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Birmingham: A land of Trojan horses?

Karamat Iqbal

Birmingham has had many ethnic communities settling among its population, leading to the city becoming ‘superdiverse’ (Rex & Moore, 1967; Vertovec, 2007). British Pakistani children are close to becoming the largest ethnic group in the local schools (BCC, 2011) where Muslims are already the largest pupil religious group (Howarth, 2014). The city has a longstanding reputation for being a leader in multicultural education and teaching of multi-faith RE (Warren, 2003). It had staff and support structures for dealing effectively with any issues and challenges that arose from its diversity. But that was before academisation came along and removed the local authority infrastructure for schools.

In the recent past the city schools have experienced the ‘Trojan horse’ controversy. This was when the city council received a letter from an unknown source, outlining plans to take over schools by Muslims. The government responded by asking Peter Clarke to undertake an investigation. His report was published around the same time as the report by Ian Kershaw, who had been commissioned by Birmingham City Council. The Department for Education (DfE) requested that Ofsted inspect the schools affected. This led to several schools being placed in special measures. Some of these same schools had been previously praised for their work and been rated as outstanding, including Park View which had been visited by Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw (Edwards, 2014). The letter at the centre of the controversy was found to be fake (see Shackle 2017), a conclusion that had earlier been made by the Education Select Committee,  which reported that ‘no evidence of extremism or radicalisation, apart from a single isolated incident, was found by any of the inquiries and there was no evidence of a sustained plot nor of a similar situation pertaining elsewhere in the country’ (Education Select Committee, 2015). Sadly, the affair led to a serious breakdown of trust between the education system and the Muslim community.

when governing bodies are representative of the local community, they act as a bridge between them and the school with improved school–community relations

For my PhD I had conducted research in local schools (Iqbal, 2017). One of my key findings had been the high level of importance placed upon religion by the Pakistani community, who were the focus of my research. Another finding, based on data from 29 schools, was the ‘unrepresentative bureaucracy’ (Bradbury & Kellough, 2011) in education, with few Pakistanis involved in the local schools, as either teachers or governors. When the situation is different, that is the workforce does reflect the ethnic make-up of the community, it is said to benefit minority groups (Eckhard, 2014). Similarly, when governing bodies are representative of the local community, they act as a bridge between them and the school with improved school–community relations.

Such school–community disconnect in Birmingham was first raised by Tim Boyes, a local headteacher, in his presentation to the DfE (Paton, 2014). He (now head of the Birmingham Education Partnership) has since stated that the disconnect has become even worse following the Trojan horse affair and as a result of the government’s academisation programme (Iqbal, 2018).

When my research was published in 2018, I predicted that if lessons were not learned and appropriate action not taken, there would be other Trojan horses (Iqbal, 2018). It would appear that my prediction has come true, in the light of the recent, ‘No Outsiders’ controversy (Jackson, 2019). This has resulted from some Muslim parents objecting to their primary age children being taught about the LGBT community. The way the matter has been handled has led to an even greater trust deficit between the schools and their Muslim communities. Meanwhile there continues to be a lack of infrastructure or staff with appropriate religious literacy, who would identify such issues and step in and trouble-shoot when things go wrong. I wonder how long it will be before there is another Trojan horse or what will trigger it?


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Clarke, P. (2014). Report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the ‘Trojan horse’ letter. Department for Education.

Eckhard, S. (2014). Bureaucratic representation and ethnic bureaucratic drift: A case study of United Nations minority policy implementation in Kosovo. American Review of Public Administration, 44(5), 600–621.

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Vertovec, S. (2007). Super-diversity and its implications. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 30(6), 1024–1054.

Warren, S. (2003). Race equality and education in Birmingham. Education Policy Unit, Institute of Education, University College London.