Identifying Trojan Horse witnesses would put off future whistleblowers, warns union
Teachers would be discouraged from coming forward to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in schools if the government breaks a promise to give Trojan Horse witnesses anonymity, a union has warned.
The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) has asked the government to release the names of whistleblowers who gave evidence as part of its Trojan Horse inquiry into claims of a plot by Muslim hardliners to take over several Birmingham schools in 2014.
The details of witnesses would be handed to the lawyers representing five teachers who face an upcoming disciplinary hearing. They face a common allegation they agreed to the “inclusion of an undue amount of religious influence in the education of pupils” at three schools.
But whistleblowers say releasing their names would break a verbal agreement they secured when giving evidence to the government-commissioned investigation.
The National Association of Head Teachers has made legal representations to the Department for Education (DfE), which will weigh up the potential issues before making a decision.
It is vital that where anonymity is promised it is kept
Russell Hobby (pictured), NAHT general secretary, has now warned any disclosure could have a chilling effect on future whistleblowers.
“Many of these individuals came forward at great personal cost and would not have done so if they’d known that promises of anonymity could be broken.
“It is vital that where anonymity is promised it is kept. Without this, witnesses may think twice about coming forward, meaning that future cases might never be uncovered or investigated. And this creates risks for young people in our schools.”
Liam Byrne, the Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that education secretary Justine Greening must “step in” to sort the issue out.
A witness who gave evidence as part of inquiry also said she was “extremely nervous and panicky” about her name being released.
The whistleblowers were informed of the request in a letter sent by government lawyers before Christmas.
The letters say names and evidence transcripts will be disclosed to teachers facing disciplinary hearings and their lawyers, and will be only be used in context of the NCTL proceedings, and not “more widely”.
One of the witnesses previously told the BBC they had a “verbal agreement” for anonymity with Peter Clarke, the former police chief who headed an independent investigation into the Trojan Horse allegations, which was commissioned by the DfE.
The witness said that “half of the people wouldn’t have come forward” without such a promise.
Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children, families and schools at Birmingham council (pictured right), has also warned about the consequences of breaking the anonymity agreement.
“This has potentially serious consequences not just for the individuals involved in this case, but for whistleblowers nationwide.”
The lawyers for the five teachers argue they should be able to question individuals who gave evidence against their clients – who could face teaching bans if they are found guilty on the back of the whistleblowers’ testimony.
A DfE spokesperson said: “It is critical that all NCTL hearings are fair, just and follow the correct procedures. Given these proceedings are ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”