With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the report into allegations concerning Birmingham schools arising from the so-called Trojan horse letter. The report by Peter Clarke was laid before the House this morning.
The abiding principle of the Government’s education policy is that schools should prepare children for life in modern Britain and, indeed, the modern world. Schools should open doors for children, not close them. That is what parents want and expect. We should be clear that that is as true for the overwhelming majority of British Muslims as for anyone else.
As a Government, we strongly support the right of Muslim parents to be involved in their children’s schools and their commitment to take leading roles in public life. What has been so upsetting about the history in this small handful of schools is that the success of efforts to encourage more British Muslims to take up governing roles has been damaged by the actions of a few. I sincerely hope that parents will continue to come forward to serve as governors and to take leadership roles in schools.
However, what Peter Clarke found is disturbing. His report sets out compelling evidence of a determined effort by people with a shared ideology to gain control of the governing bodies of a small number of schools in Birmingham. Teachers have said that they fear that children are learning to be intolerant of difference and diversity. Instead of enjoying a broadening and enriching experience in school, young people are having their horizons narrowed and are being denied the opportunity to flourish in a modern, multicultural Britain.
There has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism, but there is a clear account in the report of people in positions of influence in these schools, who have a restricted and narrow interpretation of their faith, not promoting fundamental British values and failing to challenge the extremist views of others. Individuals associated with the Park View Educational Trust, in particular, have destabilised head teachers, sometimes leading to their resignation or removal. Particularly shocking is the evidence of the social media discussion of the Park View Brotherhood group, whose actions
“betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach which denies the validity of alternative beliefs.”
Evidence collected by Peter Clarke shows that Birmingham city council was aware of the practices that were subsequently outlined in the Trojan horse letter long before it surfaced. On Friday, the council published its report into the problems by Ian Kershaw. He concluded that in some cases the council was a vehicle for promoting some of these problems, with head teachers being eased out through the profligate use of compromise agreements, rather than being supported. The council’s inability to address the problems had been exacerbated, the report found, by a culture of not wanting to address difficult problems where there was a risk of accusations of racism or Islamophobia.
We are all in the debt of Peter Clarke for the rigour that he brought to his investigation and for the forensic clarity of his findings. We are also in the debt of my predecessor, who is now the Chief Whip, for his determination in the face of criticism to invite Mr Clarke to take on this task. No Government and no Home Secretary have done more to tackle extremism than this Government and this Home Secretary. In the conclusions of the Government’s extremism taskforce last year, the Prime Minister made it clear that we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent. Peter Clarke’s report offers us important recommendations on how to address that challenge in schools.
Our first priority after Ofsted reported its findings last month was to take action on the schools in special measures. The members of the Park View Educational Trust have resigned, enabling outstanding head teachers from the wider Birmingham community to take on the governance of the trust and ensure a strong future for its three academies. My noble Friend Lord Nash has today written to the Oldknow Academy Trust to notify it that I will terminate its funding agreement in the light of its manifest breaches. A new interim executive board has replaced the failing governing body of Saltley school. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) for their work with those schools.
The second priority is the progress that must be made by Birmingham city council. I have spoken to Sir Albert Bore, and we have agreed that I will appoint a new education commissioner within the council to oversee its actions to address the fundamental criticisms in the Kershaw and Clarke reports, while building resilience in the system as a whole. The commissioner will report jointly to Birmingham’s chief executive and to me. If we are unable to make rapid progress with those new arrangements, I will not hesitate to use my powers to intervene further.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has also spoken to Sir Albert Bore about the need to address the wider weaknesses that these events have highlighted in the governance culture of the council. They have agreed that Sir Bob Kerslake will lead a review of governance in the city council, reporting with recommendations for both the short and medium term by the end of 2014.
I want also to ensure that our system of standards and accountability for all schools should better withstand the threats of extremism of all kinds. The National College for Teaching and Leadership will take the extensive evidence provided by Peter Clarke so that its misconduct panel can consider whether any teachers involved should be barred from the profession. Advice to the panel already provides that actions that undermine fundamental British values should be viewed as misconduct. I will strengthen that advice to make clear that exposing pupils to extremist speakers should be regarded as a failure to protect pupils and promote British values. I will also strengthen the advice to make it clear that prohibition from teaching should be imposed while such cases are investigated, and a prohibition without review made where misconduct is proved.
We have already published a consultation on strengthening independent school standards, which apply also to academies and free schools, including a requirement to actively promote British values. Ofsted will inspect how well all schools are actively promoting fundamental British values through their curriculum. We will provide further guidance on how to improve the social, moral, spiritual and cultural development of pupils, which is also inspected by Ofsted. We will strengthen our regulations to bar unsuitable persons from running independent schools, including academies and free schools. Anyone barred in that way will also be prohibited from being governor in any maintained school.
Peter Clarke recommends that Ofsted should be more sensitive to the signs of emerging problems. I believe that key evidence can be hidden from inspectors and the inspection regime needs to be strengthened further. My predecessor asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to look at the feasibility and practicalities of introducing no-notice inspections for schools. I am pleased that the chief inspector has already decided, and notified schools earlier this month, that next term he would be broadening the criteria Ofsted uses to judge whether unannounced inspection is required for a particular school. HMCI believes there are advantages to extending no-notice inspection to all schools, and will use his consultation in the autumn on changes to the 2015 inspection regime to consult on whether universal no notice, or a different change to the no-notice regime, should be made.
Her Majesty’s chief inspector has also highlighted the need to ensure that all state-funded schools meet the requirement to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. He is clear that this is an area where inspectors will pay more attention, and the autumn consultation will seek views on whether Ofsted needs to do more to ensure that all schools meet their requirements to teach a broad and balanced curriculum.
My predecessor commissioned a review by the permanent secretary on whether the Department missed historical warnings in Birmingham, and he will report to me later in the summer. The Department has already ensured increased scrutiny of new academy sponsors and of the governance arrangements for schools seeking to convert to academy status. We have appointed regional schools commissioners backed by boards of local outstanding head teachers who will bring local intelligence to decision making on academies. I will now improve the Department’s due diligence and counter-extremism division’s capacity, as Peter Clarke recommends. I will ensure that the Department works in partnership with the Home Office, Department for Communities and Local Government and other agencies to improve the intelligence available to us on whether other parts of the country are similarly vulnerable to the threats that have been exposed in Birmingham.
The report also raises questions and makes specific recommendations about other important areas, including the role of the Association of Muslim Schools UK, further action on improving school governance, how to communicate better the role of local authorities with all schools—maintained, academies and independent—on safeguarding and extremism, and how we can be sure that all schools are meeting their statutory duties. I want to reflect further on those issues, as well as on all specific recommendations in the report published today, and return to the House in the autumn on steps to be taken on those matters.
Peter Clarke’s report confirms the pattern of serious failing found by Ofsted’s inspection reports, and identifies how the actions of a small number of individuals in some schools represented a serious risk to the safeguarding of children and the quality of education being provided. We are taking action to put things right, and I will not hesitate to act in any schools where serious concerns come to light in future.
I want to be clear, however, that those who seek to use this case to undermine the Government’s reform agenda will be disappointed. Today there are more than 4,000 academies and free schools serving pupils and parents up and down the country. They are helping thousands of young people, regardless of their background, to unlock their potential and become valuable and rounded members of society. The expansion of the academy programme has been one of the great success stories of this Government, and the actions of a small number of individuals will not divert us from that path. The programme of reform goes on, and I commend this statement to the House.
I join the Secretary of State in paying tribute to the work of Peter Clarke.
At the heart of the report is a devastating indictment of the Government’s schools policy, and the Government’s response is a structural admission of failure. Today, the Secretary of State has announced a new schools commissioner for Birmingham and endorsed Labour party policy. The free market model of schooling, pioneered by her predecessor, has been sunk by the events in Birmingham. Why not have a schools commissioner or a director of schools standards for Liverpool, for Manchester or for London?
Peter Clarke’s report reveals that coalition education policy is bust and has fomented the crisis in Birmingham. Clarke states:
“In theory, academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can almost amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine.”
However, we now know that everything was not fine. The truth of the matter is this: the chaotic, deregulated and fractured education policy the Government have pursued has increased the risks of radicalisation in English schools. Let us be clear: in 2010, the Department for Education was told by a senior Birmingham head teacher what was going on in Birmingham schools, and for four years it failed to act. I call that malign neglect.
First, will the Secretary of State tell us more about how the Department for Education inquiry into ministerial failings is proceeding? What evidence has it taken? Has Lord Hill given evidence? Sir Albert Bore has apologised on behalf of Birmingham city council, so will the Secretary of State apologise for her predecessor’s oversights?
Peter Clarke’s report heavily criticises the Government’s policy
“by which single schools are able to convert to academy status”.
Therefore, secondly, the Secretary of State’s predecessor thought that the security bar should be lowered for those seeking to convert schools to academy status, as in the case of Park View and Golden Hillock, compared with the bar for those seeking to establish free schools. Does she share that view?
Crucially, Peter Clarke finds that there was no
“suitable system for holding the new academies accountable for financial and management issues”.
He urges a clearer system for
“detecting changes in governance to make academies more effective in responding to warning signs”.
The commissioner is a right step, but will the Secretary of State admit that she cannot run tens of thousands of schools from behind a desk in Whitehall, which her predecessor failed to realise? Thirdly, therefore, will she now drop the dogma and agree to the Labour party plans for directors of schools standards—not the old local authority model, but a system of local oversight and accountability to give parents, teachers and governors a strong voice to support all schools and challenge low standards?
One disturbing element of Clarke’s report is his account of the introduction of an “intolerant and aggressive” Islamist ethos in Birmingham schools. Allegations of radical extremism and terrorism have proven to be unfounded, but there should be no place in an English school for segregation and the inculcation of a politicised version of Islam. It is right that schools in high-poverty and minority ethnic communities focus on achieving excellent academic results, but they must also provide the kind of rounded education that will ensure the success of their pupils in modern, multicultural Britain.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s support for changes for a “broad and balanced curriculum” in criteria for judgments by Ofsted. I am happy to support her framework discussions for no-notice inspections, and the misconduct reforms. However, one of the most pressing reforms we need to look at is our system of school governors—Clarke’s recommendation 10.
Beginning with the Labour party’s academies schools programme, successive Governments have sought to increase school autonomy. That has placed more onerous responsibilities on governing bodies without necessarily providing the relevant training and support. We do not want to overburden governors—we need to attract applicants for the job, particularly from minority ethnic communities—but we need to ensure a more professional, non-executive function in these roles. If the Secretary of State wishes to pursue a reform policy in that direction, she will have our support.
The story of Birmingham is the story of systemic failings in school oversight and accountability. The chickens have come home to roost on the Government’s free-for-all education policy. In our great second city, it is parents and pupils who have suffered the consequences.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for some parts of his response to my statement. It is a great irony that in the middle he talked about dropping the dogma, given that he started by talking about a “devastating indictment” of schools policy. I refute that utterly, as do all Government Members.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman welcomed the move to have a broad and balanced curriculum, and for his support for no-notice inspections, on which we will consult, and on teachers’ misconduct. However, I think he misses the overall point. This is not a matter on which to be partisan. I think we can agree that there is absolutely no place for extremism in our schools, which is what he said. But in relation to governance, he will perhaps recall the point that Sir Peter Clarke made on page 90 of the report:
“I have seen no evidence to suggest that there is a problem with governance generally”—[Interruption.]
I suggest the hon. Gentleman reads page 90 again. Sir Peter Clarke went on:
“However, there appears to be a problem with certain governors in some Birmingham schools.”
What the hon. Gentleman failed to appreciate, in the tone of his remarks, was that this was a determined effort by a small number of people with a shared ideology to gain control of a small number of schools, irrespective of the interests of the local community. He is absolutely right to say that at the heart of this is the education of children and support for teachers and parents. We should start with children, not with faith.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the permanent secretary’s review in the Department. I am not going to pre-empt that review. I have said that I will come back to the House and discuss it when the permanent secretary reports. The hon. Gentleman talked about the schools commissioner, and I am glad he welcomes that appointment. Sir Albert Bore has agreed that we will work together on the appointment, who the commissioner will report to and the plan that will be put into place.
This is not a matter on which to be partisan. We must recognise the extremism that a small number of people thought they could perpetuate in our schools, much to the upset of members of the Muslim communities in Birmingham. The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise the work that the Government, the Home Secretary and all Ministers on the Government Benches have done to tackle anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia. I am sorry that the tone of his remarks does not reflect the seriousness of the situation.
May I, too, congratulate Peter Clarke and thank him for his work? We must ensure that we have a proportionate response. The Education Committee will be taking evidence from Peter Clarke, Ian Kershaw, head teachers and others in our inquiry. We will produce a report and make recommendations in the autumn. Will the Secretary of State delay her formal response to the recommendations in Peter Clarke’s report until the Select Committee has produced its report, which I hope will be as early in the autumn as we can manage?
I thank my hon. Friend for his support and for his recognition of this extremely serious matter. I welcome the Select Committee’s investigations. I will have to reflect on the time line, but clearly the Committee’s evidence and recommendations will be very important in coming to a full conclusion and response to the recommendations made in this report.
I did not have the opportunity yesterday, so may I welcome the Secretary of State to the most rewarding job in Government? I wish her well.
Three weeks ago, the Education Committee moved towards a consensus that oversight between the Secretary of State and schools needed to be strengthened, with certainly more than eight commissioners and by not relying purely on the inspectorate. Does she accept that many trusts and governing bodies are self-selecting and self-perpetuating? Would it therefore be appropriate to work with head teachers and the National Governors Association to find better ways to ensure that the selection of governors, and the accountability to which they are bound, is delivered in a way that provides the kind of trust that she and I, and this House, want in the future?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very much indeed for his warm welcome, which is very much appreciated. He is absolutely right that this is the most exciting job in Government. It is about protecting our children’s futures, and that is what is at the heart of the report into the failings that have been identified.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we recognise and value the dedication of the hundreds of thousands of governors up and down the country who give up their free time. We thank them for that. This issue relates to a small group of governors with a particular ideology that they wanted to push, and who wanted to destabilise the heads and the teachers. We welcome all efforts to strengthen governing bodies. Ofsted will be looking at governance arrangements much more closely in its inspections.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and warmly congratulate her on joining the Cabinet.
Is it not clear, as my right hon. Friend says, that there is no evidence of radicalisation or violent extremism, and that it is important to say that clearly for the vast majority of Birmingham’s Muslim community who make such a brilliant contribution to life in our second city? Should not all involved now focus on the key remedy for the future, which lies in clear lines of governance accountability and responsibility, both for the Department for Education and Birmingham city council?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much indeed. He is absolutely right: it is worth reiterating again that, as Peter Clarke says, there has been no evidence of direct radicalisation or violent extremism. I know from working with the Muslim community in my own constituency that it is safe to say that this is not what the vast majority of parents wanted to happen to the schools in question, or for the education of their children. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to remember that.
My right hon. Friend is also right that, as a result of the two reports, there are a number of lessons to be learned by various bodies, including, obviously, my own Department, Birmingham city council and Ofsted. There are wider lessons to be learned in relation to the governance of schools.
I welcome the Kershaw and the Clarke reports, and the appointment of the commissioner for Birmingham, which is necessary not just in Birmingham but across the country. I would like to use parliamentary privilege if I may, Mr Speaker, to name a few individuals about whom I think further investigation needs to be made: David Hughes, a former council official; Les Lawrence, a former cabinet member in Birmingham; Jackie Hughes and Kyra Butwell; and all local authority officers who colluded with this huge tragedy of keeping these schools in a position they should not have been in, and who by not listening to the parents, governors and teachers who demanded action were not prepared to act on their behalf.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I appreciated the conversation I had with him this morning. The Department will of course take on board the information he outlines. As part of the new commissioner’s appointment, we will pursue those names, and there may be others involved in what has happened. He makes an important point, which is that what happened was the destabilisation of the teaching staff in those schools. When one reads the reports and realises what has been going on against the wishes of the vast majority of teachers, one sees that when the teachers, and head teachers in particular, turned to the council, they did not get the support they should have received. That is something we all have to reflect on.
I support equal marriage, but a number of my constituents, both Muslim and non-Muslim, do not. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is very important to make a distinction between people with socially conservative views, and those who have extremist or divisive views? We must not be seen to be attacking people with socially conservative views.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is an agreed Government definition of extremism, and that is the one Peter Clarke used in his report. However, I return to my original point: from all my conversations with the Birmingham community, it is clear that the vast majority were in no way involved with, or supportive of, anything that happened in these schools; it was a small group of people pushing a particular ideology, and it should always be remembered that the wider community deserves our greatest support.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but it is important that nobody shirks their responsibilities. Park View trust was an academy for almost two years, and chapter nine of the report paints a sorry picture of the Department’s oversight. I hope she thinks it appropriate to apologise for those failures today and that she asks Les Lawrence to do the same.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of an education commissioner for the city, as I suggested to her on Friday. The commissioner’s first task is to ensure that teachers and officials who should not be in their jobs either resign or are removed, but the bigger task is to come together, with the city of Birmingham and the parents and pupils of Park View school, to rebuild trust and the pride of pupils and to ensure that the school’s reputation is turned around. Its best years lie ahead.
Let me begin where the right hon. Gentleman ended: absolutely, we need to look forward. Of course, the Department, Birmingham city council, Ofsted and others involved need to learn the lessons, but he is right: we are talking about children’s education, and we need to look to the future—to rebuild the schools and give parents confidence, particularly when families return to school in September, that lessons have been learned and that the teaching staff involved have been dealt with.
I am pleased that the new members of the Park View education trust are taking swift action to ensure that the behaviours reported by Peter Clarke have no place in schools. Obviously, I cannot comment on individual cases, but I am assured that the trust will be instigating disciplinary proceedings where appropriate. Also, the National College for Teaching and Leadership will take extensive evidence from Peter Clarke so that its misconduct panel can consider whether any teachers involved should be barred from the profession.
When the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and I gave evidence to the Prime Minister’s extremism taskforce, we emphasised the need for permanent cross-departmental co-operation. While I am pleased that the Secretary of State says she will work closely on this matter with the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government, will she try to persuade her Cabinet colleagues that it would be sensible to set up some sort of permanent machinery so that we can head off these sorts of episodes, rather than merely reacting to them?
I thank my hon. Friend for the intentions behind his question. He is right that I have mentioned the close working between my Department, the Home Office and DCLG, which will, of course, continue, and it is right to pay tribute to the former Secretary of State, who set up the division in the Department looking at extremism. However, I say this to my hon. Friend: let us wait and see; let me reflect on everything that has come out of the two reports and work out the best way for the Government to tackle these problems.
Ofsted inspects local authorities separately from local authority schools. The organisations that run academy chains perform similar functions to local authorities, but Ofsted is only allowed to inspect the schools, not the chains that run them. Given the concerns about what happened in Birmingham and, as the Minister for Schools acknowledged yesterday, elsewhere, will the Secretary of State now accept the need for the inspection of academy chains as well as the schools within them?
Will the Secretary of State consider the merits of a minimum curriculum entitlement for all state-funded schools, so that communities, parents and governors are in no doubt about what is meant by a “broad and balanced curriculum”, which every child should be entitled to?
I mentioned the phrase “broad and balanced curriculum” in my statement, and Ofsted’s new framework will contain more guidance on that. The Clarke report identified a narrowing of the curriculum, which I discussed with Sir Michael Wilshaw when I met him yesterday. We also discussed how to task inspectors with investigating undue narrowing and, in particular, when they go into schools, with ensuring that schools have not changed things in readiness for the inspection.
The Clarke and Kershaw reviews showed serious failings by Birmingham city council going back many years and not confined to one administration. Although it is right that the city council has apologised and said it will co-operate with the findings of both reviews, in the light of concerns raised in both reviews about the Department, why is the Secretary of State so relaxed that her own investigations will not report until late summer? In advance of their reporting, how can she have confidence to say “full speed ahead” with her education reforms, particularly when fragmentation between government, local authorities and others is a recurring theme in both reports?
The hon. Gentleman should not conclude that I am relaxed about this in any way, shape or form, but I think it is right to give the permanent secretary time to conduct and conclude the review. Since my appointment, I have seen no evidence of fragmentation; there is close working at all levels between schools, councils and organisations such as Ofsted, and that will continue under this reform process.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the tolerant should never be obliged to tolerate the intolerant; that the values of tolerance, freedom, democracy and the rule of law are the attributes of this country that make it so welcoming for many immigrant communities; and that robustly teaching those values will enhance and strengthen community values and relations, not weaken or undermine them?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. In defining fundamental British values, as he said, we talk about democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. From my work with the Muslim community in my constituency, I know how important mutual respect and tolerance are and how much of it there is already. Returning to my earlier point, that is the tragedy of what happened in Birmingham: this was a small group of people pushing a particular ideology. The wider Muslim community, and the community generally in Birmingham, would not have recognised what this group was trying to do.
All the reports into the Trojan horse letter find no evidence that children in our city have been turned into extremists or radicalised, which is welcome, but they highlight shocking and appalling governance failures of the most serious nature that we must all work together to fix. Is the Secretary of State aware that the way in which the whole affair has been handled and reported, with the leaks and the priority given by key figures to getting their message out first, has led to children at these schools being stigmatised, bullied and terrified that they will not get places at college or university or jobs because they have one of these schools on their CVs? What will she do to put this right and send a clear signal that she will be putting Birmingham school kids first?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady’s work on this process and the reports. She is absolutely right that we need to learn the lessons from the reports and that issues need to be addressed by all of us in the education system, locally, within the Department and by organisations such as Ofsted. I return to the question raised by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne): how do we move forward and help the schools to move forward? Getting the right teaching staff in place, appointing the commissioner to work with Birmingham city council and getting in leading head teachers, particularly to the trust where the members have resigned, will be a very good start. This will require many months, if not years, of working, but I am convinced that we can turn this around.
I also welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position and hope she treads a similar path to her outstanding predecessor. In that light, what approach does she favour in attempting to combat extremism—simply beating back the crocodiles that come too close to the boat, or draining the swamp?
I believe in looking forward and learning lessons; appreciating the work that I and many Members across the House do with our Muslim communities; recognising that the vast majority did not want or support what was happening in their schools; and looking to my Department and Birmingham city council to sort this out in order to provide the best possible education for children, which, we must not forget, is at the heart of this.
May I first disassociate myself from the shameful remarks of the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson)?
What happened in a handful of Birmingham schools was absolutely wrong, but the Secretary of State is absolutely right not to tar the entire Muslim community with the same brush. Does she accept that the problems in Birmingham are deep seated, long standing, and have involved all three political parties in successive administrations? Given that the council was right to say sorry, does she recognise, in the spirit of moving forward, that the Government should also express their regret? Will she now work with Birmingham to learn the lessons of what went wrong, to put things right in both Whitehall and the town hall, and to ensure that the interests of schoolchildren in Birmingham are put first?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I think that I have made it very clear that the interests of schoolchildren and their families must be at the heart of this. That is what our education system is all about. It is about preparing our young people for modern Britain and the modern world. The tragedy is that that has not happened to some of our children in Birmingham.
I also think that I have been very clear about failings at various levels and in various organisations. I will certainly be working with Birmingham city council, in particular through the new commissioner. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is issuing a written ministerial statement on wider working and wider lessons for the council at about this time. It has been discussed with Sir Albert Bore, and I believe that it is welcomed by him and his team.
I thank the excellent new Secretary of State for coming to the House and updating us. She referred in her statement to fundamental British values. Is there a definition of those somewhere in Government documents that we can look at?
There certainly is. Fundamental British values are defined as
“democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.
I have taken that definition from the Ofsted inspection handbook, but I suspect that it is in many other publications as well, and so it should be.
Because the problems in Birmingham were so long standing, I think that the solutions will not be straightforward. I was struck by the Secretary of State’s observation that Ofsted should be more sensitive to the signs of emerging problems, but, as problems emerge, who do governors and head teachers turn to? The difficulty in Birmingham was that they did not have anyone to turn to, and I am not sure that making Ofsted the organisation to turn to is the answer either. Will the Secretary of State flesh this out a little more? Where does she think the remedies for those emerging problems can be identified promptly, rather than at the late stage at which they would be identified by Ofsted?
I agree with the hon. Lady. As I said earlier, I think that one of the tragedies was the fact that many very good head teachers, teaching at outstanding schools, were somehow removed from the system by the governors involved. They did not have anyone to turn to, and when they did turn to someone, they were not taken seriously.
The Government recently announced the creation of eight regional school commissioners. Below them will be elected head teacher boards, which will consist of outstanding head teachers. I suggest that they will be the best people for teachers to turn to in the first instance, but I shall be happy to consider the hon. Lady’s comments further.
I welcome the recognition of what the Secretary of State has described as British values, which I would describe as liberal values. In the context of protecting people from extremist views, I am still concerned about the use of the word “extremism”. If what was taking place in the schools was not an example of extremism—and that has been stated—what example of extremism were these schoolchildren vulnerable to in their homes and their local communities? May I also ask how much of what was taking place would have been okay if it had taken place in faith schools?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to grab fundamental British values for the Liberal party, but I do not think he will blame me if I try to resist it.
The definition of extremism is in the Prevent strategy, and, actually, what Peter Clarke’s report says is that there was extremism, but no radicalism or extremism leading to violence. Extremism is defined as being
“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.”
The hon. Gentleman may not have had a chance to read the whole report yet, but I suspect that when he does, and when he sees some of the comments that have been swapped on the WhatsApp social media site, he—like many other Members—will be very shocked.
The Secretary of State may not remember, but I took the Education Committee, when I was chairing it, to Birmingham for a whole week. At that time, under Tim Brighouse, Birmingham was the most improved education authority in the country. What I learnt—what we all learnt—was that the Muslim population in Birmingham, like the Muslim population everywhere else, want good education for their children, and they want it for boys and for girls.
I have not had time to study the report yet, but I can say that we need to detect the minority of Muslim opinion that is coming from, who knows, Saudi Arabia or somewhere. This is not just a Birmingham question. We must be aware of it, and alert to it. I have visited many faith schools of this type, and I know that we must be careful to ensure that girls are treated on a fundamentally equal basis to boys. They should never be disadvantaged in respect of their education in this country.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is absolutely no place for segregation of boys and girls in British schools, and girls must be given every possible opportunity to do as well and achieve as much as, if not more than, boys. The hon. Gentleman’s comments are especially welcome on a day on which the Prime Minister is holding a girl summit, which is focusing particularly on early forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
I do not think that I was in the House when the hon. Gentleman was Chairman of the Education Committee, but I am glad to hear that his visit to Birmingham went well. One of the issues is that although some of the schools there were outstanding, the problems still occurred. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we cannot let up in trying to identify the problems. That is why I welcome the preventing extremism unit that has been set up in the Department, and why I will be expanding it.
The truth is that, in some areas of our country, it is difficult to recruit people of quality to participate in governing bodies, which makes such bodies vulnerable to a takeover by a narrow interest. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is incumbent on all of us who have leadership roles in our communities, including all Members of the House of Commons, to inspire and enthuse people who are interested in becoming school governors?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Being a school governor is an important role. What we do not want to do is make that role so burdensome that we put off really good people who would bring with them the skills that our schools need. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that those of us who are in positions in public life, such as Members of Parliament and councillors, should do all that we can to talent-spot and recommend good people to be school governors, because our schools need them.
I will touch on that with Sir Michael Wilshaw, but we should be clear about the fact that when something is on a list of things that Ofsted or anyone else must inspect, the organisation concerned must genuinely understand and inspect it, and not just tick the box.
There is a very complex mix here. For me, it includes some of the failed multicultural policies of the 1980s, political correctness gone mad, local party politics, and sheer religious ignorance. It will take some sensitivity and time to sort all that out. In the short term, however, may I ask the new Secretary of State not to take on a new bureaucracy—as promised by the Opposition—but to look to the professionalism of individual teachers, and consider some possible means of enabling them to report any individual concerns directly to the Department?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there is a very complex mix of issues at work, many of which have been present for a long, long time. He is also right to draw attention to the importance of the professionalism of teachers all over the country, some of whom, obviously, identified some of the problems. Those teachers should know that there are mechanisms allowing them to report their concerns, which include the ability to come directly to the Department, where those concerns will be taken seriously.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend, like me, listened to the excellent head teacher of Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham on the radio this morning. I thought that she was outstanding, and exemplified the professionalism and expertise of heads and other teachers in Birmingham and elsewhere.
In stressing the role of local head teachers on regional boards, the Secretary of State appears to recognise the need for local oversight of schools, but the position is still confused. Dividing the country into eight hardly achieves that localism. Will she clarify the role that the new schools commissioner for Birmingham will have in relation to the regional commissioner for the west midlands? Who will be in charge in that area?
I have a feeling that it was a Minister in the last Government, John Prescott, who really liked regional government, and regional government can work. The point is that this commissioner will be working in relation to Birmingham, and will work with the west midlands regional school commissioner. They will be working together—everyone is pulling in the same direction—to secure the best possible education for our children in schools.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her new appointment. Does this matter not remind us of the central importance of the role of governors in our schools? Does it not also remind us, therefore, of the need to focus on the skills of those governors, rather than stakeholder representation and so forth? First and foremost, the need is to make sure governors can speak to their communities and run their schools with confidence and with power.
My hon. Friend is entirely right that we want governing bodies to have all the necessary skills. We have recently changed the rules on the appointment of governors, who must now be appointed solely on the basis of the skills that they bring to contribute to the success of the school. That is absolutely critical.
Peter Clarke now recommends that the Department for Education review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status and become multi-agency trusts, and calls for greater transparency in the system. Will the Secretary of State now lift the veil of secrecy that her predecessor threw over the whole process of academisation and creation of free schools, because this report clearly identifies that that has contributed to these problems?
I am not sure about a veil of secrecy, but we will look again at our processes in these areas. We have taken action to strengthen checks on academy conversion, including by extending due diligence checks on those running academies and those schools converting to academy status. In the light of the report’s findings, we will want to keep those processes under review.
What Peter Clarke found was shocking, and I am pleased to see the swift action from the Government. While everyone will agree that we need to root out and stamp out extremism in our schools, many parents I spoke to over the weekend who wish their children to have a faith-based education were concerned that this could be used as an excuse for the Government to U-turn on their long-standing commitment to our faith-based schools. Can I have my right hon. Friend’s assurance that that will not be the case?
As well as the counter-extremism unit, my right hon. Friend’s predecessor put in place a whole set of measures for looking at barring teachers, making funding more difficult to exclude poor schools, and having no-notice inspections. Is it not vital that we reassure parents through the action that this Government have already taken?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. My predecessor certainly put in place a number of robust strategies to deal with this issue, and Ofsted has increased its use of no-notice inspections, particularly where it is concerned about behaviour or deteriorating results.
The problems in Birmingham schools are serious and undoubtedly need to be dealt with, as do all cases of poor governance, mismanagement and misconduct. In London people are concerned about the £2 million fraud within the Haberdashers’ Aske’s academy chain. How many more schools will need to be found wanting before this Government accept that their systems of accountability and oversight are not up to the job?
I utterly disagree with the hon. Lady. Schools have more accountability and are inspected more rigorously under this Government than they ever have been before, and the minute the Department is aware of any problems in schools, it will take swift action, as we have seen in relation to the schools in Birmingham.
In diverse places such as High Wycombe dedicated people have worked hard for many years to identify shared values and build harmonious communities, which often centre on our schools. [Interruption.] Will the Government take steps to ensure that a realistic concern is not allowed to tip into a panic which undermines the positive practices and outcomes which have been won after so much effort?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I heard sniggers from the Opposition Benches about the words he used about his constituency. If Opposition Members have no idea about the diversity of the community in High Wycombe, frankly they should visit it. [Interruption.]
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in relation to the communities in High Wycombe and he is absolutely right. We want a steady and firm but fair response to the findings of the Peter Clarke report. There are some important findings and I go back to my initial point: this is a small group of people in a small number of schools, community relations are critical, and this Government have done more than any other to tackle anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia.
Four years ago, with great assistance from the Secretary of State’s predecessor and the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb)—it is good to see him back—the new Gloucester academy was established and a multi-faith chaplaincy created, where an Anglican and a Muslim, Chris Blockley and Rafiq Patel, successfully served the pastoral and faith needs of the school. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a positive way to foster integrated schools and communities, with a focus on broadening, not narrowing, minds, building bridges, not barriers, and avoiding the dangers identified in Peter Clarke’s report, so that all children grow up knowing that what they have in common is much greater than any cultural or faith differences?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend and it sounds to me that Gloucester academy is both excellent and has thought its way through these issues and come up with a winning solution. By the sound of it, it typifies one of the fundamental British values I have already mentioned—tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs and mutual respect—and long may that continue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and the vigour she and her predecessor have brought to tackling the issue of extremism in our schools, but may I urge her not to listen to those who are seeking to use this case to undermine the Government’s reform agenda, which has seen such a positive expansion of academies?
I thank my hon. Friend. He knows me well enough to know that I do not listen to the siren voices from the Opposition Benches. As I said yesterday, I remain committed to the Government’s reform agenda, but the most important thing at the heart of all this is the education of our children, their future and making sure that they are able to take their place in a modern Britain and a modern world. That is exactly what the Department, working with teachers, head teachers and governors across the country, is focused on.
In my right hon. Friend’s statement, she made reference to the council’s own report by Ian Kershaw which concluded that the council’s inability to address these problems had been exacerbated “by a culture of not wanting to address difficult problems where there was a risk of accusations of racism or Islamophobia.” Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a chilling effect which prevents effective local government governance or effective governance in schools, where people do not have the confidence to tackle issues involving ethnic minorities because of the risk of being accused of being racist? How are her Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government going to come together to give such people the confidence they need to tackle these issues head-on?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that part of the report. It will be the experience of all Members on both sides of the House that, when dealing with issues in their communities, if we ignore a problem, it does not go away; it only gets bigger. That is what has happened here. The problems were highlighted, but they were not taken on board and they got bigger. I sincerely hope that the reports being published and the further work that all of us who are involved will do will give confidence to the governors, as my hon. Friend suggests.