Six independent Muslim faith schools in London’s East End must make urgent changes or be forced to close. This comes following an Ofsted inspection which concluded that the schools were failing to promote British values or safeguard their students.
Analysis by the Ofsted chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has led to the conclusion that these 6 schools in Tower Hamlets, “focused intensively on developing Islamic knowledge and understanding at the expense of other important areas of the curriculum”, ignoring creative subjects such as music and art.
The Ofsted inspectors questioned some of the pupils at these schools and what they found was astounding. In one of a series of reports published by the organisation, a primary school pupil at East London Islamic School told inspectors he believed he would “go to hell” if he participated in music or dance.
Michael Wilshaw then passed his notes along to the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, who issued these demands for change. The notes came attached with the statement from Wilshaw saying, “Given the evidence gathered from these inspections, particularly in relation to the narrowness of the curriculum, I am concerned that pupils in these schools may be vulnerable to extremist influences and radicalisation,”
Ofsted investigated one school in particular where students were “unable to tell inspectors which of sharia law or English law was more important.” The school in question was Mazahirul Uloom School, a secondary school exclusively for boys. The report of this school stated, “Students presented a narrow view of the role of females in society. Some students told inspectors that ‘women stay at home and clean and look after the children. They cook and pray and wait for us to come back in from school and help with homework’.”
When asked about these reports the education secretary said, “While there is no suggestion of a coordinated plot, it is clear that these schools are failing children and this is unacceptable. All schools must prepare children for life in modern Britain.” The talk of a coordinated plot is in reference to “Trojan Horse 2” which was an alleged extremist plot to take over schools in Birmingham earlier this year.
She would continue to say, “We will now be demanding urgent action plans from the independent schools and expect to see improvements within weeks. If changes are not made, then we reserve the right to force the closures of the schools involved.”
Ofsted has also uncovered evidence at Sir John Cass, a Church of England secondary school in Tower Hamlets, that the genders were segregated during breaks and lunchtimes. There was also evidence from this school that school leadership ignored police advice that some of the students were using the school’s social media sites to linking to “individuals associated with extremist views and actions”. These same students were also posting messages discouraging people from attending school fundraisers.
“One posting states that any sixth-form students who attended a leavers’ party and engaged in ‘free-mixing’ or ‘listening to music’ would face ‘severe consequences later’,” inspectors noted. The inspectors also stated in this report that, “senior staff and governors failed to inform students or parents of this serious concern. Neither was any information, education or training provided for students, staff, governors or parents.”
Harun Asif, a former pupil at Jamiatul Ummah, said the report on his old school was inaccurate. “As far as I’m aware, the school never promoted any political ideology. It taught basic Islam, basic faith, fiqh [jurisprudence] and sunnah [teaching of the Prophet Muhammad], and didn’t promote any specific ideology or any other political form of Islam that the state would consider radical,”
A teaching assistant at one of these schools also ridiculed Wilshaw’s assertion that the schools were preparing pupils poorly for British life. “This is east London. What do you mean, ‘not ready’? I feel that’s really patronising. Why focus on Muslims? It’s creating fear,”
The inspection also focused on the facilities and buildings in the school with Jamiatul Ummah being described as “shabby and dirty and in need of significant repair”.
Provided that the information which has been presented to the education secretary has been gathered in an unbiased manner then I do not see the issue with these comments. The problem however appears to be the language. Sir Wilshaw’s use of “British values” appears to suggest he is pushing his agenda even if that is not his intent. The only thing required therefore is some transparency in this process. If it can be proved that the radicalisation threat is legitimate then measures need to be taken to prevent these children and young adults being indoctrinated into a belief without another side of argument being presented. Everyone deserves the right to agree of disagree with a point of view, as long as both sides of an issue are being discussed.