The Guardian on 24 March carried a whole-page article on Sir Mike Tomlinson, with a section on Birmingham and a fatuous headline about ‘Ghostbuster’. This is BCASE’s letter to the Guardian in reply.
Peter Wilby’s claim (Guardian 24 March) that the centre-piece of the school improvement plan for all Birmingham schools that Tomlinson has stage-managed is an anti-extremism hotline simply adds fuel to the distorted message that Gove and the popular press have been promoting. How often does it need to be repeated that the various reports found unacceptable practices by some governors motivated by religious conservatism, but no evidence of Islamist extremism?
The plan largely consists of attainment targets and measures to reach them, coupled with improved training for governors and heads. It is a missed opportunity because it fails to engage with the long-term underlying educational issues which concern schools throughout the city: what should the relationship be between schools – including academies – the local authority and the communities; what should be the place of faith in schools, including non-denominational schools; and what do we mean by ‘teaching British values’? We should add the issue of widespread sexual discrimination in and outside school – beyond the very welcome policies on FGM and homophobia it is ignored in the plan.
The Trojan Horse affair was an opportunity to initiate an ongoing dialogue across the city about these issues, and in so doing to repair the immense damage that schools and communities have suffered, by creating new participatory educational partnerships between the local authority, the schools and the communities they serve. (A Children’s Zones approach would be one worth trialling.) Instead the communities, starting with the largely Muslim communities in east Birmingham, have been very largely excluded from the formation of the improvement plan and the developmental model it embodies.