Once again, Ofsted has shown itself to be the watchdog that did not bark. If, as Ofsted now claims, Islamic ‘extremism’ is being cultivated in a number of Birmingham state schools, why has it taken so long to spot?
A walk along New Street in central Birmingham on any Saturday would show that Islam is being prominently promoted to passers-by. This, of course, is entirely within the law and no different from the promotion of various Christian and other religious faiths.
It is a safe bet to assume that if certain people feel the need to promote a religion, any religion, along the shopping streets it will feature in other places where communities gather, including schools. It would be good for Ofsted inspectors to get out a bit more.
Birmingham has a significant Islamic population and it should come as no surprise to see this reflected, to some extent, in state schools serving Islamic communities. Christianity certainly plays an important role in many state schools across the country. What is important is that all schools, faith schools included, operate within the law.
This means that not only providing pupils with a curriculum and school experience that has both breadth and balance. It, also, means that all children are treated equally and that tolerance and understanding of others is at the heart of everything that the school is trying to achieve. Such principles are fundamental to the stability, well-being and success of our society and of everything for which it stands. The debate that is now raging over certain schools in Birmingham is, therefore, long overdue.
Ofsted, however, has a bit of explaining to do. If there is a real issue of Islamic extremism being promoted in Birmingham schools, why was this not picked up earlier?
It simply beggars belief that two of the five schools now placed by Ofsted in the category of “Special Measures” were, within the previous two years, categorised by that same inspection body, as “Outstanding”.
Ofsted has demonstrated, once again, that is it, too, needs to be put into “Special Measures”. Assessed against standards internationally and in views of employers and of universities, it has presided silently over two decades of educational failure. It now seems to have failed again.
Spurred into action by the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations and by subsequent Government panic, it has been forced to sound an alarm. But who believes the Chief Inspector’s ingenuous and ridiculous assertion that this crisis has suddenly appeared over the past year?
Sadly, the alleged use of state schools to promote extremist religious views is likely to give faith schools a bad name. There will certainly be calls to remove, entirely, any element of religion at all, in all schools. This would, also, mean getting rid of faith schools and making all schools fully secular. What a seductive idea!
The truth is, of course, that parents have a legal right, under human rights legislation, to have their children educated, as far as is reasonable, in accordance with their wishes. And how misguided it is to believe that non-faith schools can, somehow, be ideologically free. Those societies that have gone along the godless pathway include the Soviet Union and its satellite states, the Third Reich (largely), Mao’s China and, indeed, present day North Korea. Remove God and another god may take over.
The problem in Birmingham is not a problem with faith schools but a problem with non-faith schools.