Trojan horse inquiry: 'A coordinated agenda to impose hardline Sunni Islam'

Investigation finds Islamist plan would have confined pupils in Birmingham schools to 'intolerant monoculture' if left unchecked

An investigation ordered by the government has found a "sustained, coordinated agenda to impose segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline, politicised strain of Sunni Islam" on children in a number of Birmingham schools.

A draft of the report, marked as sensitive, states: "Left unchecked, it would confine schoolchildren within an intolerant, inward-looking monoculture that would severely inhibit their participation in the life of modern Britain."

The inquiry, conducted by the former counterterrorism chief Peter Clarke, was ordered by the former education secretary Michael Gove and began in April. Clarke gathered 2,000 documents and generated 2,000 pages of interview transcripts from 50 witnesses, including former headteachers, teachers, council staff and school governors. He did not interview parents or pupils. "The level of distress and anxiety felt by the witnesses cannot be overstated," he says.

Clarke denies the report is Islamophobic, saying the evidence shows a group of governors and senior teachers represented a form of Muslim extremism rejected by most Muslims in east Birmingham.

He argues it was likely that most parents did not approve of the culture imposed in the schools, but they "did not have the confidence to argue against the articulate, forceful activists who seek to impose their views, for fear of being branded as disloyal to their faith or community".

He claims the offending ideology "manifests itself as the imposition of an aggressively separatist and intolerant agenda incompatible with full participation in a plural secular democracy".

It rejects not only the secular and other religions, but other strains of Islamic belief: "It goes beyond the social conservatism practised in some faith schools which may be consistent with universal human rights and respectful of other communities. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to convert secular state schools into exclusive faith schools in all but name."

He says there is "very clear evidence that young people are being encouraged to accept unquestionably a particular hardline strand of Sunni Islam that raises concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future. Essentially the ideology revealed by this investigation is an intolerant and politicised form of extreme social conservatism that ultimately seeks to control all Muslims. In its separatist assertions and attempts to subvert normal processes it amounts to what is often described as Islamism.

"The agenda, but not the tactics, involved stem from an international movement to increase the role of Islam in education." Two organisations identified by Clarke as being behind the movement are the Muslim Council of Britain and the Association of Muslim Schools – UK.

In the 90-page interim report Clarke attempts to answer questions about some of the incendiary issues prompted by the "Trojan horse" letter, an anonymous message sent to Birmingham council in November last year, claiming there was a hardline Islam-inspired plot to take over named schools in the city.

It was passed on to the Department for Education and the West Midlands police. In February, it was leaked to the press, prompting what quickly became a national outcry over Islamic influence in education, polarising the local community and many education experts, and also raising questions about whether it was a hoax.

"I found clear evidence there are a number of people associated with each other and in positions of influence in schools and governing bodies who espouse, sympathise with or fail to challenge extremist views," Clarke says.

Manifestations of extremism in the schools outlined in the report include:

• Anti-western rhetoric, particularly anti-US and anti-Israel.

• Segregationism – dividing the world into us and them, with them to include all non-Muslims and Muslims who disagree.

• Perception of a worldwide conspiracy against Muslims.

• Attempts to impose its views and practices upon others.

• Intolerance of difference, whether the secular, other religions or other Muslims.

Clarke says: "Time and again people who have either been teachers or governors at Park View [Academy] appear to be involved in behaviour at other schools that have destabilised headteachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. The tactics that have been used are too similar, the individuals concerned are too closely linked and the behaviour of a few parents and governors too orchestrated for there not to be a degree of coordination behind what has happened.

"There has been a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action carried out by a number of associated individuals to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into a few schools in Birmingham. This has been gained by achieving influence on governing bodies, installing sympathetic headteachers or senior members of staff, appointing like-minded people to key positions and seeking to remove headteachers they do not feel to be sufficiently compliant with their agenda. Whether the motivation reflects a political agenda, a deeply held religious conviction, personal gain or achieving influence within the communities, the effect has been to limit the life chances of the young people in their care and to render them vulnerable to more pernicious influences in the future."

Criticism of individuals and organisations

Tahir Alam

"He has exerted influence at Park View school for many years, and has been a governor since the 1990s. He promoted the concept that schools can be changed to accommodate the faith needs of Muslim pupils by increasing Muslim representation on governing bodies and insisting on changes to faith ethos. Many of the governors who have caused most difficulty on governing bodies have connections to Mr Alam and Park View school."

Birmingham city council

"A consistent theme that has emerged throughout the investigation is that for many years there has been a perception that Birmingham city council has been insufficiently supportive of headteachers – and indeed of governors when problems arise with the conduct of some member of governing bodies. There was never a serious attempt to see if there was a pattern to what was happening in school governing bodies. The council's approach has been variously described to me as appeasement and a failure in their duty of care towards their employees."

Clarke adds that, on the basis of emails and correspondence he has seen: "There is incontrovertible evidence that both senior officials and elected members of Birmingham council were aware of activities that bear a striking resemblance to those described in the Trojan horse letter many months before it surfaced."

He concludes the practices referred to in the letter were known by senior officials as early as the end of 2012 and discussions took place between officials and elected members as early as July 2013, six months before the letter was received by the leader of the council. "Eight weeks after the letter was received there was no systematic attempt to deal with the issue."

Clarke discloses that "officers have conceded that it did not consider carefully enough, nor soon enough, whether there was a pattern in what was happening in a number of schools." The focus of the council was on the potential of the community cohesion aspects, he concludes.

Criticism of Department for Education

Clarke makes it clear he is not making a judgment on academies, and that some of the schools investigated were traditional schools overseen by the council.

He calls for reform to "the process by which single schools are able to convert to academy status and acquire a multi-academy sponsor status to ensure appropriate checks are conducted on the group and key individuals, and there is an accurate assessment of the trust's capability and capacity. This happened too quickly and without a suitable system for holding the new academies accountable for financial and management issues."

The independence of academies is welcome, he says, but "it can make them vulnerable to those without good intentions. In theory, academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies." He suggests: "The department's systems need to be more sensitive to detecting changes in governance to make academies more effective in responding to warning signs to ensure they deliver the provision for which they are contracted for."

He says the DfE and the Education Funding Agency should not rely on whistleblowers to highlight problems. "The Department for Education should consider its response to whistleblowers and complaints regarding academies and use its powers to investigate more quickly and effectively where allegations about governance are made."

Specific evidence of extremism in the schools

Clarke says he "took possession of the contents of a social media discussion between a group of teachers at Park View that for much of 2013 was called the Park View Brotherhood.

"The evidence from 3,000 messages spread over 130 pages of transcripts shows this group either promoted, or failed to challenge, views that are grossly intolerant of beliefs and practices other than their own. The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings and a constant under current of anti-western, anti-America and anti-Israel sentiment."

The report gives examples of this social media chat, and adds: "The endorsements of links to extremists speakers betray a collective mindset that can fairly be described as an Islamist approach that denied the validity of alternative belief".

He says that, based on their comments, some members of Park View staff seemed to believe the Rigby murder was a staged event or hoax and "exhorted their colleagues to spread videos promulgating this view 'to all your contacts' ".

The headteacher claimed the discussions were designed to consider items to be raised at school assemblies, and pointed out that one message stated Rigby murder had no place in Islam. Clarke says: "The total lack of challenge, however intolerant or obnoxious unless they are critical of other Muslims, is telling."

Detailed findings inside the schools

1. Improper employment practices

This concerns both the recruitment and promotion of staff.

2. Impact on headteachers

Citing bullying and intimidation of headteachers, the report says there is "a pattern in the process where people described to the inquiry as having an Islamist mindset join the governing body and sometimes volunteer to bring other governors with them. In time, the headteacher makes a decision the new governors dislike, for instance, refusing to alter a scheme of work, [refusing] to separate boys from girls, [refusing] to ban Christmas celebration, refusing to appoint an applicant related to a governor. In one case the fact that a fire alarm was not working was a pretext for suspending a teacher. The pattern then continues, with the headteacher being subjected to harassment and bullying which has included governors leading protests at the school gate or on social media. Eventually the headteacher is so worn down and distressed that he or she feel the only way to restore their mental and physical health is to resign."

3. Changes to the curriculum and education plans, including increasing the faith component

The choice of modern language teaching has been restricted to the study of Arabic or Urdu at several schools. "At PVET [Park View educational trust] academies – Park View, Golden Hollick and Nansen – and at Oldknow academy, teachers have been told they must not use images in any subject which show even slight intimacy between sexes. Terms such as condom, the pill and so forth have been banned."

4. The role of governors

"At Park View and other schools, governors have overstepped their responsibilities by restricting schemes of work and insisting on an Islamic approach to subjects, such as PSHE [personal, social and health education], science, religious education, and sex and relationships education.

Governors in several schools pay lip service to the Prevent strategy, while continuing to restrict topics, such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation."

5. Teaching belief as fact

"Staff have said creationism has been taught as science lessons at both Park View and Golden Hillock and also in assemblies. One child said she had been taught that she was made of clay because there is no evolution."

6. Secular status of schools

"In Park View, Oldknow and some other schools, Islamic slogans and instructions are openly displayed in many classrooms, including instructions to say short prayers before and after lessons. Friday prayers have been introduced at a number of schools. Their part in the central life of the school is growing, as is the pressure on students and staff to attend. The Christmas fair was stopped, drama lessons removed from the timetable, children banned from playing instruments and art curriculum changed to remove full faces or immodest images, such as paintings by Gustav Klimt."

7. Intolerance

Student ambassadors, known as "religious police" by some staff, are appointed at Park View to report "the names of staff or students who exhibit behaviours deemed unacceptable by conservative Muslims". There is witness evidence from several schools of intolerance to those who are lesbian, bisexual or transsexua. Park View governors and staff have displayed openly homophobic behaviour. Senior staff have been shouted at in governing body meetings when they attempted to discuss the LGBT agenda.

8. Racism

At Anderton Park school incidents of racism were reported. A three-year-old in a nursery said his family were poor because all the Jews and Zionists had all the money. When the school enrolled a white child, a Muslim parent told staff to "get a white chair and white desk and put the white kid in a white corner with a white teacher and keep him away from the others. If that fails get rid of the white kid."

9 Financial transparency

Clarke says he "recently became aware of invoices at Oldknow for large sums of money, £4,000 or £5,000, paid out for crisis management training to an organisation that is not a registered company and appears to have no track record in training". The report says: "While academies may rightly spend money for the benefits of schools, they have also a responsibility to the public purse to use their resources carefully."


• Birmingham council must consider intervention in all cases and it must review its training and appointment of school governors.

• The Department for Education should review its guidance to governors so there is a clear difference between strategy setting and running the school. A governor should only be a governor at a maximum of two schools at a time.

• The secretary of state should be able to take clearer powers to consider banning individuals from being involved in the management of schools and whether action should be taken against some individual teachers.

• The DfE should review the process by which schools support individuals to gain and award qualified teacher status.

• The DfE should review "the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status and become multi-academy trusts to ensure appropriate checks are conducted on the group and key individuals, and that there is an accurate assessment of the trust's capability. It should also consider urgently how best to capture local concerns during the conversion process and review the system through which schools are matched with sponsors."

• The government should consider "whether other areas of country are similarly vulnerable and respond effectively and promptly if concerns are raised, ensuring there are resources to do so".

• The Ofsted inspection framework needs to be more sensitive to changes in governance and its impact on the school.


Patrick Wintour, political editor

The GuardianTramp

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