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/.

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