LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron said he wants snap inspections at schools in response to “deeply concerning” allegations of a plot by extremist Muslims to take over schools in the English city of Birmingham.
In March an anonymous, unverified letter was made public, detailing a scheme to force state schools to adopt a more Islamic culture by installing school governors and teaching staff who would support a conservative Islamic religious agenda.
Last week the issue took on increased political significance for Cameron after two of his most senior ministers, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May, publicly criticised each other for their handling of the affair.
Seeking to reassert his control of the issue and his party, Cameron censured both ministers over the weekend and on Monday released a pre-emptive statement ahead of the publication of an investigation by Ofsted schools inspectors into the alleged plot, known as Operation Trojan Horse.
“Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response,” Cameron said in a statement issued by his office.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to deny schools the opportunity to cover up “activities that have no place in our society”, amid suggestions that schools had hastily arranged lessons to include Christianity teaching after being given notice of an inspection.
Cameron asked the government’s chief schools inspector to examine the practicalities of allowing school inspections without prior notice. He also said he was convening a meeting of the government’s extremism task force and that inspectors would maintain a regular presence in the schools, reporting back directly to him.
The opposition Labour party said Cameron’s response was “weak and inadequate”.
Previous inspections of five of the schools in 2012 and 2013, when they were given up to two days’ notice, had found them to be “good” or “outstanding”.
A statement from the Park View Educational Trust, which runs some of schools inspected in the latest wave, criticised the way the recent inspections had been carried out and rejected findings of a critical report on one school, saying it had been mischaracterised.
Reporting by William James; Editing by David Goodman