; and religion and belief equality in the light of the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham in summer 2014. Also there will be a round-up of recent resources, reports and materials and, based on both issues, a set of recommendations to the government and Ofsted. More information at http://ioepress.co.uk/books/race-equality-teaching/ret-special-issue-323/.

Religion and belief in public life

Here’s a handful of media headlines from the first few months of 2014: ‘Religious difference, not ideology, will fuel this century’s epic battles’ (January), ‘Culture, not faith, is the key to continuity’ (February) ‘Is British Christianity under threat from aggressive secularism?’ (April), ‘The British Muslim is truly one among us – and proud to be so’, (April), ‘UK among most sceptical in world about religion’ (April), ‘All schools must promote “British values”, says Michael Gove’ (June).

To consider the issues raised by headlines such as these, a national consultation was launched earlier this week at the House of Lords. It is an activity of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life,  chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, formerly president of the Family Division of the High Court. It has 20 members drawn from a wide range of professional, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The topics for consideration include law, education, the media, social action and  dialogue.

Questions for consultation include the following. Do you feel at ease with the diversity of modern British society in terms of religion and belief? Are the current systems of civil and criminal law in the UK satisfactory in relation to issues of religion and belief, and to the overlap between these and issues of race and ethnicity?  Do the media accurately and helpfully portray issues of religion and belief, and communities and groups identified by religion or belief?

 Are issues of religion and belief well handled in the curricula of the UK’s systems of education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, and in relevant systems of training and continuing development? Should faith-based organisations be involved in social and political action and, if so, in what ways and to what extent? How should disagreements be handled between and within different traditions and communities, and between these and other interests in public life and wider society?

 There is full information at http://www.corab.org.uk/national-consultation#top.

Dreaming One Nation

David Goodhart’s book The British Dream is a work of polemical journalism and reportage, not of scholarship, and has strengths and weaknesses accordingly. The strengths are that there are many anecdotes and striking phrases, and there’s relatively little jargon. The weaknesses are that over-simplification is commoner than thoughtful and tentative nuance, and that too many facts and quotations are left unreferenced and therefore uncheckable. The book is reviewed for the Insted consultancy at http://leftcentral.org.uk/2013/05/16/dreaming-of-one-nation-labour-multiculturalism-and-race/

Although aimed essentially at the centre left of the political spectrum, where it has been well received by, for example, Jon Cruddas in the New Statesman, and where it chimes well with Labour’s One Nation rhetoric, the book is likely to be read also, and with an even warmer welcome, on the centre right.

The book’s valuable features include its insistence that issues of race and immigration should be rationally not emotively discussed, and that discussions should centrally include narratives, understandings and dreams about national identity and national history, and concepts of imagined community and emotional citizenship. Within this context Goodhart refers from time to time to Danny Boyle’s pageant at the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games as an iconic and vivid illustration of what the concept of One Nation can mean in practice. ‘When a country is changing very fast,’ he says, ‘it needs stories to reassure and guide it’, stories which are ‘about connecting majority to minority and old to new’.

The book’s unfortunate and disappointing features include its caricatures of multiculturalism, and of thinkers such as Bhikhu Parekh and Tariq Modood who have devoted their careers to thinking in depth about how multicultural societies such as Britain have developed; the weakness of its references to the importance of law and legislation; its embracing, in effect, of a Daily Express view of British Islam and British Muslims; its uncritical endorsement of the view that ‘humans are group-based primates who favour their own and extend trust to outsiders with caution’; its insufficient attention to the global and international context and to relevant issues of gender and social class; and its disinclination to consider the continuing influence of racisms in their various forms (behavioural/attitudinal; colour/cultural; personal/institutional; crude/subtle; street/dinner-table).

Goodhart describes himself at one point as a member of ‘the political tribe of north London liberals’. His dream is indeed that of such a person. For others, though, in view of the shallow generalisations and stereotypes on which it is built, it has the elements of a nightmare.

Remembering Stephen Lawrence

Twenty years ago today (23 April) the Runnymede Trust published Equality Assurance in Schools. During the launch conference that morning we received news of a murder that had taken place in Greenwich late the previous evening. Amongst other things, the conference wrote a joint letter of condolence and solidarity to the parents and family of the murdered young man. The murder led in due course to the Stephen Lawrence Report by Sir William Macpherson, which in its turn led to the race equality duty (RED) in the Race Relations Amendment Act. The implications of the Lawrence report and of the new legislation for schools were considered in a lecture for the Society of Education Officers in summer 2001. Entitled ‘The Devil is in the Detail and in the Big Picture Too’, the lecture is re-published today at http://www.insted.co.uk/devil-in-detail.pdf.