The story about the ‘Trojan horse’ affair in Birmingham has dominated the education headlines for several weeks. Many questions have been raised: cronyism amongst governors, the role of religion in state schools, the difficulty in recruiting governors when the stakes are so high and the ultimate power of one person, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, to make decisions in schools.
When Gove came to power he sent every school a copy of the Bible. Oasis schools have been reported as increasing the religious content in their academies and free schools. The man behind the Oasis chain is an evangelical Christian preacher. Yet we hear no accusations of fundamentalism about this. Schools were told to opt to become academies so that they could have freedom over their curriculum. Yet Birmingham schools which are secular, but which give pupils a secure place in which to practise their faith, are not entitled to exercise any freedoms. The dominant form of racial discrimination in this country is currently directed towards Muslims. The government and Gove are reinforcing this racist agenda and are detrimentally affecting the lives of these pupils, their teachers and the community in the process.
This story has exposed many contradictions. Gove says he wants Heads and governors to have more autonomy, yet when it suits his agenda, he takes back control. Ofsted have often been accused of being a political tool and are not trusted by teachers. The recent Ofsted inspections in Birmingham have seen schools downgraded from outstanding to inadequate within a very short time. Does this mean they have had pressure put on them? How independent are these judgements?
The whirlwind which has struck Birmingham schools has exposed Michael Gove’s political agenda. The very accusation that he levels against the schools, they are being taken over by people who have their own agenda, is embodied in the academies programme. Gove has encouraged businesses, charities and religious organisations to take over our schools.
The Anti Academies Alliance has long argued that the break-up of state education, the huge control given to academy chains and the ideological attack on progressive education is part of a government agenda to hand schools over to the profit-making sector and to introduce the market into education.
We believe that local education authorities, with elected democratic control, offer the only system where schools and their communities have a workable relationship. We need to restore this link, prevent any move to allow the market to have an influence over our young people’s lives and stop the break-up of state comprehensive education.