Home Secretary Theresa May has called for tougher rules to prevent Islamic extremism in schools and appeared to question Michael Gove’s efforts to address the issue.
In a letter to the Education Secretary, Mrs May said there had been concerns raised about the “inability” of local and central government to tackle the problem following the allegations of extremism in Birmingham schools.
She also questioned whether Mr Gove’s department had been warned about the allegations in 2010 and asked: “If so, why did nobody act?”
In December the cross-government task force on tackling extremism and radicalism recommended a voluntary code of conduct to prevent children being exposed to “intolerant or extremist views” in religious “supplementary schools” providing lessons outside mainstream education.
But Mrs May said the Birmingham allegations showed the potential need for a mandatory code and urged Mr Gove to include that option in his consultation on the plans.
She said: “The publication of a code of practice for supplementary schools was an agreed Extremism Task Force commitment and we agreed at the conclusion of the ETF’s work that the code should be voluntary.
“However, since the publication of the ETF report in December there have been serious allegations of extremism in some Birmingham schools and accusations about the inability of local and central government to tackle the problem effectively.
“In this context, I am not convinced that a voluntary code is sufficient and I believe it would be sensible to include the option of developing a mandatory code in your consultation document.”
She said the Birmingham allegations “raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector, not just the supplementary schools that would be signatories to this code of practice”.
Three schools inspected over the alleged Trojan Horse plot by hardline Muslims to seize control of classrooms have been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted.
Ninestiles School – an Academy, in Acocks Green, Small Heath School, and Washwood Heath Academy, are the first to publish the results of their inspections, after Mr Gove sent Ofsted in.
In all, 21 schools have been inspected after a letter, which is widely believed to be a hoax, referred to an alleged plot by hardline Muslims to seize control of governing boards in the city, dubbed Operation Trojan Horse.
Park View Educational Trust (PVET) which has been the focus of the most damning allegations, issued a statement criticising “leaks” of other unpublished Ofsted findings being reported in the media, stating it was causing “unwarranted and unnecessary concern” for children and parents.
For its part, Park View, which runs three other city schools, has denied any wrong-doing, with trust chairman Tahir Alam calling the allegations “a witch-hunt”.
Raising a series of questions about the handling of the allegations, Mrs May asked Mr Gove: “How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain?
“Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act?
“I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.”
She said the consultation document should be clear that “nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way” but warned against changing the task force’s agreed definition of Islamist extremism.
“The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way. We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one’s hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so.
“The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the Government’s already-stated position on the burqa, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The allegations made in relation to some schools in Birmingham are very serious and we are investigating all evidence put to us in conjunction with Ofsted, Birmingham City Council and the police.
“It is absolutely vital these investigations are carried out impartially, without pre-judgment.
“Ofsted has inspected a number of schools in the light of recent allegations and will report to the Secretary of State shortly.
“Retired senior police officer Peter Clarke has been asked by the Secretary of State to make a full inquiry into Birmingham schools and will report back this summer.”
A source close to the Education Secretary said: “Michael Gove thinks Theresa May is a superb Home Secretary.
“We will continue to work well with the Home Office and other government departments to combat extremism in all its forms. Ofsted will publish their findings next week and Peter Clarke will publish his report in July.”