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/.

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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/.

Peter delivers on a Trojan horse

On Tuesday 22 July the new secretary of state for education in England, Nicky Morgan, made a statement in the House of Commons about the Trojan Horse affair and about a report by Peter Clarke that had been laid before the House earlier on the same day. ‘Mr Speaker,’ she said, ‘we are all in the debt of Peter Clarke for the rigour that he brought to his investigation and for the forensic clarity of his findings. And we are in the debt of my predecessor [Michael Gove], now the chief whip on this side of the House, for his determination in the face of criticism to invite Peter to take on this task.’

The reference to ‘Peter’ implied a close – even cosy – personal friendship between the ministers and the person appointed to report to them, and inevitably raised doubts about Clarke’s professionalism, independence, seriousness and objectivity.

Morgan then immediately proceeded to emphasise the government’s view that ‘we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent’, adding that Clarke’s report ‘offers us important recommendations to address this challenge in schools’. She did not acknowledge that the government’s operational definition of extremism is extraordinarily vague nor that Clarke’s evidence for the existence of such extremism in Birmingham schools is extraordinarily thin.

The cumulative effect of Clarke’s report is to present the neoconservative and profoundly offensive view that Islam is ‘a swamp’ in which noisome creatures such as crocodiles and mosquitos thrive and are given nourishment and support. ‘Peter’ has delivered what his political and media friends hoped and asked for. His report is a grave disservice, however, to very many millions of others.

There is further brief comment on Clarke’s report in this week’s newsletter from the Institute of Race Relations – http://www.irr.org.uk/news/hatred-hysteria-and-a-trojan-horse/

Smear, anecdote and hoax – the Trojan Horse reports

A letter in today’s Guardian runs as follows:

The new secretary of state for education, Nicky Morgan, makes various pledges following the “Trojan horse” reports on Birmingham schools. Several of her pledges are valuable. The basis for them, however, is unsound. Peter Clarke’s report is not “forensic”, as Nicky Morgan claims (Report, 22 July), but a biased mix of uncorroborated smear, anecdote, hoax and chatroom gossip.

It reflects neoconservative assumptions about the nature of extremism; ignores significant testimony and viewpoints; implies the essential problem in Birmingham is simply the influence of certain individuals; discusses governance but not curriculum; ignores the concerns and perceptions of parents and young people; and is unlikely to bear judicial scrutiny. The Trojan horse affair has done much damage in Birmingham, both to individuals and to community cohesion.

Political leaders have key roles in the urgent process of restoration and support for curriculum renewal. Alas, they will not be much helped by the official reports of Clarke, Ian Kershaw and Ofsted.

They will, though, be helped by the unique strength and goodwill of people in Birmingham itself.

The letter is at http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/28/rights-and-wrongs-trojan-horse-birmingham. It is signed by Tim Brighouse, Gus John, Arun Kundnani, Sameena Choudry, Akram Khan-Cheema, Arzu Merali, Robin Richardson, Maurice Irfan Coles, Gill Cressey, Steph Green, Ashfaque Chowdhury, Ibrahim Hewitt, Baljeet Singh Gill, Arshad Ali, S Sayyid, Massoud Shadjareh, Abdool Karim Vakil and Tom Wylie. There is information about Nicky Morgan’s pledges at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/22/schools-face-curbs-extremism-birmingham-trojan-horse-affair.

Questioning the Trojan Horse

This morning (Wednesday 9 July 2014) the Education Select Committee at the House of Commons is interviewing three senior members of Ofsted. Next week it is interviewing the secretary of state for education. The principal subject for both interviews is extremism in schools. The interviews will show, both explicitly and tacitly, how Ofsted and the Department foe Education understand the concept of extremism. Also they will show, and similarly both explicitly and tacitly, how the Select Committee understands the concept.

Two new papers on the Insted Consultancy website this morning provide reminders of key issues. The one paper consists of extracts from recent articles about the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham – ‘Issues requiring attention’ by Tim Brighouse, ‘The heart of inner city schooling’ by Shamim Miah, ‘An invidious position’ by Jacqueline Baxter, ‘What it means to be civilised’ by Muhammad Khan, ‘A source of deep shame’ by Lee Donaghy and ‘A compelling guide to the debate’ by Peter Oborne. The other paper lists the articles from which these extracts are taken, and also about 40 other recent articles about the Trojan Horse which similarly present an understanding of extremism which is different from, and counter to, that of the dominant narrative in the mainstream media.

The two papers can be accessed from Insted’s home page at http://www.insted.co.uk.

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.

Trojan Horse Counter Narrative

Much media coverage today, most of it uncritical, of the Trojan Horse narrative concocted by Michael Gove and Ofsted. To remind yourself of what the counter narrative looks like, please read or re-read some of the following articles. They are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first.

Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?,by Richard Adams, The Guardian, 9 June 2014

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/08/trojan-horse-extremism-political-storm-michael-gove-ofsted

If you want to stop extremism in UK schools, try a little understanding first, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, 9 June 2014

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/if-you-want-to-stop-extremism-in-uk-schools-try-a-little-understanding-first-9509345.html

Birmingham has most to lose from the Gove-May extremism row, by Chris Allen, The Conversation, 7 June

http://theconversation.com/birmingham-has-most-to-lose-from-gove-may-extremism-row-27650

 Naming the narratives: the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham, by Robin Richardson, Institute for Race Relations Bulletin, 5 June 2014

http://www.irr.org.uk/news/naming-the-narratives-the-trojan-horse-affair-in-birmingham/

When did Michael Gove become the government’s expert on Muslims or extremism?, by Mehdi Hasan, Huffington Post, 4 June 2014

http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/5443576?utm_hp_ref=tw

Trojan horses and policing ‘extremism’ in schools, by Gus John, Gus John Consultancy, 3 June 2014

http://www.gusjohn.com/2014/06/trojan-horses-and-policing-extremism-in-schools/

 Where lies sound truthful and murder is respectable, by Ibrahim Hewitt, Middle East Monitor, 30 May 2014 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/europe/11778-when-lies-sound-truthful-and-murder-is-respectable

 Trojan Horse:conjuring the slave, the witch and the grand inquisitor, by MG Khan, Open Democracy, 2 May 2014

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/mg-khan/trojan-horse-%E2%80%93-conjuring-slave-witch-and-grand-inquisitor

Ofsted’s future at stake after Trojan Horse scandal, by JacquelineBaxter, The Conversation, 1 May

http://theconversation.com/ofsteds-future-at-stake-after-trojan-horse-scandal-25936

An ideological war against Muslims in UK schools, by Assed Baig, Anadolu Agency, 25 April 2014

http://www.aa.com.tr/en/s/318232–an-ideological-war-against-uk-muslims-in-school

This war on ‘Islamism’ only fuels hatred and violence, by Seumas Milne, The Guardian, 24 April 2014

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/23/war-islamism-hatred-violence-blair-cameron-toxic

 A new wave of Islamophobia: where it comes from and how to stop it, by John Rees, Stop the War Coalition, 24 April 2014

http://stopwar.org.uk/videos/a-new-wave-of-islamophobia-where-it-rsquo-s-come-from-and-how-to-stop-it#.U2vjHSO3PFp

Teachers complain about behaviour of Ofsted inspectors investigating plot by Richard Adams, The Guardian, 20 April 2014

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/apr/20/teachers-ofsted-inspectors-investigating-plot-birmingham

No Trojan Horse: the bishop, the chief executive and the knowledgeable journalist agree, Political Concern, 16 April 2014

http://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/no-trojan-horse-the-bishop-the-chief-executive-and-the-knowledgeable-journalist-agree/ 

Crusade against British Muslims in education, by Ibrahim Hewitt, Al Jazeera, 12 April 2014

http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201451018411814899

The Muslim plot that wasn’t by Assed Baig, Huffington Post, 7 April 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/assed-baig/muslim-plot_b_5103347.html

 The inconvenience of the truth: Birmingham schools don’t need a witch hunt, by Tom Bennett, Times Educational Supplement, 9 March 2014

http://community.tes.co.uk/tom_bennett/b/weblog/archive/2014/03/09/the-inconvenience-of-the-truth-birmingham-schools-don-39-t-need-a-witch-hunt.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another Muslim plot, new research shows

Careful research by a newspaper reveals today that Edward the Sixth, the half-brother of Elizabeth the First, popularly known as Good Queen Bess, was secretly a Muslim. He did not live long but nevertheless laid the foundations for the gradual Muslimisation of British culture during the centuries which followed his reign.

In his own lifetime (1537—1553) Edward’s great achievement was to persuade his half-sister Elizabeth, who was played by Dame Judy Dench in a recent TV series, not to demonise Muslims. Instead of demonising Muslims, he maintained, the English should demonise Catholics and, though to a lesser extent, people in Scotland.

As a result of Edward’s efforts many British Muslims in the sixteenth century were spared the embarrassment of being burnt alive in public, and Islam as a religion was not seen as a major threat to world civilisation.

But Edward’s greatest achievement was to found prestigious schools which would carry his teachings into the national consciousness over the next five centuries. It was particularly in Birmingham, though also in other cities in northern England such as Bradford and Manchester, that his ideas took hold. In due course the schools which he founded in Birmingham and other northern cities became centres of excellence for Islamic Studies, and for the hallowing of Islamic architecture, astrology, medicine, mathematics, theology and ethics.

 As a result of the far-reaching influence of the schools which Edward VI founded, Birmingham became in the late twentieth century a magnet for Muslims from all over the world. They received there a warm welcome and they for their part made magnificent contributions to the city’s education system, and to its wealth and fame.

‘Where the iron heart of England throbs beneath its sombre robe,’ wrote Edward in a youthful poem, ‘stand schools whose sons will make them great and famous round the globe’. Yes indeed, and thanks to typically painstaking research by the Sunday Times the secret of Birmingham’s greatness is now known – the moral and intellectual values of Islam.

Michael Gove is said to be interested in the findings of the Sunday Times investigation.  An official from the Department for Education confirms today (1 April 2014): ‘We are monitoring the situation very closely.’

Background

Several articles about fantasies in Birmingham have been published by the Sunday Times in recent weeks, and have been duly reprinted in various other papers. For a perceptive, passionate and up-to-date review of the saga, and of the damage it is doing to children, staff and governors in Birmingham schools, see an article by M. G. Khan in the Times Educational Supplement, Friday 28 March 2014: http://news.tes.co.uk/b/opinion/2014/03/27/the-trojan-horse-is-being-used-to-destabilise-muslim-majority-schools-by-galvanising-ofsted-39.aspx

Birmingham’s Trojan Horse Hoax — brief update

Birmingham’s Trojan Horse Hoax – brief update

At some stage last year someone created a document that purported to be a letter written by someone in Birmingham to someone in Bradford. The supposed letter apparently showed that some Muslims in Birmingham were plotting, in close liaison and cooperation with the city’s director of education, and with her warm approval and encouragement, to ‘take over’ a number of local schools. They had a tried and tested strategy, the letter said, which they named as Operation Trojan Horse. This involved substantial use, the letter cheerfully acknowledged, of dirty tricks, deceit and deception.

The document was riddled with factual errors and howlers and for this reason alone was clearly not written by someone familiar with the matters being referred to. Also it contained a number of phrases which reflected Islamophobic fantasies and stereotypes, and for this reason too it was clearly a fake, for no Muslim could conceivably have written it, unless as an April Fools-type practical joke designed to expose the gullibility, ignorance and deep-seated prejudice of many non-Muslims.

But alas the document was taken at face value when it somehow fell recently into the hands of two reporters on the Sunday Times. Their specialism was security, not education or religion, and it apparently did not occur to them to make elementary checks about the document’s authenticity. Nor were elementary checks made by editorial staff at the Sunday Times before the article was approved for publication. The story appeared on Sunday 2 March and in the course of the following few days was widely recycled by other national papers, and by many regional ones, and by the BBC. No one in these papers or at the BBC apparently bothered to check whether the document was genuine. Some papers, on the contrary, invented further details, for example that the supposed authors of the document were Salafis, and all made extensive use of stereotypes and tropes about fundamentalists, Islamists, extremists and jihadists.

Investigations will hopefully establish who concocted the hoax document, and for what specific purposes. Also there will hopefully be clarity in due course about why Birmingham City Council did not kill the story dead when it first surfaced. But people who were fooled by the hoax are already beginning to change their ground. The spoof document, they are ready to concede, is indeed a hoax. But nevertheless it could have been true, they tell you, for it accords with experiences they themselves have had, or that friends or acquaintances of theirs have had, or friends of friends and acquaintances of acquaintances, over the years.  

In consequence there is a danger that entirely legitimate concerns and grievances about the academic achievement of Pakistani heritage pupils in Birmingham schools will be sidelined, and that valuable and much needed measures to increase the involvement of Pakistani heritage teachers in school management and leadership, and of Pakistani people in school governance generally, will be slowed down.

These dangers are compounded by the declining influence and capacity, since 2010, of local education authorities, and by their loss of expertise, professionalism and wisdom. Also they are compounded by consequent increases in uncertainty and anxiety. It is when human beings are anxious, and are uncertain about the role, nature and capacity of legitimate authority, that they are prone to give credence to stories which, in happier and more secure times, they would laugh out of court.

 For fuller information

The best single source for fuller information is an item on Inayat Bunglawala’s blog, Inayat’s Corner. It provides links to much of the main media coverage so far, and to a robust rebuttal by the chair of governors alleged to be master-minding the so-called plot. The address is http://inayatscorner.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/more-developments-in-the-muslim-plot-to-take-over-schools-story/.

Factual errors and howlers in the spoof document were described by the sister paper of the Sunday Times in an article on Tuesday 11 March. This can be read in full at http://www.islamophobiawatch.co.uk/times-discovers-that-trojan-horse-letter-is-a-crude-forgery/

Factual errors are also itemised in an article in today’s Guardian, though under a misleading headline, since it refers to a ’possible’ hoax rather than to a blatant and self-evident one: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/13/alleged-islamic-plot-birmingham-schools-possible-hoax?CMP=twt_fd

Relevant blog posts by Karamat Iqbal about the situation of Pakistani pupils in Birmingham schools include the following:

http://forwardpartnership.org.uk/2014/02/11/character-and-resilience-are-essential-to-becoming-educated-but-so-is-their-religious-education-for-pakistani-children/

http://forwardpartnership.org.uk/2013/10/14/pakistani-boys-education-school-important-but-so-is-their-religion-for-muslim-pupils/

 

An Islamophobic lie goes half way round the world

Famously, a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.  A lie travels particularly fast, without let or hindrance, when it reinforces and chimes with prejudices which already exist. The fake document known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for example, was widely accepted at face value in its day because it accorded with antisemitic conspiracy theories which were already prevalent.  

And now in Britain in March 2014 credence is being given to an Islamophobic lie about Muslim plotting to ‘take over’ a number of local schools in a city in the West Midlands. The story is self-evidently a hoax but is nevertheless widely believed, since it conforms with and confirms pre-existing tropes about British culture being swamped and submerged by Islam. Soon there will be so much egg on so many faces that the truth, when it emerges in the full light of day, will be even more unbelievable than the lie.

Gullibility can be amusing, as when people are taken in by spoof stories each year on April Fools Day. It is not amusing, however, when it taps into and amplifies a racist prejudice such as Islamophobia, and when people are harmed by it. In the present instance the people being harmed include large numbers of children and young people in British schools. (Yes, British, not just English, and certainly not just in one city. One of the first websites to recycle the story when it first broke on 2 March was that of the BNP in Scotland. The story has been widely recycled in the national press, not just the West Midlands press.)

 According to the clumsily constructed spoof document quoted from in various newspapers, there are two or maybe slightly more than two Muslim people in Birmingham who have won the trust of senior officials and councillors by giving the impression they are respectable and who are plotting now with these officials and councillors to take over four local schools and run them on Islamic principles (or ‘principals’, as the alleged plotters themselves put it at one stage.) They call their scheme ‘Operation Trojan Horse’; confidently assert that the Muslim concept of jihad condones and commends unethical and underhand behaviour; and congratulate themselves on having caused a lot of disruption. And they say they say their leader is someone who is a very widely respected Muslim educationist, and chair of governors at one of their city’s, and indeed one of Britain’s, most impressive and outstanding schools.

The truth will eventually emerge. Amongst other things it will hopefully cast light on the motives of whoever constructed the fake document, and those who have given credence to it for their own ends. The latter may include left-wing critics of the academies programme and right-wing critics of Ofsted. Critics of academies or of Ofsted who have helped spread the story have tacitly supported Islamophobia, even if this was not their prime purpose.

In the meanwhile, the best single source for fuller information is an item on Inayat Bunglawala’s blog, Inayat’s Corner, posted earlier today (10 March). It provides links to all the main coverage so far, and to a robust rebuttal by the chair of governors alleged to be master-minding the so-called plot. It is also fair-minded, and open to the possibility that the document underlying the story is not, or not entirely, a fake. The address is

 http://inayatscorner.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/more-developments-in-the-muslim-plot-to-take-over-schools-story/.