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UK inspector warns of Islamist ‘plot’ in schools

'In the most serious cases, a culture of fear and intimidation has taken grip,' said the UK's chief school inspector

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A culture of “fear and intimidation” exists in some British schools due to an alleged Islamist extremist plot, the UK’s top school inspector said on Monday, citing faith and gender segregation and a misuse of funds.

A government investigation, launched after an anonymous letter reported a campaign dubbed “Operation Trojan Horse,” found evidence of a drive to impose Muslim cultural norms in some schools in the central city of Birmingham, said Michael Wilshaw, head of the Ofsted schools inspectorate.

The investigation heard from some headteachers that the campaign, whose organizers were not named, aimed to alter the “character and ethos” of their schools by appointing members to school boards and staff who wanted to favour Muslim values.

“Some of our findings are deeply worrying, and in some ways quite shocking,” said Wilshaw, according to Reuters. “In the most serious cases, a culture of fear and intimidation has taken grip.”

In his nine-page report sent to Education Secretary Michael Gove, Wilshaw said some schools had shirked their responsibility to protect children against religious extremism.

The “Trojan Horse” furor exposed a rift between Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May, who is responsible for law and order.

Blame game

Newspaper reports based on leaks and anonymous briefings saw each department blame the other for failing to tackle the roots of extremism in the schools.

Gove told lawmakers in the British Parliament Monday that he planned new rules to ensure that “all schools actively promote British values,” according to the Associated Press.

But there may be little consensus on what those values are - or what constitutes extremism.

Ofsted has placed six of the schools in a ‘special measures’ category, meaning they had failed to provide acceptable education levels and could be closed if they do not improve. Senior managers and governors could also be dismissed.

David Hughes, vice-chairman of Park View Educational Trust which runs some of the schools implicated, rejected the report, saying the Ofsted inspections had been carried out in a climate of suspicion.

“The problem here is the knee-jerk actions of some politicians that have undermined the great work we do here and undermined community cohesion across Birmingham and across many of our cities,” he said.

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was concerned that the inspectors were conflating religious belief and extremism.

It said in a statement that “extremism will not be confronted if Muslims and their religious practices are considered as, at best, contrary to the values of this country, and at worst, seen as ‘the swamp’ that feeds extremism,” according to the AP.

(With Reuters and the Associated Press)