Britain will introduce the mandatory teaching of “British values” in schools for the first time after allegations of an Islamic plot to infiltrate the public education system.
Six schools accused of promoting extreme Islamic views in Birmingham, Britain’s second city, were sanctioned Tuesday by inspectors, who said they were failing to provide a balanced education. According to inspectors at one school, Western women were described as “white prostitutes” to children as young as 6; Christmas events and raffles were banned for being “un-Islamic,” and students were segregated during class.
As details of what was going on in these state-funded schools began to emerge, a furious internal row over tackling the threat of extremism has exploded into public view. “There is deep confusion at the heart of government,” a former government counterterrorism adviser told The Daily Beast.
Officials are bitterly divided over two diametrically opposed strategies. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has advocated early intervention to curb radical teaching within the Muslim community. The Home Office, which is responsible for the police and security forces, argues that it is counter-productive to clamp down on legal but extreme views.
“It’s the difference between firefighting and fire protection,” said Professor Anthony Glees, who contributed to the parliamentary Homeland Security Group. “The government is split between libertarians and the law-and-order Conservatives.”
Under Gove's plans for lessons in “British values,” teachers would be forced to encourage respect for other faiths and communities.
After a brutal round of media briefings and counter-briefings, Gove was forced to make a public apology, and the Home Secretary’s most senior aide has resigned.
A report published Tuesday by the Chief Inspector of Schools helped to explain why the two departments were so keen to blame one another. Sir Michael Wilshaw said there had been an organized campaign to target schools in Birmingham and encourage them to change their “character and ethos”. He said some school principals and senior staff in Birmingham had faced “a culture of fear and intimidation” if they failed to adopt a hard-line Muslim approach in the schools, which are state-funded and open to all.
“Some of our findings are deeply worrying, and in some ways quite shocking,” Wilshaw said. He visited 21 schools after an intercepted letter, now widely believed to have been a hoax, apparently outlined a secret plot to Islamize the school system. The “Operation Trojan Horse” letter was a how-to guide for Islamic fundamentalists wanting to take over local schools.
There may never have been a Trojan Horse plot, but investigations into the schools have uncovered evidence of conservative Islamic teaching being imposed. School funds have been used to set up a madrassa and hold annual trips to Saudi Arabia, from which non-Muslim students are excluded. The call to prayer is sounded over the public address system at one school, while teaching in biology and sex education had been “restricted to comply with conservative Islamic teaching” at another.
At Nansen Elementary School, music has been removed from the curriculum and Arabic lessons made compulsory. Razwan Faraz, whose brother has been convicted of terrorism-related offenses, was recently made vice principal despite little teaching experience.
“In several of the schools inspected, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain,” Wilshaw concluded.
According to a former teacher, the principal at Park View Highschool, which was also censured by Wilshaw, has expressed “mind-blowing” radical views at school assemblies—including telling students that the U.S. is the “source of all evil in the world.” The school also reportedly hosted a guest speaker last year, the extremist preacher Shady al-Suleiman, who has previously called on Allah to “give victory to all the Mujahideen all over the world” and to “prepare us for the jihad.”
Gove has accepted that his department must face questions over the way these teachings were allegedly allowed to grow unchecked. “We must all acknowledge there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism," he said.
The Education minister’s response is to implement mandatory lessons teaching “British values” of democracy, liberty and tolerance. The solution has been criticized as vague and unworkable, but Gove’s idea won the public support of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Asked what he thought British values were, Cameron said: “I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.”
“I think what Michael Gove has said is important and I think it will have the overwhelming support of everyone, including people who have come to settle in Britain and make their home in Britain.”