From the outside, ParkViewAcademy in Alum Rock, Birmingham, may look a little different to many inner-city comprehensives in Britain. It is a jumbled 1960s labyrinth of brick and concrete which over the years was extended in the usual piecemeal way, leaving a dysfunctional complex of narrow corridors, dead ends and small classrooms. The Academy was last to have a face-lift under New Labour’s Building Schools for the Future project intended to regenerate all of England’s 3,500 secondaries. However, the project was later scrapped by Coalition Government under Education Secretary Michael Gove.
After being one of Birmingham’s worst schools, Park View also became famous as a success story in one of the city’s most deprived areas where as many as 70 per cent of its pupils are eligible for free school meals. A few months ago it was warmly praised by Ofsted’s head, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and its inspectors for achieving academic results well above the national average, all the more remarkable given its location. That is before it was perniciously embroiled in the so called war of terrorism and the vested agenda of distorting the country’s Muslim community.
The campaign against the school could not have been more malicious. It was an easy target for orchestrated Islamophobia with an overwhelming majority of its students being Muslims, reflecting the community around it. Yet despite all the adverse publicity, it is not a faith school but a state school run on state lines following the national curriculum. It has been poisonously dubbed as a ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal to conjure up images of a war by subterfuge or a corrupting malware computer virus.
The so-called conspiracy outlining a supposed plot by Muslim hardliners to hijack Birmingham state schools is now widely acknowledged as being a hoax. And yet it has led to no less than four investigations involving Ofsted, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council on the apparent basis that it highlights concerns that could be real. Gove has again sent in Wilshaw to write a different dossier on Park View, while no less than the former head of Counter Terrorism Command, Peter Clarke has been appointed as the Government’s commissioner.
The majority of the allegations made are not only petty but have a distinctive Islamophobic agenda. All have been proved to be untrue or grossly distorted as shown by a mime-page document released by the Educational Trust. At issue is the religious ethos of Park View, which has been attributed to much of the school’s success. For some reason, the school’s ability to accommodate parental involvement and recognise their Muslim cultural background within regulatory and legal requirements in its achievements appears to have proved controversial if not resentful. It is as though a policy has been invented that the expectations of a minority community are not worth investing in.
Such crass claims stoop to the depths of tabloid sensationalism in alleging that Christmas has been banned and Easter eggs destroyed. They are so contemptible in playing to the basest prejudices that they are not worth the paper they are written on. It was as though the Taliban had invaded and changed Birmingham into Afghanistan. Suffice to say, there was not a morsel of truth in the scaremongering. Examination results prove the opposite. Last year at Park View, 78 per cent of girls achieved 5 A* -Cs (including English and Math) compared with 70 per cent of boys. It also strikingly contrasts to figures of around only 20 per cent less than a decade and a half ago. Like others in the state sector, the school only segregates the sexes for physical education lessons.
The pressure on Ofsted by the media was so intense that they began intimidating young Muslim children. Children as young as 9 at Olive Tree primary school, an independent Muslim school, in Luton, were questioned about their views on homosexuality by Ofsted. The inspectors had stepped beyond the limits of public decency.
Left in the wake of the right-wing media onslaught have been the victims, the students themselves, including particularly those in Year-11 taking their GCSEs. In the background, the press have been deliberately drip fed regular doses of anonymously sourced leaked reports that were yet to be made public. Added to this is the jockeying for positions with the Conservative Party to succeed David Cameron if he loses power in next year’s general election, with Gove a leading contender.
Education has long been a political football with teachers sadly having little control of their own profession. The setting up of Academies, started by former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is the latest ploy in the battle by the Government to free schools from local authority control. At the expense of the nation, Gove has taken it to the extremes in the anomalies of the drive with more than half of secondary schools converted in a bid to eventually complete the privatisation of education. In the process, there is even no longer the need for teachers to be fully qualified nor for any of the schools to follow the national curriculum.
If the Government is making a rod for its own back as it appears to be, it is also certainly doing so by repressing the success stories in the making for run-down inner-city schools. Park View had been an exemplary model with its religious ethos and re-connection with parents and the local community. What needs to be investigated is the source of the dirty ‘Trojan Horse’ dossier which appears to have been sexed up in a much similar way as the ill-founded justification for the Iraq War.