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Call to widen Trojan Horse probe

Attempts are likely to have been made to impose a hardline Muslim agenda in other English schools, according to the former anti-terror chief who led an investigation into the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” plot.

Peter Clarke said he would be “surprised” if moves to gain control and influence were only restricted to a few schools in east Birmingham.

Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee, he said it was incumbent on the government to investigate the situation.

“I’m not a great believer in coincidence and I would find it very surprising if this was only happening in the few schools that we had the time and opportunity to look at in east Birmingham,” Mr Clarke told the cross-party group of MPs.

“Some of the people who were involved in promulgating these techniques of gaining control and influence in schools have had national roles in various educational bodies and I know have lectured and taken part in conferences in other cities.

“So I think it is incumbent on the Department for Education and others to take a very careful look now to see whether the sorts of things we found in Birmingham are indeed happening elsewhere.

“I don’t know, I haven’t looked, but I’d be, I suppose in a way surprised, if there weren’t, at least, some symptoms elsewhere.”

Mr Clarke had been asked by the committee member whether the situation in Birmingham was limited to “a few bad apples”, or if it was more pervasive, and if these practices would have worsened if they had been left unchecked.

The former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit was asked by former Education Secretary Michael Gove in April to lead an inquiry in allegations that a number of Birmingham schools have been targeted by individuals pushing a hardline Islamist agenda.

His report, published in July, concluded that there was ”clear evidence” that there were a number of people, associated with each other and in positions of authority within schools who ”espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views”.

The damning document was highly critical of Birmingham City Council, accusing the authority of failing to support under-pressure headteachers dealing with inappropriate behaviour by governors.

In his report, Mr Clarke said he ”neither specifically looked for, nor found, evidence of terrorism, radicalisation or violent extremism in the schools of concern in Birmingham”.

Ian Kershaw, who led an inquiry for Birmingham City Council into the “Trojan Horse” allegations said he was concerned that some headteachers had not come forward with worries about their own governing bodies.

He was asked by Dominic Raab, Tory MP for Esher and Walton if it was his view that the practices seen in some Birmingham schools would have spread if they had not been unearthed.
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“I would have said success would have led to further success from their perspective, and that that group of people have learnt how to manipulate and manage across schools,” Mr Kershaw said.

“So, I walked away from Birmingham very conscious that there were some headteachers for example who did not speak to me and probably didn’t speak to Peter Clarke either, who in other circumstances would have done.

“In other words, I was left concerned about other heads who have not revealed to me, or to anyone, their deep concerns about what’s happening in their governing bodies.

“The answer to your question is complex, yes I am concerned, it’s possible that it’s spread, but I haven’t got any evidence to say it has.”

Mr Clarke also told the committee that he thought that there were concerns within Birmingham City Council about confronting the issues due to the fear of being accused of racism or Islamophobia.

“I didn’t see any obvious evidence of political self-interest coming into play,” he said. “What certainly did appear to influence the approach which was taken to the whole issue by Birmingham City Council was the fear that social cohesion would suffer if the issues were actually confronted.”

He added: “Certainly the evidence I received and the impressions I gained were that the fear of being accused of racism or Islamophobia were certainly at the forefront of people’s minds.”

Mr Clarke’s report was the last of four separate probes into the allegations in Birmingham, which were originally sparked by the “Trojan Horse” letter – now widely believed to be a hoax – which referred to an alleged plot by hardline Muslims to seize control of a number of school governing boards in Birmingham.

Mr Kershaw’s inquiry for the city council concluded that key individuals were ”promoting and encouraging certain Islamic principles” in Birmingham classrooms amid poor oversight from education chiefs.

Ofsted issued a damning verdict on the running of a number of Birmingham’s schools and declared five failing, placing them into special measures.

These schools are: Golden Hillock School, Nansen Primary School and Park View Academy – all run by the Park View Educational Trust (PVET), as well as Oldknow Academy and Saltley School. A sixth, Alston Primary, was already in special measures.

A DfE spokesman said: “We will investigate any evidence put to us. All schools are subject to a tough inspection regime and the Government has been clear it will not hesitate to take firm and swift action if pupils are being let down or placed at risk.”

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