Panic on the streets of Birmingham?

Andrew N, Birmingham NUT executive member (personal capacity), argues that the left needs to stand against Islamophobes and reject media scapegoating

Michael_GovePhoto: Paul Clarke

If you were to believe the headlines in certain Tory papers recently, you would think that schools in Birmingham were being seized by Muslim radicals on a daily basis.”Gove declares war on Islamic takeover of Birmingham schools” was the headline of the Sunday Times. The reality, however, is that we are seeing a media orchestrated witch-hunt of one of the most oppressed communities in the UK. The left needs to be clear: we stand against the Islamophobes and reject the media scapegoating.

The issue of Birmingham’s schools was first raised when an anonymous letter – the ‘trojan horse’ document – was leaked a few months ago. This caused a stir, but it was quickly apparent that the letter was a forgery. The dates on which heads had resigned had been mixed up, in some cases by years. It was clear that someone had been trawling through the history of who had been head teacher where in Birmingham’s schools, but hadn’t really got their timeline straight. The Guardian reported  that the letter was being investigated as possibly being motivated by somebody’s employment tribunal.

You might think that would be that. But that would be to reckon without the toxic combination of newspapers determined to whip up a storm against Muslim plotters, and an education secretary all to ready to believe them. In the Telegraph, an article alleged that ‘assaults’ had been committed at one school – who had been assaulted, by whom and when is very unclear – and  reported on a campaign by some parents – 4 years ago – for their primary children to have segregated changing facilities for primary PE. This, apparently, is connected to the ‘plot’. Gove is responding by sending in the inspectors, where at one school, Islamophobia watch reports, a senior Ofsted HMI inspector opened a meeting with a Muslim member of staff  with the question, “Are you homophobic?”. Pupils were also asked questions about their dress and behaviour that made them feel very uncomfortable.

A report in the Guardian this week shows how the witch hunt is spreading. Schools in Bradford are now alleged to be under pressure, possibly as a result of some over-arching mastermind, stroking a cat somewhere, while planning a country wide seizure of inner city schools.

We need to be clear. This issue is being whipped up by the media, then being taken up by Gove, who will be more than happy to use any issue to discredit a section of the inner city educational establishment. The reality is that no hard evidence has been presented to support the notion that there is a ‘plot’ or a ‘conspiracy’.  Instead, we have a random and disconnected series of complaints and allegations ranging over a number of years, as well as a few obvious misrepresentations. Undoubtedly, if one examines the goings on at governors committees across any city there will be issues of concern. This is especially true given the Tories have  put increased powers in the hands of governors and heads and dissolved away any notion of collective democratic control of schools. And where there are, as there undoubtedly will be, individuals or groups who are attracted by the idea of a more Islamist education for Muslim children, then we have to engage them in discussion and debate, and try to promote the left’s idea of a child-centred multicultural education. The overwhelming bulk of Muslim parents simply want their kids to have a good chance in life.

Ten years ago the left in Birmingham, and elsewhere, was engaging with the Muslim community on a large scale through the Stop the War coalition and Respect – we need to reconnect with those communities and ensure that we have a united response to the Islamophobes in the press and Whitehall. In the short term our responsibility is to oppose this witchunt  and the nonsense about imaginary ‘Islamist plots’.

Since this article was written, there has been the announcement that Gove has appointed a former counter terrorism officer to investigate this affair. It would be hard to conceive of a decision more likely to alienate and demonise the Muslim community. The need to defend them stands in stark relief.


  1. I’m glad that someone in the NUT is standing up to this bullshit rather than making political points by blaming academies


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