current affairs

Despite Trojan Horse, education is still crucial

Before we begin, I’d like to draw your attention to the book Celsius 7/7. It’s quite a non-descript book, of no special merit.

Before we begin, I’d like to draw your attention to the book Celsius 7/7. It’s quite a non-descript book, of no special merit. Written in 2006, in the aftermath of the London bombings, it speaks on the threat of Islamism to Britain (offensive concept in itself). This book wouldn’t even get a mention, but hold on – what’s this? A key chapter in this book is entitled ‘Trojan Horse.’

It opens: “Nowhere has moral clarity been more lacking in British state policy over the last ten to fifteen years than in our approach to the Islamist threat…”

The term ‘Islamist threat’ doesn’t quite sit right with me, and I wouldn’t even be mentioning it were it not for the fact that the author of this book is none other than our dear friend Michael Gove. It seems overwhelmingly convenient that a rumoured anonymous ‘Trojan Horse’ plot suddenly appears in the light of a cultural shift in the political landscape and right-wing politics becoming most prominent, giving the Education Secretary a fantastic ‘mess’ for Ofsted to swoop in and fix.

It’s also incredibly convenient that the aftermath of this mess leaves Ofsted with approval for no notice inspections, a controversial move that had been on the cards for a long time but with no justification for it.

A culture of fear

Let me break this down for you. Were the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot even real, what it actually becomes are a bunch of overzealous parents getting too involved in the business of the school. This is essentially the intrusive PTA version two, when instead of hassling governance through a fundamentally powerless body, instead they are hassling governance through becoming the governance. Would this have been as controversial if it were a bunch of white middle class soccer-moms objecting to the inclusion of Hip-hop on the school’s music curriculum? Absolutely not.

This debate has been fuelled by a London-centric fear of the ‘other,’ and as a result has done nothing but succeed in alienating a community that has been unfairly excluded and ostracized since eleven men from another part of the world did something bad. To simplify, we don’t automatically assume that all Christians promote vile homophobic propaganda because of those idiots at the Westborough Baptist church but the national media will jump on anything that can possibly portray negativity in the community.

The school at the centre of the scandal was rated “Good” and “Outstanding” by Ofsted in 2012 and afterwards. After the scandal broke, they jumped in and revised the rating to ‘inadequate.’ This is what doesn’t match up.  The head teachers of schools with developing Asian demographics apparently raised concerns as early as 2010.

If the problem was severe enough to cause an immediate downgrading from the top category to the lowest possible category, why didn’t they find this earlier?

If there really were over 200 complaints, why was nothing done sooner? I think, because it was not a huge issue. This became a big issue because media reporting said it was. Having been fortunate to be educated in Birmingham, I am aware of the attitude towards education that exists in the city.

The 11+ test is a big deal, there are radio adverts for tuition to get into the top schools in Birmingham and people regularly move house to get into catchment areas for better state schools. The quality of education in this city is not challenged, students have opportunities to do well. The way this was handled and the infighting in Whitehall have left the students worse off.

Students previously were getting an education from an outstanding school, but now students are worried they won’t be able to get jobs because of the negative stigma created. It’s one thing to have fight against culturally accepted islamophobia, but how will a straight a student from Park View wearing a headscarf be perceived at interviews?

Standing together

Karamat Iqbal highlights the difficulties that Pakistani Birmingham pupils face in his book Dear Birmingham: A conversation with my hometown

Birmingham faces a unique challenge with attainment for its citizens through a complex cultural dichotomy that cannot be understood from the broadcast media offices of London town, and most definitely not through Whitehall. Local councillors and local stakeholders have collectively voiced their disagreement with the ‘trojan horse’, and to this day the initial plot that sparked the scandal has still not been proven.

This has been a political game of smoke and mirrors that caused drama between the Home Office and the Education department. This was a fight for party leadership post 2015 (started by Gove, most likely) and some political aide thought to use my city as their battlefield.

Despite Whitehall’s best efforts, the communities remain united and thankfully as a collective we have seen through this scandal mess and, as always, the quality education of our young people remains a priority.

Are you local to Birmingham? Is there really a Trojan horse threat? Have your say in the comments section below.