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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Tribunal upholds ban on UK school director accused of promoting Islamist teaching

Tahir Alam was identified as a central figure in an alleged attempt to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into some schools in Birmingham   

Michael Gove, a former UK education minister who ordered the 'Trojan Horse' inquiry in 2014. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Michael Gove, a former UK education minister who ordered the 'Trojan Horse' inquiry in 2014. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

A former schools director accused of orchestrating a plot to promote hardline Islamist religious teaching in British schools has lost his appeal against a government ban on holding leadership roles in mainstream education.

Tahir Alam was identified as a central figure in the so-called Trojan Horse affair, an alleged attempt to oust head teachers and introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into some schools in the city of Birmingham.

Mr Alam was banned from a management position at any independent school after the government found that he had undermined “fundamental British values”. Mr Alam, a former director of Park View Educational Trust which ran three schools in the city, was held responsible for inviting extremist speakers to address pupils, the use of unacceptable teaching materials and promoting intolerance, according to a Government notice.

Mr Alam appealed the ruling this year backed by £20,000 of public donations and a legal team working for free on his case. But a tribunal found against him in June in a ruling that was withheld from publication because of the “sensitivity of the evidence”, according to a government spokesman. Officials have declined to release the full conclusions of the tribunal to The National.

Mr Alam – who has worked in education for 20 years - laid out plans of how state schools should meet the needs of an estimated 400,000 Muslim pupils in a paper published by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in 2007, which included recommendations on foreign language teaching, collective religious worship and the nature of the curriculum. The Muslim Brotherhood played an important role in setting up and running the MCB, according to a report on the Brotherhood’s role in Britain ordered by then prime minister David Cameron in 2015.

Mr Alam says that he has been unjustly vilified by attempting to raise school standards by encouraging parents to hold leaders of failing schools to account in Birmingham. He will lodge an appeal in the next week, according to his lawyer. “He’s very much determined to pursue it to the highest court possible,” said the solicitor Talha Ahmad.

The affair was sparked by a letter leaked to a local authority which described Mr Alam as the prime mover in a five-point strategy to take over a number of schools in Birmingham by promoting like-minded parents on to governing bodies and to push out existing head teachers.

A succession of inquiries failed to discover who sent the letter in 2014 but the affair sparked a political furore, including a public dispute between two senior ministers in the government of David Cameron over who was to blame for failing to address extremism in UK schools.

A government-appointed inquiry found no evidence of terrorism or radicalisation at schools in Birmingham but concluded that there were people in positions of influence who “espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views,” said Peter Clarke, who headed one government-appointed inquiry.

His inquiry was passed details of a social media group known as the “Park View Brotherhood” that included senior teaching staff from the schools under investigation. The all-male group’s discussions included “highly offensive” comments about British troops, disparagement of different strands of Islam and scepticism about the truth of reports surrounding the death of Lee Rigby, a British soldier run over and stabbed to death by two radicalised Britons in southeast London in 2013.

“The numerous endorsements of hyperlinks to extremist speakers betray a collective mind-set that can fairly be described as an intolerant Islamist approach that denies the validity of alternative beliefs, lifestyles and value systems, including within Islam itself,” according to Mr Clarke’s 2015 report.

Mr Alam is only the second person to face lasting sanctions as a result of the inquiry. Five senior teachers who faced accusations of professional misconduct had the cases against them dropped because of flaws in the process earlier this year.

Two lifetime bans on teachers from one of the schools, Park View, were also overturned last year by the courts because of procedural failures in their case. The continuing fallout from the affair has raised questions that the education system remains ill-prepared to deal with similar allegations of such hard-line takeovers of schools.

A unit aimed at identifying extremism in schools was expanded after a 2015 government review found that education officials lacked “inquisitiveness” on issues relating to the infiltration by outside interests. Senior teaching sources told The National that they were not satisfied that adequate steps had been taken.

Ofsted inspected more than 20 schools in the city as a result of the allegations. The schools once under the control of the Park View Educational Trust were taken over by another schools group in 2015.

One of the schools, renamed as Rockwood Academy, launched a series of initiatives including an army cadet unit to “instil British pride in students and prevent them from being radicalised”, according to the school’s website.

Mr Alam – who has described the case against him as a witch-hunt - has been turned into a “toxic brand” because of his ban, according to his lawyer. He has even been rejected as a volunteer to teach English for a national refugee charity. “On the basis of this banning order, he has been barred from earning a living for himself,” said Mr Ahmad.