Yet again we have another round of reports targeting in the majority, Muslim faith schools in Birmingham. A number of reports published in the BBC, Telegraph Guardian, Sky News, and Independent, regurgitated Michael Wilshaw’s letter to Nicky Morgan parading his team’s hard work in failing faith schools which were formerly inspected by the now defunct Bridge Schools Inspectorate (BSI).
The issue is, in order to come to a decent headline typically scapegoating Muslims, the inspectors tried a little too hard, it seems. So hard that in the case of one school, it is alleged Ofsted not only acted outside its remit during its inspection, but littered its report with inaccuracies and misleading statements, based off compromised trademark Inquisitional-style extremism-based questioning of young children.
The Female Governor and Quixotic Colonialist Custodians
The reports provided sensational sound bites for the media. Continuing the themes of the Trojan Hoax, and attacking Islamic rulings in the process, it was reported (see here also) that a “female governor was forced to sit in a separate room”. Of course the “force” element is missing from Wilshaw’s advisory note. However, even he couldn’t help but add that,
“A senior HMI has pointed out to the school that this practice is unacceptable as it fails to show proper respect for women.”
The quixotic, white colonialist saviour of poor oppressed Muslim women added that “respect for women” will now become a primary focus in subsequent monitoring. One wonders whether men like Wilshaw actually consider the female Muslim perspective and question whether their own assertions are in fact shared with the poor Muslim lady. So what was the female governor’s viewpoint? Slamming Wilshaw, and noting the utter hypocrisy in the British values discourse, she stated,
“I feel the school allowing me to be part of the governing body with my request to sit as I please therefore demonstrates the school’s strong promotion of both Islamic and British values… The right for a person to choose is a universal value, which the new undefined British value clearly is opposing.”
Does Ofsted’s remit now include making value judgements on how members of a faith school choose to express their faith? Are “British values” being used to suppress freedom to manifest religion?
Most attention in the reports and Wilshaw’s letter was received by Al-Ameen Primary School. This was expected.
Al-Ameen Primary School
Back in October, my sources forwarded information to me highlighting shocking behaviour by Ofsted. I revealed that Ofsted Inspectors interrogated children using questions similar to Waltham Forest Council’s controversial BRIT Project, an initiative where the Council in London had deceptively disseminated psychometric tests into Muslim majority schools which purported to analyse the level of “radicalisation”.
Some of the allegations against Ofsted’s inspectors have been corroborated by Al-Ameen school itself in a Press Statement it released. It is a worth a read on its own as it covers other points I will not deal with here.
Ofsted Acting Ultra Vires to Force an Agenda?
The statement notes that Al-Ameen was under BSI’s framework up until the 30th of September, which means Ofsted’s remit started from the 1st of October. However, the Ofsted inspection took place between 29th September 2015 and 1st October 2015. It is plausible that this in itself is sufficient to vitiate the report. These dates also bring to attention a further complication and indicates to the rather desperate agenda of Wilshaw, which includes re-establishing his Ofsted as the unquestioning authoritative voice on schools despite clear conflict of interest, in an effort to continue Michael Gove’s neocon agenda.
Sources state that Ofsted had offered transition training to fall in line with Ofsted’s “Common Inspection Framework”. Shockingly however, Ofsted not only decided to inspect outside its remit, but also before the actual scheduled date of the training.
The perception of a determined agenda continues.
Sources close to the school further state that the draft Ofsted report sent to the school had a cover letter which indicated to the school that they had five working days to carry out a “factual accuracy check”. This is further corroborated by post-inspection government guidance.
Ofsted, it is alleged, only permitted 24 hours for a response – despite taking five weeks to produce the report – and ignored requests for an extension.
Children Allegedly Intimidated by Ofsted
The Ofsted report highlighted the fact that the school is not promoting fundamental British values and that “pupils have little understanding of British institutions or the democratic process”. Sources state that one of the “evidences” used for this judgement was based upon the question of a six year old, which is also referred into the School’s statement:
“It seems that inspectors have made a judgement here based on a question directed at a six-year-old child who was asked if they knew who David Cameron was to which the child replied that he was the president of the country. It would be unfair to make such a drastic judgement on the school based on this line of questioning directed at a 6-year-old.”
Source state that the child in fact felt intimidated by the aggressive style of questioning. The School’s statement also highlights yet another example:
“The inspection report also refers to a child ‘including France as part of Britain’. That particular class had been studying the War Horse and a 10 year old child became confused with the alliance of Britain and France during the war.”
Discriminatory Assumptions and Misleading Conclusions
The Ofsted report highlights that,
“An example of artwork in one pupil’s book gave inspectors cause to question the context in which the pupil had drawn such an explicitly violent picture. The school failed to acknowledge that the subject matter in the picture was inappropriate.”
My sources highlight that this picture was drawn as part of an exercise in class, where children were asked to bring in toys and to draw a picture based on it. The picture in question was based on “Toy Story” soldiers and the picture contained the soldiers alongside tanks. Sources state this explanation was in fact presented to the inspector. One wonders whether such an image would have raised “radicalisation” concerns were it a non-Muslim school. The fact that this has been noted in the Ofsted report despite the reasonable clarification shows the extent to which Ofsted seems to be hell-bent on proving failures.
Exposure to “Extremist” Literature
A claim circulated in the typically sensationalist media made by Wilshaw was that,
“Leaders and managers at Al-Ameen Primary School were not protecting pupils from reading inappropriate literature about extremist, sexist or partisan views. Her Majesty’s Inspectors found that inappropriate books in the school library were freely available to pupils… the library contained a book asserting that women are less reliable than men as witnesses. Other books included information that was not age-appropriate for pupils. The headteacher agreed with inspectors that some books were inappropriate and should not be freely available.”
My sources in seeking clarification on this found that there were three or four books which Ofsted found contentious. However, they assert that the views found therein are traditional Islamic views, and one book, is in fact endorsed by a prominent Sufi scholar Imam Zaid Shakir. There was another book explaining the wisdom behind requiring two female witnesses in financial transactions– an orthodox view established in a clear Qur’anic verse. Without getting into the scholastic reasoning behind this ruling, one wonders whether Ofsted would be willing to effectively ban the Qur’an from an Islamic school, the Bible from a Christian school and the Torah from a Jewish school on the basis that they espouse views which from the liberalist perspective are deemed “extremist, sexist or partisan”. Sources state there was also a book called Our Culture: Jewish, in which it states “men and women sit separately in most synagogues” (p.16), without any further explanation. In yet another children’s Christian book said to be in the School library, birth and the pain of child birth is explained as being the punishment for “the woman” tempted Adam (Great Events of Bible Times: Stories and History from the Old Testament, p.7). Allegedly, there was even a book about the Crusades of Richard the Lionheart! One would imagine that the inspectors would have convulsed if they saw book called “the Jihads of Salahudeen”.
I find it strange that these book were not highlighted by Ofsted especially given the inspectors were said to be on their hands and knees looking for “problematic” Islamic literature. I suspect a headline reading “inappropriate Jewish and Christian literature about extremist, sexist or partisan views found in Muslim school” does not go down too well with neocons.
The clear anti-Islam agenda exemplified here is ridiculous.
Having said this, the School has strongly rejected the claim that any of the books in fact were “freely available to pupils”:
“Firstly, the material was not “extremist”, unless traditional Islamic values fitting in within the Islamic ethos are now being regarded as “extremist”. Secondly, the school library has been closed to pupils from the beginning of this academic year following book donations received during the summer holidays. Therefore, the allegation that contentious books were freely accessible to children is false.”
Interrogating Suspect Children
In my previous blog it was noted that the children were asked questions which mimicked the BRIT Project psychometrics tests to check mainly Muslim children for radicalisation. The Inquisitional questions included:
“Which religion is better?”
“Can I become a Muslim?”
“But I do not where the Hijab, can I still become Muslim?”
Source state these questions were asked at Al-Ameen. Recently the PREVENT monitoring organisation PREVENT Watch UK Tweeted an image of PREVENT questions being asked of students:
The questions are shocking and seek to determine the mindset of a child in the context of radicalisation and “extremism”, treating them like potential terrorists. Sources state that these questions were used for the schools which were formerly inspected by BSI (including Al-Ameen). It is likely given the type of questions allegedly asked at Al-Ameen, that these questions provided the framework for the Inspectors to interrogate young children.
In March 2015, the Education Select Committee investigation the Trojan Hoax found that Ofsted’s inspections in Birmingham last year,
“[raised] questions about the appropriateness of the framework and the reliability and robustness of Ofsted’s judgements and how they are reached. Confidence in Ofsted has been undermined and efforts should be made by the inspectorate to restore it in Birmingham and beyond.”
From Ofsted’s eagerness to inspect to the point that it acted potentially outside its remit while Al-Ameen was unable to adapt to the new regulatory requirements, to the underhanded tactics used to effectively scupper Al-Ameen from instituting challenges to the assertions made in the report; from the Inquisitional way in which the Ofsted conducted the inspection, to the decontextualised, misleading and heavily spun conclusions it drew despite clarifications, it is difficult to avoid a perception which questions the trustworthiness of Ofsted’s judgments. It certainly does little to restore confidence in Birmingham and beyond. In fact, the conduct of the inspectors reinforces the discriminatory, anti-Islamic slant of a regulatory body which is meant to be impartial.
Discriminatory assumptions, procedural irregularities, and intimidating children: the oppressive strutural discrimination against the Muslim minority continues.