There’s a lot of bad journalism about Muslims in this country, but not all of it is at the tabloid “Islamic-only toilets” end of the market. On the subject of the hardline takeover of Birmingham schools, I think The Guardian may be Britain’s most dishonest newspaper.
It’s a very good paper in some ways – but it has a complete blind spot about any story involving Islamists. Its coverage of Tower Hamlets has been spectacularly misleading. And the reporting on Trojan Horse by its education editor, Richard Adams, has been execrable.
Mr Adams now pronounces the entire saga a “crude witch-hunt” based on “not much evidence of anything,” claiming that “most” of the allegations of “segregated classes, compulsory prayers and incendiary preachers at school assemblies … have crumbled under examination.”
The evidence of “incendiary preachers at school assemblies” – Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, an al-Qaeda sympathiser, at Park View School on November 28 2013 – in fact comes from one of the school’s official newsletters, still available on its own website (see photo above, from page 17 of this PDF).
At another of the schools, Oldknow, an official Education Funding Agency report finds that the Arabic teacher, Asif Khan, led anti-Christian chanting in assemblies (though also records his denial). I too have been told about Mr Khan’s anti-Christian assembly by four separate sources, one of them on the record. There is other on-the-record testimony that Park View’s head, Mozz Hussain, preached “mind-blowing” anti-American assemblies.
The evidence of “segregated classes” comes from both this EFA report and another one, into Park View, Nansen and Golden Hillock schools,leaked to me, which states that “teachers gave [students] seats in which to sit in class by gender to avoid having to mix” and that “students told us that they were required to sit in the places which they were given by teachers,” often with “boys sitting towards the front of the class and girls at the back or around the sides.” The relevant sections of the report are published on this blog.
At Golden Hillock, according to the EFA, non-Muslim pupils “had to teach themselves” in one subject. At Nansen, there is compulsory Arabic (in a primary school!) and no teaching of the arts for one entire year group. Nansen’s deputy head, Razwan Faraz, is administrator of a group called “Educational Activists” which also includes key staff and governors from several of the other schools and which pursues, in Mr Faraz’s words, an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham’s schools. Park View’s chair of governors, Tahir Alam, is co-author of a document which calls for the teaching of art, drama and dance to Muslims to be restricted and Muslim girls to be veiled in school.
Non-Muslim heads at five schools in a tiny area of Birmingham have left their jobs in the last six months. The general secretary of the headteachers’ union, Russell Hobby, says the union has found “concerted efforts” by hardliners to infiltrate Birmingham schools, is working with 30 of its members in 12 schools and has “serious concerns” about six of them – the same six being placed into special measures. Another of the schools targeted, Adderley, has released an official statement confirming that its head, a moderate Muslim, and other heads have been subjected to “malicious and targeted campaigns to remove them.”
Now I have no problem with taking a position on a story. I’ve taken a clear position on this one. By definition, all investigative journalism does that – whether it’s saying that Richard Nixon was a crook, or that News International hacked people’s phones. I accept, too, that different people can honestly hold different views.
But whatever you say has to be true to the best of your knowledge and belief. It has to be backed up by evidence. And it has to take proper account of any evidence against what you are reporting. You have to be sure that it does not outweigh the evidence in favour.
Over the last few months, I’ve carefully read all the “evidence against” that Mr Adams has produced in his exhaustive investigative researches. It appears to consist largely of making escorted trips to the schools concerned during which he spoke only to pupils and staff chosen by the management – an exercise summed up by one of the commenters under his own article as “Everyone was happy on our state guided tour of North Korea.”
Another Guardian effort was the letter, splashed on by the paper, from what it described as 20 “educational experts” attacking Ofsted for changing its judgment on the schools since they were last inspected. “It is beyond belief,” said the experts, “that schools which were judged less than a year ago to be ‘outstanding’ are now widely reported as ‘inadequate,’ despite having the same curriculum, the same students, the same leadership team and the same governing body.”
Beyond belief indeed: in fact, only two of the schools, Park View and Oldknow, were previously judged “oustanding,” and neither of them have the same leadership team as when previously inspected. As we have reported, Oldknow’s head, Bhupinder Kondal, was driven out earlier this year, and three of her five assistant or deputy heads have also left. At Park View, the executive head, Lindsey Clark, has retired, telling Ofsted that she was marginalised. Nor is it “less than a year” since these schools were previously inspected. Park View was previously inspected in January 2012 and Oldknow in January 2013.
The letter’s signatories, incidentally, include Ibrahim Hewitt, who (as you wouldn’t know from The Guardian) has written a book calling foradulterers to be stoned to death and gays to be given a hundred lashes– and in his spare time chairs a charity, Interpal, branded a “specially designated global terrorist” by the US Treasury. (Interpal's ever-vigilant lawyers always insist we add that in the UK, the Charity Commission did not find against Interpal.)
Then there are those well-known educational experts Massoud Shadjareh, a political activist who criticised the “demonisation” of Abu Hamza; Arzu Merali, who is expecting a new “Spanish Inquisition” against Muslims; Farooq Murad, head of the Islamist-dominated leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and ex-chair of a charity, Muslim Aid, which hasfunded terrorist groups; and Salma Yaqoob, former leader of the Respect party and a pyschotherapist by profession.
There are some signatories without Islamist sympathies and with actual educational credentials, but the main one, Professor Tim Brighouse, is perhaps a tiny bit tainted by the fact that he used to run Birmingham education authority at the time the Trojan Horse plot was grinding into gear in his schools. (There’s also a man, M G Khan, who, though The Guardian coyly neglects to mention this, is a governor of one of the schools being put into special measures!)
The other problem with the argument that “Ofsted used to like us” is that it feels a little bit like, say, Lehman Brothers protesting that the Financial Services Authority didn’t raise any concerns in the years before it went bust. Regulators often miss the great scandals. That’s partly why they become scandals. Several of these inspections were conducted in the halcyon days when Ofsted gave schools 48 hours’ notice – easily long enough for them to put on a show, as they did for Mr Adams. In short, none of the “evidence against” the story presented by the schools or The Guardian carries anything like enough weight to overcome the mass of evidence in the story’s favour.
I’d like to say it’s nice that the cynical old trade of news still has room for people like Richard Adams, prepared to think the best of everyone and take at face value whatever he’s told. But I think he’s done more than that – he’s ignored evidence, or misrepresented it as “crumbling” if it doesn’t fit his version of events. That’s not just bad journalism, but a betrayal of the liberal and progressive values The Guardian is supposed to fight for.