The MP whose constituency includes an academy at the heart of claims that extremists plotted to take over Birmingham schools has condemned inspectors Ofsted and Education Secretary Michael Gove for their response to the allegations.

Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) accused Mr Gove of playing politics over the affair, saying the Education Secretary was scared it would expose failings in the rapid expansion of the Government’s academy programme.

Mr Gove has launched his own investigation into events in Birmingham schools even though all ten Birmingham MPs - including Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell - had urged him to set up a joint inquiry with the city’s council.

And Mr Byrne  said he was “incredibly frustrated” at Oftsed’s failure to publish the findings of an inquiry into Park View Academy in Alum Rock, in his constituency.

The MP spoke to the Birmingham Post as Labour announced plans for dramatic reforms to the schools system.

A pledge to appoint an “Independent Director of School Standards” in each region to monitor schools and respond to concerns from parents will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.

The measure was prompted partly by the alleged Birmingham plot, Labour said.

Ofsted launched an inquiry into Park View Academy in February after staff whistleblowers, including Muslims working at the school, claimed there was an attempt to turn it into an unofficial faith school.

Whistleblowers claimed there was a plan to turn Park View Academy into a de facto religious school

The inquiry was later widened to include 18 city schools after Birmingham City Council and the media received a copy of a document supposedly revealing details of a plan called Trojan Horse for “getting rid of more headteachers and taking over their schools”.

It is unknown whether the document, supposedly a letter written by a Birmingham Muslim fundamentalist to another in Bradford, is genuine.

Speaking to the Birmingham Post, Mr Byrne said he was waiting for the results of the official inquiry - but warned it was wrong to try to turn a secular school into a faith school “by the back door”, regardless of the religion involved.

The MP this week met with Ofsted chief Micheal Wilshaw, the chief Inspector of Schools, to urge him to publish the Park View Academy report.

He said: “The allegations are that there was inappropriate hiring and firing of teachers, and that an attempt was being made to introduce a faith school by the back door.”

He added: “I’m incredibly frustrated, like parents in Hodge Hill, that the report is taking so long to publish.

“I believe it should have been published a month ago.”

Mr Byrne said there needed to be greater recognition of the positive role of Islam in encouraging young Birmingham Muslims to work hard at school and contribute to their communities.

He added: “If people are to succeed in what is a multi-faith, multicultural society, people need a well-rounded education.

“And that is why we can’t have faith schools by the back door.”

Liam Byrne
MP Liam Byrne
 

The MP also condemned Education Secretary Michael Gove for failing to co-operate with Birmingham City Council in setting up a joint inquiry. It means there are now two separate inquiries, one by the Department for Education, chaired by anti-terror expert Peter Clarke, and one by Birmingham City Council, led by former headteacher Ian Kershaw.

Mr Byrne said: “I think that Michael Gove has tried to politcise this debate, because he knows that he’s no longer capable of overseeing the academy system in Britain. 53 per cent of secondary schools now report directly to the Secretary of State and it’s now clear it’s impossible for him to keep a close eye on what’s going on.

“He is worried about what the review in Birmingham is going to say about the state of school reform.

“That’s why I think he’s rejected the appeal of all ten Birmingham MPs for a cross-party independent process that reported directly to the Department for Education and Birmingham City Council.

Under Labour’s new policy proposals, neighbouring councils would jointly appoint a schools director who would have the power to investigate and intervene in any state-funded school, even if it was an academy.

David Blunkett, the former Education Secretary who is now advising Labour leader Ed Miliband and drew up the proposals, said the alleged Birmingham plot showed why the reforms were needed.

Mr Blunkett said: “In April 2014, the alleged Operation Trojan Horse in Birmingham demonstrated the difficulties that have arisen from this ‘absence of transparency’ with centralised control of schools on the one hand, and lack of any real clarity about how autonomy at local level should retain sensible accountability on the other.”

Staffordshire MP Tristram Hunt MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “David’s record on raising school standards speaks for itself. This is an incredibly important report.”

He added: “Labour will introduce new and robust local oversight of all schools to raise standards. That’s what new Directors of School Standards will bring.”

Academies are currently accountable to the Education Secretary but Labour says this means there is no effective control.

Birmingham Labour MP Steve McCabe (Selly Oak), a Shadow Education Minister, said: “At present over half our secondary schools in England are being run centrally from Whitehall and it is not working, the Secretary of State is not identifying failing schools in time which is putting our children’s education at risk.

 “In recent weeks there have been reports and speculation about the so-called ‘Trojan Horse Operation’ here in Birmingham, these serious concerns demonstrate it is just not practical for our schools to be run by bureaucrats in Whitehall.

“Labour is committing to introducing new local school commissioners who will monitor all state-schools, whether managed by the local authority or not, this will allow both parents and teachers to report failings, hold them to account and ensure we have transparency in our schools.”