The Real “Trojan Horse” Scandal in Birmingham Schools

The so-called “Trojan Horse” plot of 2014 raised numerous concerns about the Islamisation of education in a range of inner city schools in Birmingham. Ofsted investigations of 21 schools explored these concerns at the behest of the then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove MP. At the head of this so-called plot, a certain Tahir Alam, faced the brunt of the media and political furore.

At first, Birmingham local authority was keen to dispel fears over Islamism in Birmingham when the matter entered into the public domain. This was largely to protect the reputation of the city, which continues to come to terms with deindustrialisation whilst it grows ever more ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse.

In the end, as part of the government’s counter-terrorism policy the accusations of the “Islamisation” of education in these “Trojan Horse” schools foreshadowed the additional securitisation of all sectors of education; however, there was neither the evidence nor the legal justification to ratchet up anti-extremism education measures that eventually followed, namely the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The consequences of the negative attention heightened exiting Islamophobia.

The “Trojan Horse” saga was a realisation of the extent of racism, now wholly concentrated on Muslims in Britain through the governmentality of counter-extremism policy frameworks. Projected as representing all that is least desired about the self, the irony is that British Muslims, in reality, are more of a part of British life than ever. The “Trojan Horse” affair merely uncovered the fear and loathing of conservative Islam and pious Muslims in sectors of society who have the most power but the least understanding or gumption about the causes of radicalisation beyond the rhetoric that the source is certain forms of Islam or a lack of “values”.

In the mid-1980s, the Birmingham education system severely damaged the life chances of young people in inner city areas when school closures concentrated deprivation and disadvantage. The 1990s highlighted mismanagement and poor leadership in these same schools. The current generation of young Muslims in inner city Birmingham is in the exact identical schools and in precisely the same areas. Over the past four decades, little seems to have changed. The dominant paradigm is to continue to accept underperformance among these young Muslims as an unbreakable chain.

Beyond the realm of education, there is also the wider problem of misrecognising the city of Birmingham as a “hotbed” of radicalisation and violent extremism, an issue that very much came to the fore in the light of the Westminster attacks on 22 March 2017. As the assailant had lived in the city for a period, albeit a matter of a few months, it was enough to create a global outcry in relation to questions of radicalisation and the identity of an entire city.

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