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The Trojan Horse Storm

In an exclusive interview long-time Birmingham school governor ABID HUSSAIN talked to the Muslim Institute about his personal views on the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair that has convulsed the city’s schools.

According to Chinese traditions 2014 is the year of the horse. The irony of this is not lost on the residents of Birmingham as the city continues to be engulfed in the Trojan Horse storm which first came to light earlier this year with the circulation of the now infamous Trojan Horse letter

I first came across the ‘Trojan Horse plot’ when the primary school I am vice chair at received a copy of the letter earlier in the year. Reading through the letter I really wasn’t sure what to believe. To this day we’re none the wiser as to who penned the letter and how much of it is fact or fiction. By the time the letter was distributed the dye had been cast. Irrespective of the ratio of fact to fiction a story was unfolding. Our immediate response as a school was to bring the letter to the attention of the local authority - an action replicated across a broad range of schools that received a copy of the anonymous dossier.  This seemed to have little impact and the lack of visible response or action from the local authority only served to further escalate rumours and conspiracy theories.

Enter the TelegraphSunday Telegraph and the reporter Andrew Gilligan, and suddenly the silence from the local authority was replaced by allegation after allegation of bullying, inappropriate behaviour, failings in governance and a plot to radicalise and Islamise state and academy schools across Birmingham. As a governor of a local authority run school I expected more from the local authority. Fact or fiction they were slow to react. Damaging allegations were being made, reputations were on the line and most importantly the education and the welfare of our students across the city was being put into jeopardy.


When the school inspection body Ofsted came in I didn’t sense an immediate feeling of panic or concern from parents and local communities. This was after all the same inspection body that had rated many of the same schools as outstanding in previous inspections and had never once suggested there were deeper problems around governance, bullying or radicalisation. As parents, community members and governors across the city we all wanted to know what was happening.

Concerns around Ofsted visits only began to emerge as inspectors came in and out of schools, accompanied by reports of inspectors asking inappropriate questions. Gone were the challenging questions around attainment and achievement; the focus was now firmly on radicalisation, discrimination and religious fanaticism. This was no ordinary Ofsted inspection visit and it didn’t help reading other reports in national newspapers such as the Guardian that schools were repeat visited for inspections numerously in a short space of time, each time the findings becoming more negative and adverse.

Confidentiality is one of the most important aspects of being a school governor yet we were now seeing leak after leak to the press. The press were reporting on Ofsted inspections before schools were receiving the reports. The local authority remained silent, the Telegraph continued to print more exclusives and wave after wave of rebuttal from schools, governors, activists flooded my social media feeds. If Ofsted are right and the schools that were inspected are failing and failing spectacularly the biggest question for me is why didn’t Ofsted spot it sooner? If the problems have been around for as long as was being alleged, serious questions need to be answered by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate about process and procedures prior to the current round of inspections. The bigger question in the Trojan Horse debate is how far have the goal posts moved and have they moved permanently?


The legacy of Trojan Horse is one of suspicion and fear which has negatively impacted on the wider Muslim community. If you are a Muslim governor, teacher, teaching assistant or even a well-meaning parent what questions are you allowed to ask without fear of being labelled a radical or extremist?

Is the topic of halal food for example now strictly taboo? What about asking to talk about students fasting during Ramadan - is that now off limits too? With labels like extremist, radicalisation being thrown around, is any Muslim governor of a school now in danger of becoming regarded as a radical or an extremist?

British Values

There is that all too familiar feeling that we have once again become a political football and that the Muslim community here in Birmingham is once again under the spotlight. The affair has tarnished every school in Birmingham that has a similar demographic makeup. The media coverage has made no distinction and once again the wider community serves a collective punishment for the allegations against the few.

Nationally we are now having another debate about British values. I feel British, but I will feel even more British when people stop asking me where I come from. You’re always being questioned around your sense of Britishness even though surveys and polls show immigrant communities embody British values as much, or even more, than anybody else.

But now British values are being reframed with a political edge into something that you are prodded with, or challenged over. Are you one of us, or are you not with us? For me that’s really dangerous. I worry about my kids and the next generation.

Sectarian and political divisions

As Muslims it’s easy to get complacent about the media, after all we’re used to seeing a continuous stream of negative media stereotyping of the Muslim community.  A more alarming development in the Trojan Horse debate is the danger of greater sectarian division emerging across the city.

The local Labour MP Khalid Mahmood has been the most convinced there has been some kind of plot. He is of the opinion that the schools that have been put under special measures have been run by hard-line Muslims,  I am less convinced; the catchment areas for the schools includes a broad diversity of Muslim schools of thought across the Sunni and Shia community and I’m yet to see any parent campaign for election as a governor based on a sectarian card or on the basis of subscribing to a particular school of thought.  The whole Salafi / Sufi / Deobandee analysis feels ill researched and tiresome. In my eight years as a governor the only time there has been a significant issue or difference of opinion has been on the sighting of the moon at Eid and I have lost hope of us ever agreeing to see the same moon on the same night!

Interestingly there also seems to be genuine split within the Labour ranks in relation to Trojan Horse. There may be governance issues and real challenges to overcome in some of the schools recently placed into special measures, but the positions of Labour MPs including Shabana Mahmood and Liam Byrne seem more in line with the wider view of local parents and the community where there is a call for answers rather than further stereotypes being cast.

What next

I remain deeply troubled about the legacy of Trojan Horse on the community in Birmingham, I fear the negative climate being created will discourage articulate, professional and passionate Muslim parents from taking part in wider civic society.

Eight years ago I made a conscious decision to become a governor long before I became a parent and have remained at a school where my kids do not attend. The reasoning behind this has always been to give my all and to act with neutrality and fairness in serving my local community. I’m fortunate enough to be at a school where we have a great leadership team and there is a strong relationship between the governing body and the teaching staff. We are all there for the same reason and that is to give our kids the best start to their lives possible.

I’d echo the sentiment expressed by Shabana Mahmood MP at a recent well attended public meeting in Birmingham where she shared her concerns about the impact of the allegations made against schools in Birmingham on the children who are either being educated there or moving on. There are already stories of college applications taking longer to process and reports of bullying and verbal abuse aimed at kids who may have attended some of the schools involved.

As I write this article not much seems to have changed in Birmingham - more reports are published, more evidence is being given at select committees, more stories are being published and more petitions are being signed. For now my thoughts and prayers are with the children, particularly those at the affected secondary schools who will be receiving their GCSE results this year whilst taking their exams in the full glare of the Trojan Horse saga. I hope they continue to inspire and outperform.