Schools investigated by officials looking into an alleged takeover plot by hard-line Muslims attempted to cover up their activities, according to damning findings revealed on Monday. David Cameron has ordered a "robust response" to the situation in Birmingham after investigations suggested some of the schools had attempted to fool inspectors by putting on "hastily arranged shows of cultural inclusivity", including in one case a religious education lesson on Christianity.
Education watchdog Ofsted could step up its use of unannounced visits as a result of the findings and will also maintain a regular presence in the Birmingham schools involved, reporting directly to the Prime Minister and Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has been at the centre of a political storm over his handling of the so-called Trojan Horse plot.
He was forced to apologise to the Prime Minister after a damaging feud with Home Secretary Theresa May, whose closest aide Fiona Cunningham had to resign following a bitter round of briefings and counter-briefings about efforts to combat extremism. Both ministers will attend a meeting with Cameron and a specially-called session of the cross-government extremism task force to deal with the Birmingham allegations.
Ofsted reports into 21 schools triggered by the Trojan Horse allegations will be released by the watchdog, with a statement from the chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshaw. The Education Funding Agency (EFA), which carried out parallel investigations to Ofsted in Birmingham, found evidence of efforts to persuade its inspectors that a wider range of religious teaching was on offer in at least one school.
In response Gove has asked Sir Michael to look into the practicalities of making all schools subject to the possibility of no-notice inspections by Ofsted to stop the risk of future attempts to influence reports. The previous Ofsted inspections of five of the Trojan Horse schools, rated good or outstanding in 2012 and 2013 gave one or two days' notice.
But this time round, when snap inspections were carried out with less than 30 minutes' notice, they were found to be inadequate. The Prime Minister said: "Protecting our children is one of the first duties of Government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response.
"The Education Secretary will now ask Sir Michael Wilshaw to look into allowing any school to be inspected at no notice, stopping schools having the opportunity to cover up activities which have no place in our society." The EFA's report on Oldknow Academy in Small Heath will make clear that staff told inspectors "they had been instructed to add Christianity to learning because of our visit".
The agency was told by two staff members that an assembly on Easter and Christianity had been put on "especially for our benefit" and a timetabled literacy lesson at the school was switched for a religious education lesson on Christianity, according to the report. As chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael already has the power to order no-notice inspections, but this is normally only used in cases of serious child safeguarding concerns.
Gove said: "We have to ensure children are safe in our schools. Evidence uncovered in Birmingham clearly indicates that schools have used the notice they have been given of inspections to evade proper scrutiny. Sir Michael Wilshaw will now examine the practicalities of moving to a position where all schools know they may face an unannounced inspection. Our children need to be protected in schools, kept safe from the dangers of extremism and guaranteed a broad and balanced curriculum. This change will help provide parents with the reassurance they need."
Cameron will meet senior ministers including Gove, May, Nick Clegg, George Osborne, Eric Pickles, Baroness Warsi and David Laws to discuss the situation in Downing Street. The Education Secretary will also make a statement to MPs in the House of Commons about the Ofsted investigations.
Many of the key inspection findings from schools at the centre of the allegations have already been leaked to the media with at least five set to be placed in special measures. Three schools have already broken cover to say they have been given a clean bill of health, receiving ratings of either "good" or "outstanding".
The allegations of Muslim extremism in Birmingham schools have sparked four separate investigations including by the Department for Education (DfE), Birmingham City Council and West Midlands Police. Earlier this year an undated and unsigned letter, now widely believed to be a hoax, was leaked to the media setting out a five-point plan dubbed Operation Trojan Horse for hard-line Muslims to seize control of schools by installing friendly governors, and forcing out uncooperative headteachers.
Many in the Muslim community have expressed anger over the investigations, with staff at one of the schools inspected branding the inquiries nothing short of "a witch-hunt". Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt blamed Gove's wider education reforms for the lack of local oversight of schools.
He said: "This is an entirely weak and inadequate response by David Cameron to the gravity of the situation in Birmingham. What we're seeing in Birmingham is part of the systematic failings in the current school system. Cameron's schools policy has delivered a vacuum in the local oversight of our schools, leaving children exposed to falling standards and vulnerable to risks posed by extremists.
"By refusing to address the inadequate checks in the schools system, Cameron reveals he is happy with the status quo. Labour has pledged to introduce new local directors of school standards to root out problems before they set in."
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