Birmingham schools: have extremists taken over?

June 11, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Television

Earlier this month, the school’s regulator OFSTED released their report on 21 Birmingham schools, after allegations of pupils being vulnerable to ‘Islamic extremism’. It was triggered by a mysterious letter stating that a small group of Islamic fundamentalists had taken over the management of the schools, and were forcing them to teach under religious, rather than secular principles.

Many staff in Birmingham’s schools have hit out against these statements. They say that the whole issue has been grossly over-exaggerated, and that there was little evidence of any Islamic takeover. Many have also said that the incident is being used as a political football ahead of next year’s general election, and that it has deeply distressed many of their pupils taking exams.

So what did happen in Birmingham? Did politicians and the media distort and sensationalise the events? And what kind of effect will it have not just in Birmingham’s schools, but in other areas with a high percentage of Muslim pupils? Read the rest of this entry →

‘Trojan Horses’ and Policing ‘Extremism’ in Schools

June 7, 2014 in Blog

School class

What happens in a secular schooling system when, free from ‘the shackles’ of elected local government, parents exercise the choice the state gives them and their school chooses to reflect its community’s aspirations in the way it caters for the “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” of children? What happens when the community that school serves is predominantly Muslim, even though the school is not a faith-based school?

The intriguing ‘Trojan Horse’ school debacle in Birmingham is set to run and run. What is extraordinary about it, however, is the fact that although it says more about the unmanageable shambles that is schooling provision in the country right now, than about Islamic extremism in schools, however that’s defined, there is very little comment about this aspect of the whole sorry saga.

The first and most obvious thing to be said is that Park View School is an Academy, a Mathematics and Science Academy, in Alum Rock, a socially deprived area of Birmingham with a largely Muslim population. As such, it enjoys the unrestricted powers of any other Academy, including the right to set its own curriculum and not follow the National Curriculum. It is not a denominational school like the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Church of England schools to be found in many a city in England, but its student population is predominantly Muslim.

The second obvious thing to be said is that, like any predominantly Christian community, people who call themselves Muslim do not all believe the same things, behave in the same ways or have the same expectations of schooling. Christians vary widely in their views about salvation, gender and gender subordination, wealth, social justice, sex education, sexual conduct, same sex relationships, crime and punishment, and much else besides. So do Muslims.

What, then, is Michael Gove’s and Ofsted’s definition of ‘Islamic extremism’? Read the rest of this entry →

Panic over ‘Islamists’ in Birmingham schools is blatant racism

April 26, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

The following article was published by Socialist Worker on April 22nd, 2014.

A wave of Islamophobic panic has followed claims that “Islamists” are plotting to take over Birmingham schools.

And in the wake of the controversy, hated schools inspectorate Ofsted has been accused of telling some of the schools they will be failed for “not teaching anti-terrorism”.

Park View is one school being probed over claims of ‘Islamist plot’

Parkview is one school being probed over claims of ‘Islamist plot’

The claims of a “takeover” were detailed in an anonymous letter sent to Birmingham council last year. It refers to the alleged plot as “Operation Trojan Horse”.

Teachers and governors say the letter has sparked a rash of sensationalist reporting in the press that bears no relation to reality.

Even Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt jumped into the fray. He welcomed the investigation into the “so called Trojan Horse conspiracy” in a speech to the NASUWT teachers’ union conference.

Springfield primary school is one of those included in the Trojan Horse claims. A Daily Telegraph report last Saturday claimed that Ofsted would rate the school as “requiring improvement” following the allegations. Read the rest of this entry →

A tribute to Athelston Winston Best

March 29, 2014 in Blog

It is impossible to speak or write about the British schooling system and its engagement with the post-war Black presence these last 50 years without calling the name, Winston Best, over and over again.  Without doubt, Winston stands in the vanguard of the black working class movement in education and schooling as both an educator and an activist.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Athelston Winston Best. Photo courtesy of the Best family.

Winston (pictured right) was born on 15 August 1930 in Sugar Hill, St Joseph, Barbados, the first of six children of Luther and Lillian Best. Luther was a road builder and Lillian a market trader. Winston was big brother to Eulene, Gloria, Moriah, Lloyd and Owen. Gloria in Canada, Moriah in Brooklyn, Owen in Atlanta, Lloyd in Barbados and Eulene in Ipswich, East Anglia. Winston and later Lloyd came to England, Lloyd returning to Barbados after almost 40 years.

Winston attended Southborough Boys School, Clifton Hill, St Thomas. At that time, only primary schooling was free. Winston’s parents paid for him to attend secondary school. After secondary school, he left and went to work in Curacao where he spent 12 years with Shell doing oil refining. He became very active in labour organisation there with Len and Albert Mason.

Winston was therefore able to assist his parents in paying for his siblings to attend secondary school; he makes particular mention of Lloyd at Cumbermere and Owen at Lodge School. Lodge School was one of the most racially segregated schools in Barbados. Winston acknowledged that Patrick Simmons, former Barbados High Commissioner in England, was one of those who was instrumental in helping to break down what Winston described as the ‘apartheid schooling system’ at Lodge School and in Barbados generally.

In time, Winston took charge of the care of his parents. His mother died in 1984. Mert Pitt, childhood friend of Winston and lifelong friend of the Best family, helped to care for his mother in her twilight years. Read the rest of this entry →

Could you name a British black intellectual, now Stuart Hall has gone?

February 15, 2014 in Gus in the Media, Print

The Guardian newspaper published the article below on 15/02/2014

As a pioneer of cultural studies and coiner of the term “Thatcherism”,Prof Stuart Hall, who died this week, was in the truest sense a public intellectual. He was also something else: probably the only black British intellectual who most people could readily name.

A bit of prompting might produce mention of Paul Gilroy of King’s College, author of The Empire Strikes Back and Black Atlantic, who has recently returned to Britain after several years in America’s more fertile ebony towers. But how many other black British thinkers have a public profile? Read the rest of this entry →