After education inspectors discovered six schools in Birmingham were promoting extreme agendas to segregate Muslim and non-Muslim students, Britain is now set to introduce mandatory teaching of “British values.” This first of a kind idea was conceived after allegations of an Islamic plot to infiltrate the public education system surfaced earlier this year.
The six schools accused in the plot were sanctioned on June 10 by inspectors who concluded they were failing to offer balanced education to all students. As details of the plot continue to surface, a furious internal row over handling the threat of extremism has been witnessed. British officials are now divided over two diametrically opposite strategies – while Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, has suggested early intervention to control radical teaching, the Home Office, responsible for police and security forces, said clamping down legal but extreme views will lead to counter-productive results.
Gove caught much flack after details of the alleged plot surfaced and he was forced to make a public apology while a senior aide from the Home Secretary decided to resign from his post.
“It’s the difference between firefighting and fire protection. The government is split between libertarians and the law-and-order Conservatives,” said Anthony Glees, who contributed to the parliamentary Homeland Security Group.
However, Gove’s current plan requires teachers to promote “British values” and encourage students to respect all faiths and communities. According to him, these values will instill a sense of democracy, liberty and tolerance within all students. Even though many people have criticized his proposal as unworkable and vague, he did manage to win the public support of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Asked what he thought British values were, Cameron said, “I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions… I think what Michael Gove has said is important and I think it will have the overwhelming support of everyone, including people who have come to settle in Britain and make their home in Britain.”
Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools, published a report on Tuesday saying there had been an organized campaign to target schools in Birmingham and force them to change their “character and ethos.” He said that some senior staff members and principals had faced “a culture of fear and intimidation” when they failed to abide by a hard-line Muslim approach within the state-funded schools.
“Some of our findings are deeply worrying, and in some ways quite shocking,” he said.
Wilshaw visited 21 schools after a letter outlining a secret plot to Islamize the school system was leaked. The Operation Trojan Horse letter, now widely considered to have been a hoax, was a how-to guide for Islamic radicals willing to take over public schools.
While some believe there may never have been such a plot, thorough investigations into the schools have revealed substantial evidence of conservative Islamic teaching being imposed upon students.
According to a report filed by the state’s education inspectors, school funds were being misused to set up madrassas and organize trips to Saudi Arabia, from which non-Muslim students had been excluded. The school authorities had also banned music lessons from the curriculum and stopped the circulation of Christmas raffles. Reportedly, the call to prayer was sounded over the public address system, biology lessons as well as sex education were restricted to comply with conservative Islamic teaching and Arabic was made compulsory for all students. Some also said that the authorities referred to western women as “white prostitutes” in front of students as young as six-years-old.
Gove has accepted that his department must answer questions about the way these teachings were allowed to be practiced.
“In several of the schools inspected, children are being badly prepared for life in modern Britain. We must all acknowledge there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism,” said Wilshaw.
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