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Trojan Donkey found, not many inside

This is a guest post by Tokyo Nambu

After months of rumour, allegation and counter-allegation, and the leaking of a mountain of documents, we have the first of the formal verdicts on the “Trojan Horse” affair in Birmingham.  And the conclusion?  Less a smoking gun, more a collection of spent cartridge cases, the vague smell of cordite and some unreliable witnesses who swear they saw the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, even though there are no corpses.

There are two sets of documents that have been published today.

Firstly, Ofsted have released full inspections on five schools which have been put into special measures, along with reports on sixteen other schools that have had less damning judgements.   These are the three schools of the Park View trust (secondaries Park View itself and Golden Hillock, and Nansen Primary), Oldknow Academy (a large primary) and Saltley School (a secondary).  They range from the previously outstanding, Park View, to schools that are already in deep difficulty, like Saltley.

These reports are thin beer, and appear to show the sort of incompetence combined with venal corruption that brings to mind any number of small local government scandals.   There are a wide range of breaches of safeguarding and recruitment policy, which are inexcusable even if there is no evidence that actual harm occurred.   Brothers and friends are recruited as staff.  Contracts are awarded without proper controls.  Governors come and go, claiming unwarranted expenses.   The curriculum is narrowed, and some of the teaching is poor.  A lot of games are being played with early entry, IGCSEs and the like, and if you were go back a few years there would be even more.   It’s not an appetising picture: for all the outrage from some on the left about witch-hunts, I doubt any non-Muslim parent with an interest in their child receiving a broad education would touch these schools with a bargepole, even taking the results at face value.  There is little doubt that the schools judged as failing are, in fact, failing.  But it looks like incompetence. The least charitable interpretation would be a plot to take over the schools that ran aground because the plotters were incompetent, the more charitable that they were well intentioned but incompetent.

There are a variety of failings which might indicate “extremism”, or might not.  For example, schools are criticised for not following the Prevent Strategy: since when was that an obligation on state schools?  There are vague suggestions of segregation, but not much that is concrete.  There are euphemistic complaints about insufficient knowledge of the full range of bullying behaviour, which is presumably code for “homophobia”.  There are occasional references to problematic teaching about evolution, but even if it is all true, it would hardly be unique.  The parents and governors have a bee in their bonnet about sex education, but again, that’s not unheard of elsewhere.

Secondly, there are also Education Funding Agency reports into the Park View trust and the Oldknow trust, focussing more on finance and governance.  Here again there is some pretty shocking practice, and the long tale of the Oldknow trip to Saudi Arabia (Muslim pupils only, lots of subsidy, strange safeguarding arrangements) is obviously corrupt.    There’s a pathetic attempt to evade inspection, and an “Arabic and maths” teacher who is obviously something of a headbanger.   And in each case you get the feeling that the chair of governors believes that they are in fact in charge: in one case, principals are only appointed on a temporary basis to give the governors more “flexibility”.

Should these schools go into special measures?  Yes.  The governance is clearly a complete shambles, and there’s clear evidence that the governors have undermined the school management and imposed themselves as unqualified principals.  Is there a plot, with cunning entryists?  Well, the Park View trust looks like an organised takeover, but so transparently incompetent that it could only flourish because of a utter lack of oversight.  Similarly at Oldknow, if they had been serious about a well-planned takeover, they wouldn’t have also raided the school piggy-bank to fund holidays in Saudi Arabia.  Is there evidence of religious conservatism in the schools?  Yes, but no more so than in many designated faith schools.  Is there evidence of extremism, scary violent extremism?  No.