Conducting multiple inquiries into concerns about Birmingham’s so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ plot led to “a sense of crisis and confusion”, the education select committee has said today.
A report into extremism in schools by the cross-party group of MPs reviews actions after last year’s Trojan Horse incident in which a group of hardline Islamists were alleged to be “taking over” some Birmingham schools.
Since the alleged plot was made public last March there have been no fewer than five different investigations into the schools – by Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE), the Education Funding Agency (EFA), Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police.
The committee said this highlighted the complexity of how schools, particularly academies, are now overseen.
“The number of overlapping inquiries contributed to the sense of crisis and confusion, and the number of reports, coming out at different times and often leaked in advance, was far from helpful,” it said.
Concerns are also raised about the robustness and reliability of Ofsted’s framework. Two schools caught up in the allegations had been rated outstanding by the inspectorate. On re-inspection they were rated as inadequate and placed into special measures.
The committee said it could not be sure if inspectors were initially over-reliant on data and so failed to “dig deeper”, or if the schools deteriorated quickly after inspection.
Alternatively, it suggests that Ofsted may have downgraded the schools due to political or media pressure.
Speaking to Schools Week, committee chair Graham Stuart said: “Fundamentally, the problem was of governance. The whole point of having governors at a school is so that local communities can influence the ethos of their local school – whatever community that is; they will seek to influence the type of schooling that’s provided.
“It is about what happens when that becomes inappropriate, there is bullying, or a narrowing of the curriculum. We need processes in place that challenge that and make sure whistleblowers are listened to and action is initiated promptly.”
At present the EFA is responsible for ensuring academies meet the conditions of their funding agreement, including teaching a broad and balance curriculum. However Ofsted are the only body that can place a school into special measures and force a change of governors. Local authorities are responsible for safeguarding in all schools, but have limited powers of intervention in academies.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “We welcome the Education Select Committee highlighting the poor coordination at various levels of government, which appears to have contributed to a national panic. It seems that there are too many cooks spoiling the broth, with schools accountable to many different organisations and agencies. This causes confusion and overlap.”
Both the DfE and Ofsted have said they will formally respond to the report in “due course”.
However, a DfE spokesperson said: “We are putting in place a helpline for schools to raise extremism concerns more easily and are working closely with Ofsted, having strengthened their inspection frameworks to include Fundamental British Values.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted is committed to ensuring that such drastic declines are not repeated elsewhere and will continue to work closely with other agencies to identify and investigate any areas of concern.”
It said the move to shorter, more frequent, inspections of good schools will allow performance declines to be “spotted early”.
The five recommendations of the Education Select Committee for the DfE are:
1. Ensure more coordination between inquiries by different agencies in the future
2. Draw together the recommendations from all the investigations and set out one response
3. Keep under review the DfE’s arrangements for sharing information effectively between the various bodies responsible for oversight of schools
4. Make an annual written ministerial statement on the priorities and achievements of the DfE’s Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division
5. Continue to monitor the situation in the individual schools affected in Birmingham to ensure that the students receive the education they deserve