Forum Message

Topic: Parent's Power
Posted by: Iftikhar Ahmad
Date/Time: 03/08/14 12:37:00

Parent's power has long driven the education reform agenda, but the response to an alleged Islamist plot to take over schools raises uncomfortable questions over what happens when parental choice and public policy collide.

In a story that has dominated the education headlines in the U.K., schools have been accused of spreading a culture of fear, while parents in return claim their wishes are being trampled upon. The increasingly murky affair has also prompted a national debate over what it means to be British, with contributors including Prime Minister David Cameron.

But the saga has also thrown into relief the dilemma facing school leaders in how far they respond to parental demands and how they respond when those demands conflict with public policy.

The original allegations centre around 21 schools in Birmingham, England. In November last year, the city council received an anonymous letter claiming Islamic extremists were plotting to take over schools by ousting head teachers and replacing them with those more sympathetic to their views.

Although the letter is now considered a fake, it spawned what quickly became known as the Trojan Horse inquiry. School inspectors were promptly despatched, and last week duly produced their reports.

Schools previously been rated ‘outstanding’, the highest grade, were now judged ‘inadequate’, the lowest, largely on the basis that they failed to protect pupils from extremism. Some were threatened with intervention; some were told they would have their funding withdrawn.

According to Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the school inspection service, the findings were “quite shocking”. The inspectors found evidence of an organized campaign to target certain schools, marginalizing or forcing out unsympathetic principals. “In the most serious cases, a culture of fear and intimidation has taken grip,” Sir Michael told a press conference.Far from drawing a line under the issue, publication of the reports has led to a renewed spate of extremist-hunting, with schools in Bradford now falling under suspicion.

Reading the reports there seems little doubt that some parents in Birmingham had been attempting to push a socially conservative Muslim agenda. Some female staff complained of feeling intimidated, external speakers were not properly vetted and one school subsidised a trip to Saudi Arabia exclusively for Muslim pupils and their parents.

On the other hand, some of the ‘evidence’ for extremism seems frankly bizarre. One school was criticized for not having a tombola at a school fete, for example.

Whatever the truth of the allegations – and many of the criticisms are vociferously disputed by the schools – they seem based on a conflation of conservative Islam with extremism.

There is no doubt that some in the political sphere are acutely sensitive to what they see as Islamic extremism, in a way they are not about other religions, but why should Muslim parents who want an Islamic education for their children be branded extremists?

On top of that, denying religious views an outlet may end up actually driving people into the hands of extremists, producing the very result the government and school inspectors are trying to prevent.

Underlying the debate is the ethnic segregation in many British schools. Although the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools are largely non-denominational, the high proportion of Muslim pupils – often over 90% – mean that many are de facto Muslim schools. In these circumstances, it is not only unsurprising but entirely natural that schools should develop a Muslim ethos Of course parental choice does not mean giving them exactly what they want. Most of us would recognise that there should be some parameters, especially – though not exclusively – when taxpayers’ money is involved.

But if it is to mean anything, it ought to mean parents being able to choose the sort of school they want their children to attend. And where a school’s parents overwhelmingly come from a single community, then it would be perverse if the school did not reflect that in some way.

The result of all this for schools is that the challenge of meeting the wishes of parents becomes even harder. Satisfying those demands without alerting the antennae of those on the look-out for extremism becomes a perilous balancing act indeed.

Speaking to a head of one of the inspected schools it turns out that one of the failed six schools failed because of negative answers given by pupils. The following question was crucial. " Have you been told that it is morally ok for lesbians and gay men to have same sex relationships?" If pupils answered in the negative this was taken as evidence that the school had not taught tolerance and therefore didn't safeguard against extremist views. It does make it sound like the thought police are inspecting these schools. I have just seen a live interview of a father of a pupil at one of these schools. He is happy with his school and states " Of course the girls are kept away from the boys that is how it should be". I heard a parent of a child at one of the Birmingham schools on News night say something like "as 90% of the children here are Muslim, the school should cater for their needs as Muslims" Now if Catholic or C of E schools were doing the same , I'm sure the Media would be among the first to throw up it's hands in horror and quite rightly too. But they are not. It appears to be Muslim schools, isolated cases no doubt, but perhaps the thin end of the wedge. Report the facts. Or remove your 'The facts are Sacred' mission statement in the top right hand corner of your pages once and for all..

What the press haven't told us is that most schools in the country would fail on that question." Have you been told that it is morally ok for lesbians and gay men to have same sex relationships?"That is not what schools are for.  Most people, in the world would also fail.  It's just pretty obvious Islamophobia if you ask me. These schools are doing nothing different from Catholic Schools. Is anyone suggesting that Islam has a religious monopoly of bad teaching. That Catholic schools are as reactionary is not an effective counter-argument to fully secular education. Harsh truth is, a large number of Brits, and virtually all the media, find Islam pretty distasteful in general, and don't want it appearing in schools at all. When your school is 99% Muslim, you're going to cater for them a bit Catholic schools do the same. 
London School of Islamics Trust

Entire Thread
TopicDate PostedPosted By
Parent's Power03/08/14 12:37:00 Iftikhar Ahmad
   Re:Parent's Power03/08/14 20:00:00 Pete Mayes
      Re:Re:Parent's Power03/08/14 20:23:00 Nikki Howard
   Re:Parent's Power03/08/14 23:03:00 Colin Wren
      Re:Re:Parent's Power03/08/14 23:19:00 Pete Mayes
         Re:Re:Re:Parent's Power03/08/14 23:22:00 Claire Moran
         Re:Re:Re:Parent's Power03/08/14 23:23:00 Pete Mayes
            Re:Re:Re:Re:Parent's Power04/08/14 00:04:00 Nikki Howard

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