Birmingham schools still at risk of extremist ‘destabilisation’, says Sir Michael Wilshaw

Birmingham schools still at risk of extremist 'destabilisation', says Sir Michael Wilshaw

Schools at the centre of the “Trojan Horse” investigations are now “much safer” but are still at risk of “destabilisation” from an “intent” minority, Ofsted’s chief inspector has said.

In an open letter to the government about Birmingham City Council, Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was “distressing” to hear that in Birmingham schools allegedly targeted for takeover by hardline Muslim groups, many headteachers felt “isolated and vulnerable” and were “unsupported… in confronting these challenges” by the local authority.

He said: “This lack of coordinated support meant that, in their view, the good practice developed by some schools to counter radicalisation and extremism was not being disseminated effectively to others.”

The allegations first emerged in 2014 and prompted a series of Ofsted no-notice inspections and a series of independent inquiries, each of which reported differing levels of radical tendencies in the schools.

In the last few months, three former teachers and leaders from the schools have been banned from teaching for their conduct. A parliamentary review found that the investigations caused a sense of “crisis and confusion” among the schools.

Wilshaw acknowledged in his letter that the schools involved were now “generally improving” and two had been upgraded from inadequate to good, but said extremism was still present in the city and repeated a claim from one Birmingham head that it had “gone underground”.

But Tahir Alam, a former governor at Park View Educational Trust, which was implicated in the scandal, and who has since been banned from involvement with the schools, said he did not recognise the picture being painted by Wilshaw, adding: “This is pure fallacy and fabrication.”

The correspondence follows a letter sent last week by Birmingham City Council to Ofsted accusing its regional director Lorna Fitzjohn of calling heads in the city a “vipers’ nest”.

I find such language… unprofessional, unwarranted and unacceptable

That letter was sent to all school leaders in Birmingham from Mark Rogers, the council’s chief executive. It said: “It has been brought to our attention that Ofsted’s regional director for the West Midlands, Lorna Fitzjohn, recently referred to Birmingham’s headteacher community as a “vipers’ nest”… I find such language from the senior Ofsted official, who has oversight for all schools in the city and its children’s social care, unprofessional, unwarranted and unacceptable.”

Rogers said it was “grossly insulting” and pointed to statistics showing around 80 per cent of Birmingham’s schools are judged good or outstanding by Ofsted.

An Ofsted spokesperson said that Fitzjohn’s comment was “taken out of context” and she was merely “repeating” a phrase that other headteachers had used.

“If this was perceived to be Lorna’s view of headteachers in the city, she is very clear that it is not,” she added.

Today, the councillor Brigid Jones said she did not feel Wilshaw’s views “fully reflected” the feedback it received from teachers and other government departments.

Wilshaw picked out three local authorities as a source of concern – Birmingham, Bradford and Luton  – stating that he could not be assured their safeguarding responsibilites were “adequately carried out”. These include monitoring home-educated children, the discharge of Prevent duties, and record-keeping.

He recommended to Morgan she support Ofsted “by agreeing” that a HMI should be assigned to “any local authority” where “the government considers children are at a greater risk of radicalisation or their safety is being put in jeopardy by poor safeguarding practices”.

The Department for Education would not say whether it supported Wilshaw’s recommendation for a designated HMI for such local authorities.

A spokesperson did say the department was working with Ofsted and the Crown Prosecution Service to “take tough action” on illegal independent schools and encouraging “voluntary trusts” in Birmingham to ensure children and families receive “the best possible care and support”.