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Trojan Horse schools affair: Did UK minister mislead parliament?

Several teachers and educational professionals were excluded from teaching until their bans were later overturned by the High Court
Nicky Morgan, pictured here in 2014, was education minister at the time of the report (AFP)

Claims that a British government minister misled parliament about the so-called Trojan Horse affair are being looked at by the Cabinet Office, Middle East Eye can reveal.

John Holmwood, an expert witness at the disciplinary tribunals of teachers accused of plotting to Islamicise Birmingham schools, alleges that Nicky Morgan, the then-secretary of state for education, broke the ministerial code in July 2014 when she presented her department’s explosive report on the affair to parliament.

The Trojan Horse affair began in March 2014 when an anonymous memo, instructing Muslim teachers and governors to take over schools in Birmingham and run them by strict Islamic principles, was reported in the British media.

Michael Gove, Morgan's predecessor and then-education minister in charge of the Department for Education (DfE), ordered government inspections of several schools in the city.

The claims were disputed – and the letter widely dismissed as a hoax – but several teachers and educational professionals were sacked and excluded from teaching. Many of the bans were later overturned by the High Court: only one teacher and one governor were subsequently excluded from involvement in schools.

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'Morgan ought to have known'

Holmwood, professor of sociology at the University of Nottingham and co-author of Countering Extremism in British Schools?, said that Morgan failed to mention vital evidence that her department had initiated many of the processes described in the report.

The report, written by Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police’s former chief counter-terrorism officer, and commissioned by Gove, described one school, Park View, as the “incubator” of the alleged plot.

But Holmwood says the DfE not only knew that successful schools such as Park View were gaining influence in other schools, but was itself encouraging this approach as part of its national campaign to drive up educational standards.

Michael Gove commissioned the report by Peter Clarke amid allegations about Birmingham schools (AFP)

He said that Morgan, who at the time had been in her post for one week, should have been aware that Clarke’s report was seriously flawed in omitting the role of her department.

Holmwood said: “She knew, or ought to have known, that the report was inaccurate on a number of material points, and misrepresented the situation with regard to Muslims and the schooling of pupils in East Birmingham.

“The charge is not that the Clarke Report should necessarily have reached a different conclusion, but that, in listing the allegations against the teachers and governors at Park View school, it should have considered the exculpatory evidence that had been provided and weighed that evidence in the body of the report. Unless and until that had been done, the report remained inaccurate and incomplete.”

A Cabinet Office source told MEE that it was considering Holmwood’s claim.

Did Morgan also mislead committee?

Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party and Holmwood’s MP, has endorsed his allegations and forwarded them to Prime Minister Theresa May on his behalf.

Lucas said in her letter to May: “In 2014, Nicky Morgan and her then-department presented the Clarke Report to parliament when they knew – or should have known – that the report was incomplete.

As a result, not only were a group of teachers potentially subjected to an injustice, but parliament may also have been misled and subsequent government policy distorted

- Caroline Lucas MP

“As a result, not only were a group of teachers potentially subjected to an injustice, but parliament may also have been misled and subsequent government policy distorted.”

Holmwood said that although Gove commissioned the report, Morgan assumed responsibility for its contents when she took over as secretary of state.

“The minister should have known that under the government’s academies programme any 'takeover' of another school [incorporation into an academy trust] would be authorised by the secretary of state for education acting on the advice of officers in the Department for Education.”

He also said that in October 2014, Morgan later misled the House of Commons education committee on the same count.

The ministerial code, which is administered by the prime minister's office, states that ministers must “give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”. Ministers “who knowingly mislead Parliament” are expected to offer their resignation.

Morgan served as secretary of state for education from 2014 to 2016. She is no longer a minister but is chair of the House of Commons’ highly influential Treasury Committee.

Holmwood: 'Takeover' was approved

Information about the circumstances leading up to the Trojan Horse saga was revealed in May 2017 with the collapse of the disciplinary tribunal of five Park View teachers.

Evidence disclosed when the tribunal collapsed showed that schools such as Park View had been asked by the DfE, in collaboration with Birmingham City Council, to take over their failing neighbours and become “multi-academy trusts”.

Birmingham Council House: The authority had been asked by the government to work with schools and raise standards (CC)

In 2013, Holmwood said, Gove, in his role as education minister, personally approved the takeover of an Islamic primary school by Park View, then rated “outstanding” by Ofsted – although this never happened. The Clarke report failed to mention this.

Holmwood said: “The report makes no reference to the fact that the ‘takeover’ of schools was affected under the auspices of the academies programme, whereby schools leave local authority control to come under the direct authority of the Department for Education.”

Also disclosed at the collapse of the tribunal was the transcript of an interview with an official from Birmingham’s authority on religious education who said Park View complied fully with religious requirements.

Yet Clarke concluded that there had been “a sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strand of Sunni Islam.”

Trojan Horse affair at heart of government plans

The assertion that Birmingham’s education system was the victim of a conspiracy by extremists has been widely repeated and is cited in the government’s 2015 counter-extremism strategy, which expanded the government’s powers in dealing with alleged "radicalisation".

At one point the strategy states:

“As Trojan Horse demonstrated, children can be vulnerable to purposeful efforts by extremists to take control of their schools and create a space where extremist ideologies can be spread unchallenged.”

Holmwood said: “It contributed to the view that multiculturalism had failed and that there was a problem of integration of some Muslim communities.”

Clarke currently serves as His Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, with responsibility to scrutinise UK detention facilites.

In a statement a spokesperson for the service told MEE: “He will decline to make any further comment. His view remains that his report speaks for itself.”

Morgan had not responded to requests for comment at time of publication.

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