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

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.

Racist and Islamophobic bullying

Interesting article in today’s Independent – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/racist-bullying-farright-agenda-on-immigration-being-taken-into-classrooms-9045148.html. It reports there was a marked increase in 2013 in reports of racist and Islamophobic bullying in schools and speculates this is due to the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic discourse and agendas of right-wing political parties and movements, and the failure of mainstream politicians to lead public opinion rather than pander to it. It speculates further that schools are less willing and able to challenge and prevent racism and Islamophobia than they were in the recent past, and less able and inclined to support and assist young people at the receiving end.

The article contains some moving quotations from children and young people. Also it quotes some extremely weak, lame and unhelpful words from a DfE spokesperson. It does not, unfortunately, mention that substantial advice on this topic was developed and published by the DfE from about 2005 onwards, but in due course totally withdrawn by the coalition government after 2010. However, the advice developed in England is still available in Wales in a slightly modified and improved form and can be accessed through http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/12028/1/Bullying_around_race,_religion_and_culture.pdf.

Much of the original document developed in England can be found at www.insted.co.uk/race.html. Also an excellent set of materials on this topic was produced in 2012-13 by the Crown Prosecution Service with the National Union of Teachers and the Anthony Walker Foundation and can be accessed at http://www.cps.gov.uk/northwest/tackling_crime/hate_crime/schools_project_racist_and_religious_hate_crime/

 

Graves filled with the tears of parents – Trayvon Martin remembered

‘Time,’ writes Lee Jasper in The Voice this week (http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/we-are-trayvon-martin-stand-your-ground-against-racism) ‘to find these retired marching boots from the bottom of your wardrobe. We are marching again and just like in times of old we are marching for justice, equality and fairness.’ He invites everyone who can to join a demonstration in London tomorrow in solidarity with the parents of Trayvon Martin, and with black parents in white societies everywhere. ‘Too many of us,’ he continues, ‘have looked into graves filled with the tears of parents.’

‘Why should any society,’ asks Gus John (http://www.gusjohn.com/2013/07/when-stephen-met-trayvon/) ‘presume that it is held together by liberal democratic values and principles … when from childhood every African heritage person born in that country learns that they carry an ethnic penalty that restricts their freedom of movement and access to opportunity and that they forget that fundamental fact at their peril?’

‘The denigration of dark skin,’ writes Reni Eddo-Lodge (http://renieddolodge.co.uk/, 15 July), ‘infects us as soon as we’re touched by society. I remember being very young and asking my mum when I would turn white, because even at five I understood that being black was a thing that was quite wrong and abnormal, something to avoid if you could … I’ll cry for Trayvon today, and fight tomorrow. Alice Walker said activism is the price she pays for living in this world. So if you’re dedicated to critical antiracism, then you and I owe it to Trayvon and the hundreds like him to continue speaking about race and racism, to continue going against the grain, to chip away at this ugly violent status quo whilst we’re here.

In the United States, Greg Palast (http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/17752-open-letter-to-trayvons-father-sue-zimmerman), writes of Zimmerman: ‘There’s only one way to put this monster out of business: Justice can only come out of the barrel of a lawsuit.’ Cornel West speaks passionately not only about Florida’s gun laws but about the criminality, as he sees it, of the Obama administration’s use of drones and torture (http://www.democracynow.org/2013/7/22/cornel_west_obamas_response_to_trayvon).

‘What are white folks to do?’ asks Claudia Horwitz (http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/claudia-horwitz/what-are-white-folks-to-do-some-thoughts-on-trayvon-martin-case). She writes: ‘Shocked and not entirely surprised. Heartbroken and fired up. A swirling cocktail of grief, anger and outrage … And amidst it all, a deep sense that nothing I am feeling could compare to what people of color are experiencing … Now is an opportunity to check ourselves through some honest reflection and let that process lead us to thoughtful action – which we need to do if we are going to keep working to dismantle a system of white supremacy that permeates every corner of our legal, economic, political, relational and cultural lives.’ She gives various practical suggestions, and links to about 20 useful websites. There’s a broadly similar approach at the Charter for Compassion website (http://charterforcompassion.org/news-and-events/article/239).

Gerry German, 1928–2012

Gerry was a tireless and inspiring fighter for racial justice in the education system. His family are organising a memorial event for him on Saturday 6 July at Christ Church, Union Grove, Clapham SW8 2QJ, beginning at 3 pm. There will be poetry, songs and speeches followed by refreshments and conversation. Further information can be obtained from Gerry’s son Deuan at deuan@cenlive.org.

At the funeral last summer, led by Gus John, there were Bob Marley songs, Hindu prayers and reflections, a Christian hymn, Cwm Rhondda, psalms from the Jewish scriptures, a poem about emancipation, the Welsh national anthem, and a humanist reading from the works of George Bernard Shaw. Also, of course, there were many warm and loving tributes from friends, comrades and family members. ‘The true joy in life,’ wrote George Bernard Shaw, quoted by Deuan, lies in ‘being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one [and] being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.’

Shaw continued with words which captured everyone’s remembrance of Gerry: ‘My life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.’

‘We Are The Many’

This weekend (1/2 June) the English Defence League will hold demonstrations in towns and cities across the country. By blaming all Muslims for the shocking murder in Woolwich last week they will attempt to shape and focus a prevailing climate of fear and rejection that has been growing now for many years. Stark evidence of the current climate is recorded this morning on the website of the Institute of Race Relations (http://www.irr.org.uk/news/upsurge-in-anti-muslim-attacks/).

‘We the British people,’ says a declaration drafted by Hope not Hate and to be published tomorrow in the Daily Mirror (http://action.hopenothate.org.uk/page/s/we-are-the-many?), ‘shun the EDL’s message of hate because they do not speak for us. We are confident that hope will prevail. It will prevail because they are the few, and we are – and always will be – the many.’

Such declarations are, yes, important. Also, of course, there’s much long-term and medium-term work to do to challenge and remove the climate of fear and rejection known as Islamophobia. The required work includes the kind of wonderful little initiative reported this week from York (http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-05/29/english-defence-league-protest-york-mosque), but much else besides. Various thoughts and resources for the medium-term and long-term work, particularly but not only in the education system, are listed in recently revised web pages on the Insted website (http://www.insted.co.uk/islam.html). The pages are extremely modest in relation to the overall task. They may nevertheless, hopefully, be useful.

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.

The government and race equality

Following Doreen Lawrence’s critical comments shortly before Christmas about the government’s record on race equality, and its apparent intention to alter or even scrap the public sector equality duty (PSED), David Cameron and Nick Clegg tried to reassure her by sending a joint letter – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/dec/23/coalition-respond-doreen-lawrence-equality?INTCMP=SRCH. And a few days later the government let it be known that Mr Cameron wishes to field more ethnic minority candidates in the next general election – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/pm-orders-new-minorities-push-to-stave-off-tory-election-crisis-8431680.html

Racist and religious hate crime

A new pack for schools on racist and religious hate crime, written by Berenice Miles and published by the Crown Prosecution Service in association with the National Union of Teachers and the Anthony Walker Foundation, contains classroom activities, worksheets, PowerPoint slides and video clips, and useful background briefings for teachers.