UK

Trojan Horse: Labour Accuse May Of 'Breaking Ministerial Code'

08/06/2014 16:48 BST | Updated 08/06/2014 17:59 BST
PA

Labour has stepped up pressure on the Government over the feud between Michael Gove and Theresa May by accusing the Home Secretary of breaching the ministerial code. May's closest aide quit and the Education Secretary was forced to make a humiliating apology as David Cameron asserted his authority to restore "team discipline" at the heart of his Government following the row over the way Islamist extremism is handled.

But May faced further questions about her personal involvement in the release of a letter from her to Gove raising concerns about the Department for Education's response to the allegations of a plot by Muslim hard-liners to take over the running of Birmingham schools. The Home Secretary's special adviser Fiona Cunningham resigned following the investigation ordered by the Prime Minister into the bitter round of briefings and counter-briefings which overshadowed the Queen's speech.

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Gove wrote to apologise to the Prime Minister and senior Home Office official Charles Farr "in acknowledgement of his role" in the row. But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said May should also explain her actions, including whether she breached the ministerial code which sets out the standards of conduct expected of members of the Government.

She told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "We've seen the Education Secretary apologise, the special adviser to the Home Secretary resign, but we've so far heard nothing from the Home Secretary even though it looks pretty clear that she has breached the ministerial code by writing and then authorising the publication of this letter.

"Well the Prime Minister's responsible for enforcing the ministerial code. He needs to act and to make sure that that happens, at the same time as making sure they also address these more important issues about what's happening in schools and communities."

The letter from the Home Secretary to the Education Secretary questioned his department's response to the Islamist "Trojan horse" allegations in Birmingham schools and was released in retaliation for comments attributed in The Times to an unnamed source - but apparently Gove himself - criticising counter-terrorism chief Charles Farr's approach to preventing the spread of extremism.

Cooper said: "I think Theresa May needs to come out publicly and answer what she did to publish this letter. The ministerial code says that ministerial correspondence and cabinet committees shouldn't be published, it should be private." Cameron was understood to have been "deeply frustrated" about the row between two of the senior Tories in his Government.

Underlining the strength of the response from No 10, Foreign Secretary William Hague said "the Prime Minister has dealt with (it) in a very firm and clear way". He told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show that the Prime Minister was "making sure there is team discipline in the Government".

Ofsted will release reports into 21 schools in Birmingham at the centre of allegations tomorrow, with Gove expected to make a Commons statement giving his response. Hague said: "The Government will be very robust, very clear about anything that puts children in our schools at risk of extremism, at risk to their safety or to their learning."

Reports have suggested that five of the 21 schools inspected will be placed into special measures, including two - Oldknow Academy and Park View School - which had been given glowing reports and rated "outstanding" by Ofsted in recent years. The Trojan horse allegations came to light after a letter emerged claiming existence of a five-point plan for hard-line Muslims to seize control of schools by installing friendly governors, then marginalising and forcing-out uncooperative headteachers.

The unsigned, undated letter is now widely regarded as a hoax, but prompted four separate investigations by Ofsted and the Department for Education, under orders from Gove, as well as West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council. An investigation by the Education Funding Agency into Oldknow Academy found governors had effectively turned it into a faith school, according to reports.

The academy in Small Heath, whose intake is majority Muslim, "is taking on the practices of an Islamic faith school and in this regard is not promoting community cohesion", the leaked report said. However, the Sunday Times reported the EFA found segregated classrooms with girls seated behind boys, and recorded an allegation that a hard-line teacher led anti-Christian chants at the school - though it is understood the most recent Ofsted report found no evidence of that incident.

It is also reported Christmas events were cancelled and taxpayers' cash was used to subsidise a school trip to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, from which non-Muslims were excluded. Lawyers for the school - which was rated outstanding by Ofsted last year - are considering a legal challenge to the inspection process, according to The Sunday Times.

On Saturday, it was widely reported that Park View School in Alum Rock - rated outstanding in 2012 - will also be downgraded to inadequate by Ofsted. The school is run by the Park View Educational Trust, which also includes the city's Nansen Primary and Golden Hillock Schools, both of which will also reportedly be given inadequate ratings and look set to be placed in special measures, with their governing boards replaced.

The trust said it rejected the inspectors' findings pointing out Ofsted found "no suggestion" of extremism or radicalisation within its schools' classrooms. Saltley School, which was one of the first originally named in the alleged plot, is also reportedly to be given Ofsted's lowest rating.