According to all information coming out of Birmingham City Council the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter describing a plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate inner city schools is most likely to be a hoax.
It certainly seems officials are struggling to find any evidence of a concerted and co-ordinated plot and are unable to find the author of the letter. At the same time they are uncovering a large amount of evidence that hard-liners are trying to influence the education system at these schools in an uncoordinated way and it this been going on for some time.
Rumours of such conduct have come into this newsroom several times over the last decade – but the education establishment has always pulled up the drawbridge and blocked attempts to investigate, while teachers concerned have been moved with their reputations and pensions intact.
The allegation is that groups of governors have pushed schools towards becoming academies where, away from the gaze and guidance of the local education authority, they can pursue a more religious education system.
It is claimed these governors are then removing staff who do not toe the line, either by fair means or foul, and then implementing their own curriculum ideas which include radicalising of pupils.
While all this is under investigation there is a drip feed of rumours, and leaks from within the Department for Education and Ofsted, which is inspecting primary and secondary schools, is fanning the flames.
As well as the rumours of ‘jihadist plots’ there are now counter rumours from outraged governors and schools that Ofsted inspectors, who are under pressure to find evidence of corruption, are aggressively pumping children for information.
Some are using the phrase ‘witch hunt’ – and basically everything that is wrong with any school with a predominantly Muslim pupil population is being linked to Trojan Horse. There is also a suspicion from those on the political left that those making the most noise about this, including the unknown author of the letter and perhaps even the Secretary of State Michael Gove, may be exploiting Islamaphobia and appealing to the right wing.
While others accuse the council and authorities of failure to tackle the issue because they fear being branded racist.
A slightly more sober analysis has now come in from the National Union of Teachers which suggests this is not a Muslim or religious problem, but an academy problem.
Some also wonder if there would be the same furore if an academy’s business sponsor was using its influence to, for example indoctrinate pupils against climate change, or if an evangelical Christian sponsor was removing evolution from the curriculum.
Certainly the academy system, by granting more freedom to schools and governing bodies, has created an environment where this is easier to achieve and therefore more likely.
Senior councillors complain that communities are asking them to sort out problems and take action. They expect someone at the local authority level to take charge.
But the first question the councillor has to ask is ‘what type of school is it?’, because if it is an academy or free school they have to complain to the DfE.
There appears to be an accountability gap around schools, which are, after all, public institutions. While academies by design need greater freedom to flourish, people expect them to also be answerable for that freedom.