Shabana Mahmood, Birmingham Ladywood MP is Shadow Exchequer Secretary
Birmingham is a proud multi-cultural city where people of different faiths and creeds mix happily. Our diversity is an integral part of the city’s character. I’m a Muslim Brummie. I love my city. I was born and brought up here. I still live in the house where my parents had their corner shop. This is my home.
So you can imagine my despair at the current debate around education in Birmingham – the so called “Trojan Horse”.
A debate about governance issues in a handful of schools has been turned into a national debate about extremism in Birmingham schools and what it means to be British. Muslim parents in Birmingham that I speak to are horrified that the education of their children is now being viewed almost entirely as a national security consideration.
Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s appointment of Peter Clarke – a counter terrorism expert – to head up an investigation into the “Trojan Horse” debate was a deeply provocative and unhelpful move. Schools in Birmingham were dragged into the Ofsted investigation, so it seems, on the basis of the religious make up of their student body. My own former school, Small Heath, suddenly under the Ofsted gaze.
21 special reports later into 21 schools and what have we found out? That there are serious governance issues in a handful of schools but there is no organised plot to radicalise our children. Well there’s a shock.
And yet in the meantime, the national media and a range of politicians have queued up to condemn the extremism in Birmingham schools. We need to get out of this rut.
Because if we do not correctly define the problem then we cannot fix it. I am deeply concerned about the governance issues highlighted by the Ofsted reports. It is vital that we get to the bottom of each of the allegations. This process is hindered not helped every time someone incorrectly assumes that “the problem in Birmingham is about extremism and radicalisation.”
Fixing the problems also require a better understanding of who is responsible – who is in charge?
We now have a fragmented education system – thanks to Mr Gove. Hundreds of schools in Birmingham are out of local authority control and for which he is directly responsible, including 4 of the 6 schools where serious governance issues were identified.
As a local politician, and as a local person simply interested in making sure children in this city of ours get the best education possible, who do we hold to account?
And when you look closely – in at least four of the schools – the buck stops with Michael Gove. And suddenly all becomes clear.
No wonder he has been so quick to divert attention to a debate about British values and extremism.
But Mr Gove needs to understand, right now parents here don’t care primarily about defining who is at fault or the innate perils of his education policy. They simply want solutions and they want them fast. They want to know who is in charge. They want to have faith that their children are getting the education they expect when they send their children to a non faith state school. They want transparency and good governance. They want excellent standards and good results.
As British Birmingham Muslims, what we don’t want is the blame.