Critics slam cadet force project to run with anti-extremism course in school at centre of alleged takeover bid by conservative Muslim groups
A British school caught up in the "Trojan horse" extremism scandal has come under fire after it emerged that the army is to lead a project aimed at instilling British pride in its pupils.
More than 40 students have signed up for an army cadet programme at Rockwood Academy that managers say will give them a "sense of pride" in being British, and teach them skills including paintball, navigation and first aid.
However, according to The Times, from next September some students will be learning to shoot rifles with live ammunition.
Rockwood Academy, formerly Park View, was one of a number of schools at the centre of an alleged takeover bid by conservative Muslim groups, who installed sympathetic governors in a so-called "Trojan horse" strategy.
The scandal rocked Britain in 2014. A report into the matter found no evidence of extremism but said that there were “a number of people in a position of influence who either espouse, or sympathise with or fail to challenge extremist views". Critics of the scandal have previously called the investigation a witch-hunt and said that the anonymous letter that triggered the probe into the matter was a hoax, although Birmingham's education commissioner Sir Mike Tomlinson last year stressed he felt the letter was genuine.
Anonymous sources told MEE that since the Trojan horse scandal, Rockwood has made a concerted effort to partner organisations and distance itself from its controversial past.
The army now plans to establish a Combined Cadet Force Unit at Rockwood, where a full-time army official will be based for the duration of the project known as the Cadet Expansion Plan.
Critics have questioned the move, which will be run alongside a mandatory scheme called Extre(me), which aims to protect students from online recruitment by so-called Islamic extremists and far-right organisations.
Alisdair Smith, who is a teacher and the national secretary for Parents Defending Education, said the cadet scheme was a "knee-jerk" reaction to the scandal.
“British pride or values of any kind should be taught by qualified citizenship teachers," he told Middle East Eye.
“This scheme is a knee-jerk reaction to the fake Trojan horse fiasco that is forcing the schools implicated or associated with it to go over the top and show that they are not promoting Muslim values.
"Bringing in untrained army officials at the end of the day to teach kids particular values is outdated and completely inappropriate."
Pat Gaffney, the general secretary of the International Catholic Peace Movement, said the project to involve the army in school life did "not bode well".
“The idea of equating the army and British pride does not bode well, and the two need to be separated out."
Gaffney, who has campaigned against 16 and 17-year-olds joining the army, told MEE that the military should not have easy access to schools and that nothing should be allowed that legitimises war and violence to young people.
“The idea of equating the army and British pride does not bode well, and the two need to be separated out. Anything that relates to violence, whether it's state violence or community violence, should be challenged within the framework of education, not promoted.”
The cadet and anti-extremism projects were announced last week, and will start at the beginning of next term.
Announcing the project, cadet contingent commander Gary Newbrook, who will be based at the academy, said: “The Combined Cadet Force is designed to instil values in young people that will help them get the most out of their lives, and to contribute to their communities and country.”
Adrian Packer, the CEO of CORE Education Trust, which runs Rockwood, in a statement following the announcement of the two schemes, said: “Through #Extre(me) we are giving students the tools to be able to recognise the threat of radical recruitment and show them the wider, real-life impact of extremism and terror.
"Meanwhile, the Combined Cadet Force will give them a sense of pride - not only as a Rockwood Academy student, but also as a citizen of Birmingham and Great Britain.”
Rockwood Academy’s principal Fuzel Choudhury said: “We are overjoyed to be part of two very exciting new projects, proving how Rockwood is positioning itself as being at the cutting edge of innovative education.
"The response to the launch of the Combined Cadet Force unit has really been overwhelming and we are confident that the students will benefit significantly, as will the teaching staff."
The Cadet Expansion Plan (CEP) has a strong presence in private schools across England and Wales, and was established in a bid to promote a military ethos within schools.
It was launched in June 2012 by the coalition government to develop 100 new cadet units in state-funded schools by September 2015. The British government has committed to spending £50m ($66m) on the project.
Rockwood was removed from special measures in April 2016, after it was taken over by the CORE Education Trust following the Trojan horse scandal and rated "good" by the British education watchdog Ofsted.
CORE Education Trust declined repeated requests from MEE to comment further on teaching the cadet candidates how to use live ammunition.
The Ministry of Defence was also unable to comment at the time of writing.