Further inquiries into radical Islamic practices in some British schools were widened again yesterday amid contradictory reports of the nature of the investigation, The Times UK reported on Tuesday.
The extended probe will now look into 25 Birmingham schools and include over 200 testimonies or pieces of evidence.
The widening investigation conflicted with city council’s chief executive Mark Rogers’s denial last week of the existence of a radicalism plot conspiracy.
“I don’t believe there is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is such a damaging and loaded word. Easy to use, and difficult to prove,” Rogers told a local website, the Chamberlain Files.
“What we may be seeing are some individuals from communities who are asking questions about the kinds of custom and practices they want to see and whether they can fit in with the prevailing cultures and customs and practices. This is not about some radicalization agenda,” he added
Terrorism expert’s appointment
But further suspicions were raised about the nature of the investigation after the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove announced that terrorism expert Peter Clarke would be reviewing evidence, The Times reported.
The appointment immediately raised criticism from chief constable of West Midlands police, Chris Sims.
“This is a desperately unfortunate appointment. Peter Clarke has many qualities but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as national coordinator for counter terrorism,” Sims said, according to The Times.
Gove stood by the decision, saying: “Peter Clarke brings a wealth of relevant skills and experience, and is very well placed to lead a fair and thorough assessment of the evidence, and report back to me. We expect he will work closely with Birmingham city council.”
He added: “No pupils should be exposed to extremist views or radicalization while at school. I have tasked Peter Clarke with getting to the bottom of these allegations, so schools in Birmingham can continue the excellent progress that so many have been making.”
Among school practices that raised red flags were claims of segregation of girls and boys, extremist themes in lessons, and the withdrawal of female students from sexual education, physical education and music lessons, all legal requirements.
The treatment of female staff in the schools is also under investigation.
The probe was reportedly provoked by an anonymous letter allegedly from one Muslim to another encouraging Salafi Muslims to become school leaders and then use their position to introduce conservative Islamic practices.
A preliminary report, presented by chief advisor to the investigation Ian Kershaw, is expected next month. He will report to a review group headed by Stephen Rimmer, a senior Home Office official, and representatives from the police, education, faith leaders and politicians.