The Trojan Horse affair; an official’s version

John Holmwood

The claim that ‘hard-line Islamist’ governors and teachers were taking over schools in Birmingham (and elsewhere) emerged in early 2014. The story was actively promoted in the media, fuelled by leaks from the different investigations that were put in place by official bodies. Eight years later and few journalists have sought to revisit the affair, not even in the aftermath of the Serial/ New York Times Trojan Horse podcast. The latter provided a detailed examination of the affair and the letter that instigated it over eight episodes. However, no British journalist working in the mainstream media has sought to re-examine the affair in the light of the holes in the official narrative that the podcast revealed.

Instead, the response has been to reiterate the ‘findings’ of a number of different inquiries – for example, by Ofsted, the Education Funding Agency (EFA), the Clarke Report and the Kershaw Report. They all arrived at similar conclusions and, so, the ‘facts’, it is held, are not in dispute. Moreover, the convergence among the different inspections and inquiries, is, itself, also confirmation that something was seriously amiss.

This official version of the affair is central to a recent book on its aftermath, The Birmingham Book: Lessons in urban education leadership and policy from the Trojan Horse affair, edited by one of the key figures in a number of the inquiries, Colin Diamond. Although not responding to the podcast directly –  he is reported elsewhere as calling it ‘one-sided’ and ‘unethical’ – the book covers the main events, albeit with an eye on the future beyond the affair and the lessons learned.

The ‘facts’ that he and most other commentators believe to be confirmed, however, derive from uncorroborated claims by ‘whistleblowers’. These were leaked to the media by the Department for Education (DfE), and, to a lesser extent, by Birmingham City Council (BCC). They were later set out in the Clarke and Kershaw reports, both published in July 2014, where it was argued that they formed a pattern. However, no specific allegation was tested in these reports. The implication was that, even if some of the claims could not be corroborated, sufficient of them would remain to prove the case against the teachers and governors. Paragraph 6.6 of the Clarke Report, for example, lists 20 allegations against Park View School, together with the laconic observation that, “it is only fair to point out the Trust disputed most, if not all, of the … allegations.” As we shall see, the various inquiries were also not independent of each other.

The affair unravels

I will begin with the part of the Trojan Horse affair that Colin Diamond and mainstream media commentators do not discuss. This is what happened after the Clarke and Kershaw reports were published. Clarke proposed that professional misconduct hearings should be pursued against those involved. Cases were not begun against teachers and senior leaders associated with Park View Education Trust (PVET) until September 2015 and against teachers at Oldknow in November 2015. They were the first time that the allegations were properly formulated and the evidence to support the charges put forward. This was well over a year after the claims against the teachers were publicised and after major changes to the government’s counter extremism strategy, Prevent, were introduced following the affair (the consequences of the affair in a new Prevent duty on schools and other providers of public services plays little part in Diamond’s book).

Many of the lurid claims that formed the media narratives – of both conservative and liberal commentators, alike – did not make the ‘cut’. Moreover, the overarching charge that was laid against the teachers had nothing to do with ‘extremism’, but involved, ‘agreeing with others to the inclusion of an undue amount of religious influence in the education of pupils’ (as it was put in the NCTL Hearing against the senior leaders at PVET).

The cases dragged on for over eighteen months and in May 2017, the main case against the senior leaders collapsed and other actions were discontinued. The reason was malpractice by lawyers acting for the government who had failed to disclose evidence relevant to the defence. There was some outrage expressed in the media that the teachers had ‘got off’. There was no examination of the implications of the collapse from the perspective of the veracity of the claims made against them, nor of the nature of the charges that had been put forward against them.

Yet, from the first headlines about the affair in March 2014, its scale and scope had been slowly unravelling. It had started with 21 Ofsted investigations, 2 EFA investigations and 2 official reports, but had come to focus on just 4 schools. Media reports at the height of the affair anticipated as many as 100 teachers being charged with professional misconduct. In the event, 6 hearings were planned, involving just 12 teachers.

One hearing involving 2 teachers failed to get to the starting line; then there were 10. One hearing involving 2 teachers provided a guilty verdict, which was quashed at the High Court for procedural irregularities associated with non-disclosure of evidence; then there were 8. Another hearing ended with a not proven verdict, and  one other found the teacher guilty of minor irregularities meriting no further action; now there were 6.

The most significant of the cases involved 5 senior leaders at PVET (those charged included the white, atheist female head teacher and senior executive at the Trust, and a Sikh teacher). The collapse of this case left just 1 person, the acting head teacher at Oldknow who had joined the school in April 2013. He was found guilty. His case had been brought later than the others (in November 2015), but it concluded before the High Court quashed the first case, precipitating the concerns about the non-disclosure of evidence. By the time that the full extent of the misconduct by the government’s lawyers had become evident he was out of time for an appeal.

The slow unravelling of the cases against the teachers might have stimulated media interest, but it did not. The Panel’s judgement in the senior teachers’ case was also noteworthy. The defence had moved that the hearing be discontinued on the grounds that the case against the senior leaders had not been made out. The Panel was disinclined to accept this argument, but it also had to consider the implications of the newly disclosed evidence. It is important to note, as did the Panel, that the new evidence could have been included within the hearing. Although disclosed at a very late stage, it happened while the hearing was still underway and so could have been tested by extending the hearing (as had already occurred on several occasions). The Panel refused to discontinue on the grounds put forward by the defence, only to do so abruptly because of serious ‘impropriety’ by the government lawyers.

There was no media call for the lawyers to be charged with professional misconduct, no media examination of the specific charges that had been laid against the senior leaders, no examination of the evidence that had been put forward, or the arguments made in cross examination.[1] Instead, there was a simple default to the ‘facts’ supposedly already established by Clarke. Much of this is laid out in two episodes of the podcast (and in a book written by myself, together with Therese O’Toole, Countering Extremism in British Schools? The truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse affair).

Cleaning the stable?

Colin Diamond was appointed in August 2015 as deputy to Sir Mike Tomlinson who had been made education commissioner for Birmingham. Three years later Diamond left to take up a post as Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Birmingham where he runs an MA in Educational Leadership. The book is the fruit of that experience. It purports to be an insider’s account of rebuilding school governance in Birmingham, but it is coy about subjecting the affair itself to retrospective analysis.

Instead, it is something of a ‘bricolage’ with school leaders associated with the MA programme supplying chapters, each introduced with an editorial commentary by Diamond. I will not address the chapters separately (which are of variable quality, including some that are very good), but how they are interpreted by Diamond. Overall, the flavour of the book is well-captured by the foreword from Professor Mick Waters: “reading this book, it is easy to imagine the screenplay for a film of the ‘feel good’ genre. The vignettes appear so often. With the right music, a cinema audience would be carried along with a story offering an emotional switchback” (page iii).

It is clear that Diamond sees himself as a hero in the story, but he is reticent about his role. He decries the ‘Islamophobia’ of Michael Gove and media reports and suggests that it is mistaken to see the affair as being about ‘extremism’.  Indeed, at one point in the book he also declares his opposition to the idea of ‘fundamental British values’  – he calls it a “latter-day exhumation of the Tebbit test incorporated into statute” (page 336). Yet, even if the duty on schools to promote fundamental British values was introduced after the Trojan Horse affair and seemingly in response to it, they were a central concern of the Clarke Report and the other inspections. They were cited in the banning order issued against Tahir Alam in September 2015, for “conduct which is aimed at undermining fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.” Diamond seemingly affirms the veracity of the Clarke Report at the same time as distancing himself from its framing.

Much of what Diamond writes is self-justification after the fact, and it is not accompanied by any real reflection on his own role in the unfolding of the affair. According to him, ‘Trojan horse activities’ happened within the schools and needed to be stopped. Moreover, he believes that they were of long standing and have remained ever-present within the local community continuing to cause problems in the form of significant community pressures on school leaders –  for example, around LGBT issues (it doesn’t help that his introduction to a chapter on the parent protests of 2019 which discusses the ‘No Outsiders’ curriculum at Parkfield school treats that curriculum as being about prospective changes in sex and relationships education; it wasn’t, the curriculum was designed to promote ‘fundamental British values’ under the new Prevent duty).

What is needed, Diamond argues, is strong leaders with good relations with local communities. Cometh the hour…

Trojan Horse, the prequel

Let’s rehearse how this all squares with his own role in theaffair as an official within the DfE drafted in to organise its response to the Trojan Horse allegations.

We know from evidence disclosed in the misconduct case brought against the senior leaders at PVET that the DfE’s Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Unit (DDCE) were involved in the initial set of Ofsted inspections of 21 schools. They were also directly involved in the EFA inspections of PVET and Oldknow (these schools were the only ones where misconduct cases were brought against their teachers).

This preliminary focus on extremism in the planning of the inspections was denied by one of the inspectors in the hearings, but email messages prior to the inspections confirmed the active involvement of DDCE. Paragraph 124 of the Panel Hearing’s conclusions, for example, stated, “Had the emails which had recently been disclosed, and which had been shown to the Panel, been available at the time she gave evidence, the Panel considered it was reasonable to assume that, taking account of the thoroughness of the cross-examination, these emails would have been put to her to suggest that she had greater knowledge than she was prepared to admit with regard to the reasons for the inspections taking place.”

Prior to his appointment as deputy commissioner in Birmingham, Colin Diamond, on his own account, was the official at the DfE with responsibility for organising the EFA inspections. Like the inspector in her evidence to the misconduct hearing, he is also shy about the involvement of DDCE – “I was asked to pull together a team drawn from the department’s official educational adviser team (experienced school leaders and former Ofsted inspectors) who would work with Education Funding Agency staff to find out what was really going on in the PVET academies and in Oldknow Junior School following the Ofsted inspection judgements” (pages x-xi).

Diamond also fails to inform readers that the inspector involved in the two EFA investigations for which he was responsible – the one who was criticised in the Panel Hearing  conclusions – also went on to be educational adviser to Peter Clarke and drafted the sections on PVET and Oldknow in that report. So much for the idea that the different inspections and inquiries were dealing with findings arrived at separately. Moreover, they were all curated through the DDCE. Indeed, Mr Justice Philipps specifically commented (para 37) on the role of the head of the DDCE in amending the wording of the Panel judgement when quashing the case against the two teachers.

Diamond presents then Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, as ‘paranoid’ about Islam. He refers to events a year earlier at Al-Madinah, a faith-designated, ‘all-through’ school in Derby. This, he says, “felt like a dress rehearsal for the events that unfolded in Birmingham in early 2014, and is significant because it appeared to prove to Gove that there was indeed a thin line between the political Islamism advocated by a minority of the Muslim population and the views of the overall Muslim population in the UK” (page 22). The school had been set up in September 2012, but was declared inadequate by October 2013. As Diamond presents the story, it went in a space of a few months from being outstanding in its first inspection after being set up, to being placed in special measures. It would turn out that it was its non-Muslim headteacher, Andrew Cutts-Mackay, who acted as a ‘whistle-blower’ against the governing body.

This was one of a number of actions against Islamic faith schools initiated by the DfE around the same time. The Ofsted report indicated serious problems of governance, while the EFA report was concerned with financial mismanagement and irregularities. Neither report indicated a prefiguring of Trojan Horse concerns with ‘political Islamism’ although there were media reports of ‘religious hardliners’, including by Richard Kerbaj and Sian Griffiths for the Sunday Times. They would go on to write the first media reports on the Trojan Horse affair. Moreover, although financial irregularities at PVET were alleged in their EFA report, none were found in a subsequent audit conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers notwithstanding it being flagged as a possible concern within the EFA report. Why, does Colin Diamond connect them?

He does not say anything about his own walk on part in the ‘dress rehearsal’ at Al-Madinah where he was part of the team seeking to find a solution. This included seeking the support of various educational bodies representing Muslim interests, which would themselves come to be discredited by Clarke. Ultimately, this initial intervention in the school proved to be unsuccessful and the DfE resolved the situation by closing the secondary school and incorporating it within Greenwood Academies Trust. It is this experience that preceded Diamond’s role in relation to the EFA inspections of PVET and Oldknow. It is disingenuous, then, for him to represent the concern with ‘political Islam’ as simply deriving from Michael Gove. It is something he also brought to his own engagement with the Trojan Horse affair and it was deeply embedded within the DfE.

I mention these connections because they are important in how Clarke approached the Trojan Horse affair under the influence of DfE ‘insiders’. The example of Al-Madinah seems to have suggested that a ‘turnaround’ at a school – from ‘outstanding’ to ‘failing’ – could happen over a matter of months and be occasioned by the government’s flagship academies programme which gave governing bodies and senior leadership teams a free hand. This scenario would seem to be crucial in the only successful prosecution, that of the acting head teacher at Oldknow who had only joined the school in April 2013.

Park View had become a ‘converter academy’ in April 2012 following an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted inspection report. It was then invited by the DfE to become a Multi Academy Trust and ‘sponsor’ two failing schools, Nansen primary in October 2012 and Golden Hillock secondary school in October 2013. This was the ‘takeover’ described in the Trojan Horse letter of November 2013 outlining an Islamist plot. Of course, the academies programme involved introducing the practices and personnel from the sponsoring school. So what was it that was problematic about Park View’s practices?

Let’s turn to chapter 5 of the Clarke Report which purports to discover the ‘ideology’ (a term taken from the 2011 Prevent Strategy) attributed to PVET and its ‘agenda’. The core of this ideology is presented across paragraphs 5.2 and 5.3:

“Rejecting not only the secular and other religions, but also other strands of Islamic belief, it goes beyond the kind of social conservatism practised in some faith schools which may be consistent with universal human rights and respectful of other communities. It appears to be a deliberate attempt to convert secular state schools into exclusive faith schools in all but name. This agenda, though not necessarily the tactics involved, appears to stem from an international movement to increase the role of Islam in education. It is supported by bodies such as the Association of Muslim Schools–UK (AMS-UK), the International Board of Educational Research and Resources (IBERR), the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the recently closed Muslim Parents Association (MPA). The movement provides practical advice and religious legitimisation to those who, in the words of the IBERR, seek to ‘Islamise the provision of educational services’. Some of the individuals who have featured in the investigation were associated with, or held positions in, these bodies.”

Notice that none of these allegations about ‘ideology’ would form part of the professional misconduct case against the senior leaders at PVET and Oldknow. But it was a framing that was being developed by the DDCE. It is part of Colin Diamond’s account of the pressures on headteacher Cutts-McKay leading to the rapid collapse of Al-Madinah after a period of initial success.

This was the script that set up expectations about what happened at PVET and, at least initially, positioned the longstanding Headteacher at Park View and Chief Executive of PVET, Lindsey Clark, as being in a similar position to Cutts-Mackay. Ms Clark was expected to describe similar pressures to those described by him. She did not; instead, she endorsed the policies and practices that she had implemented together with her Chair of Governors, Tahir Alam. And so it was that a white, atheist and feminist headteacher would be charged with being a ring leader in a plot to Islamicise schools.

Notice, too, a possible explanation of why no-one was interested in the question that animates the Serial/NYT podcast of who wrote the Trojan Horse letter. If the circumstantial evidence they set out points towards the headteacher at Adderley primary school (who was confronting a difficult HR investigation), she is positioned as potentially a ‘whistleblower’ similar to Cutts-Mackay and, thereby, in need of protection. This was so notwithstanding possible problems in her methods – as the podcast sets out, Colin Diamond was assigned that role of managing the Council’s approach to the Adderley employment tribunal, given that it remained an LA school.

School improvement

The main focus of Diamond’s book is school improvement, especially in urban areas and for working class and ethnic minority young people. His story about the lessons from Birmingham is straightforward. School improvement can be achieved, he argues, by good school governance and a proper appreciation of the cultural and religious heritages of the pupils. Birmingham schools had longstanding problems going back to the 1990s and involving problematic behaviours of parents, governors and teachers, against which some brave senior leaders had stood out, albeit with local leadership from Birmingham Council and national leadership fracturing after the acceleration of the academies programme in 2010.

But this narrative bears little weight even if it has traction within the media. Sir Michael Wilshaw was also reported in an interview with a Sunday Times journalist before stepping down as Chief Inspector of Schools, as saying that, “Birmingham city council is ‘a rotten borough … beyond redemption’, whose powers to run schools and social services should be overhauled because children are at risk … ‘the “appalling children’s services” and “awful schools” in Britain’s second largest city had been his greatest cause of concern during his five years in office. He warned that a repeat of the so-called Trojan Horse scandal, which saw a radical Islamic ethos introduced to schools in the city, was likely unless the government acted.”

The poor general state of the council’s governance was the subject of the Kerslake Report, commissioned in July 2014 with a view to its possible break-up. It deferred the matter of schooling (a part of the wider scope of children’s services) to Kershaw and Clarke, but provided a statistical analysis (in an annexe to the report) that was missing in the Clarke and Kershaw reports, which provided no data on school performance in Birmingham. Kerslake reported in December 2014 together with comparisons between Birmingham and other similar councils – among them, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle – as well as England as a whole. On all measures – poverty, unemployment, adult qualifications – it was among the worst performing councils and below the national average.

The only exception was schooling, where Birmingham had out-performed all the other councils since 2008-9 in terms of the proportion of pupils achieving at least 5 GCSEs including English and Maths and had a higher proportion of schools judged to be ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

In effect, by the time of the Trojan Horse affair Birmingham was a model of school improvement. Indeed, an Ofsted/Audit Commission report in 2002 had declared its school improvement policy to be outstanding. Park View had also been a failing school in 1994 when Tahir Alam became a governor and, as Chair in 1997,  appointed Lindsey Clark as headteacher. By 2006 it was judged to be one of the most improved schools in England, and in 2012 it was judged by Ofsted under Sir Michael Wilshaw’s new, more rigorous inspection regime to be ‘outstanding’ and in the top 14% of schools in England by examination results.

In fact, it was an exemplar for the government’s argument that good schools could overcome socio-economic circumstances. For example, while 15% of pupils in schools nationally received free school meals (28% in Birmingham), over 70% of pupils received them in Park View, which indicates the deprivation which many of its children experienced. While over 80% of pupils at schools nationwide spoke English as a first language (64% in Birmingham), in Park View that figure was only 7.5%, adding to the immense challenges that the school managed to overcome. But 98.8% of Park View’s pupils were from a Muslim background, and it is that fact that was most salient in representing the school as ‘risky’.

Surprisingly, Colin Diamond does not discuss how these outcomes by PVET could have been achieved, despite his mantra that good outcomes depend on good governance. We can be certain, however, that had his book been written in 2012, there would have been a chapter by Tahir Alam, or Lindsey Clark, setting out their approach (9 of his 14 contributors, including Diamond himself, have an honour for services to education; Lindsey Clark was awarded an OBE in January 2014 and was due to retire in March at around the time the Trojan Horse story broke).

There is a chapter in the book on the subsequent ‘turnaround’ success of Rockwood Academy (the re-named Park View) by the chief executive of its MAT. But the school’s achievements at GCSE in the latest data are well below that of Park View in 2012 and below the current average for Birmingham, while that of Birmingham schools, more  generally, has also declined to be at the national average.

Other of Diamond’s governance heroes have question marks against them, too. Bev Mabey, author of a chapter in the book, and Chief Executive of Washbrook Heath MAT submitted her resignation in September 2021 following an EFA investigation and report into financial irregularities at the Trust in November 2020. Diamond also cites Pat Smart, CEO of Create Trust and former headteacher at Greet Primary School in Sparkhill as a guiding spirit. Greet primary had converted to academy status in 2016, having been judged outstanding at its last Ofsted report in 2007 (it had an interim assessment in 2011 when no issues were identified). Its latest Ofsted report just prior to the book’s publication was that it ‘required improvement’. Great leaders can also experience difficulties it would seem.

Despite the fragile status of some of his exemplars, Diamond seems to have a blind spot about acknowledging the success of Park View and the good governance through which it was achieved. Nowhere is this more evident than in his editorial introduction to the chapter by Kamal Hanif, who was appointed deputy head at the school in 2003 and continued his association through to the Trojan Horse allegations – according to Diamond, Hanif “recognises the damage done by a small group of governors at the time Park View became an academy and took on responsibility for Golden Hillock and Nansen schools, which then became the epicentre of Trojan Horse” (page 32).

Hanif’s chapter describes something else, specifically the damage of the Trojan Horse affair in terms of the aftermath of accusations against teachers and governors reinforcing suspicions about Muslim teachers and governors. In addition, he describes Park View school as having been beset by racist and Islamophobic attitudes among white staff, with which the senior leaders had to contend. In contrast, he comments that, “during my time at Park View, governance was fair, free and liberal” (page 47).

Diamond allows that there was racism at the school directed against pupils and staff, but does not pause to consider how this might have been bound up with the subsequent allegations made against Muslim teachers.

White allyship?

So just what was going on at the DfE at the time of Colin Diamond’s involvement there? Why does he swither between the idea that the Trojan Horse allegations apply to a brief period when schools became academies, formally free to pursue policies separate from those of local authorities, and the idea that the problems of harassment of senior teachers by Muslim parents, governors and teachers was longstanding. Indeed, it would seem that a different longstanding problem of ethnic minority underperformance was being addressed successfully and it was being done by greater involvement of parents with their children’s schools as ostensibly promoted by the official ideology of the academies programme.

In fact, the disbelief and dismay about this improvement was not restricted to racist factions within schools, as identified by Hanif, it was also being mobilised at the DfE.  Diamond refers to a third official report on the Trojan Horse affair by Chris Wormald, the permanent secretary at the DfE, in January 2015 about what the department had known about the affair prior to 2014. This report addressed a presentation to the DfE in 2010 by a Birmingham headteacher, Tim Boyes. The latter came armed with a Policy Exchange report on ‘Faith Schools we can Believe in’.

Although the latter report addressed faith-designated schools, it argued that there was a vulnerability of schools to extremism and that the “new academies and Free Schools programmes could be exploited unless urgent measures are taken to counter extremist influence.” (page 5). It recommended the setting up of a centralised ‘Due Diligence Unit’ within the DfE to offset the consequences of outsourced functions at the DfE. As already indicated, the DfE had begun actions against Islamic faith schools, including Al-Madinah, and, with its actions against PVET and Oldknow was beginning actions against academies serving Muslim pupils.

Boyes’s presentation to the DfE began from the Policy Exchange analysis and set out how the ethnic minority presence in Birmingham had grown, together with communities increasingly living parallel lives. He also argued that activists from within the Muslim community were putting pressure on schools, through governors linked with the Muslim Council of Britain, and that there was pressure to introduce Islamic collective worship in schools. Boyes argued that there was a specific problem of Muslim-majority schools to which the answer was that “schools in the Pakistani dominated wards need to be robustly  linked, not done to, with outer schools” (ie schools serving predominantly white pupils). In other words, trusts made up of Muslim-majority schools were potentially problematic, but this could be mitigated by placing Muslim majority schools in Trusts where the other schools, including the lead school, were white-majority.

Wormald’s report did not dwell too much on the implied failures in management of the academies programme, though it did argue that the DfE had been insufficiently vigilant. It argued that a proper response had been made, namely by setting up the new Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Unit (which was further enhanced after the Trojan Horse affair). This was the very unit that came to play such an important role in managing the DfE’s response to the Trojan Horse Affair.

Notice, too, that a connection between religious difference and alleged extremism is, from this moment, instituted within the DfE. We might expect Colin Diamond to say something about the role of religion in maintained schools. Certainly, the Clarke Report seemed to be misinformed, unaware of the requirement on all schools to teach religious education and to provide daily acts of collective worship. Under local authority responsibility, both aspects – curriculum and determinations for other than Christian collective worship – are the responsibility of the local Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE). However, academy schools do not need to follow the local SACRE curriculum and their applications (or renewals) for determinations for other than Christian collective worship are made to the DfE.

For the most part, Diamond says very little about religion. He argues that a multifaith locally agreed RE syllabus is “more important than ever” (page 340), and wishes academy schools to adopt it voluntarily. The Birmingham SACRE, Diamond argues, was “one of the few local organisations to emerge with credit from Ian Kershaw’s report” (page 340). In fact, PVET continued to teach the curriculum after Park View and its associated schools became academies. Diamond seems unaware that Humanists UK, who supported whistleblowers at Park View, had also had the Birmingham SACRE in its sights for its emphasis on learning from religion, rather than about religion and not including humanists within its representation.

What about collective worship? Diamond has even less to say on the topic, but one of his contributors, Heather Knights, CEO of the National Governors Association, identifies this as a key issue, indicating that her organisation has sought the end of this requirement. However, given that it continues to remain a requirement and that Park View had had a determination for Islamic collective worship from the SACRE since 1996, it is not clear how, or why, this became such an issue. The suspicion must be that the Trojan Horse affair was a convenient means of pursuing a secularist agenda, notwithstanding that the schools were acting within the law as it currently existed.

What we do know from the misconduct hearings is that the determinations at Park View and Oldknow were due for renewal in 2013. We also know that the DfE had in place no process and no expertise for evaluating them (they initially sought advice from the SACRE). Clarke had no understanding of the legislative requirements in the area, but, as we have already seen, an idea was forming in the DfE about the problematic nature of Muslim organisations and collective worship, in part as a consequence of the Al-Madinah ‘dress rehearsal’, but also through the Policy Exchange report and Boyes’s submission to the DfE. The applications for renewal of the determinations alerted the DDCE and set in train actions to protect the academies programme from its ‘subversion’ by new converter and sponsored schools.

Two versions of what happened were parlayed. One that it represented longstanding problems in Birmingham, the second that it was a problem of newly formed academies. In truth, it was neither. The school improvement programme in Birmingham had delivered success, including the increased representation of ethnic minority and minority religious school leaders. Several chapters in the book show the reversal of that representation (Warmington, Campbell-Stephens, Iqbal) and especially of Muslim school leaders as a consequence of  the Trojan Horse affair.

Diamond’s solution is that there should be a network of partnerships connected through successful trusts to create a local system for cities that would “enable the co-construction and co-delivery of school improvement” (page 333). He describes how this was set up in Birmingham, together with Birmingham Educational Partnership (a newly-established  independent agency), the council and DfE (including the DDCE), and the Regional School Commissioner (page 334). Diamond describes himself  as a ‘White ally’ (page 350), but, perhaps unsurprisingly, what he proposes is remarkably like the solution that Tim Boyes described to the DfE in 2010. Indeed, Boyes re-emerged in 2015 as the CEO of Birmingham Educational Partnerships that sits at the centre of the local system in which BAME interests are to be nested.


There is one thing that all can agree on about the Trojan Horse affair. It set back school improvement in Birmingham, it undermined community schools, it reduced ethnic minority participation in leadership positions in schools, and it made the participation of ethnic minority educationalist –  whether as teachers or governors – more precarious. The official view – including that of Colin Diamond – is that these consequences should also be laid at the door of the governors and teachers associated with Park View and Oldknow. As I have shown, this is barely credible.

It is clear that the DfE believed that the problems they identified with the schools at the centre of the affair had  emerged over a short period of time after the schools became academies in 2012. In fact, there was no evidence that anything had changed and the takeover of other schools was with the approval of the DfE and the involvement of their school improvement officials. They agreed to the appointment of staff from Park View (and, in prospect, from Oldknow) into interim positions to bring about necessary change. However, the official inquiries threw up a cordon sanitaire around the DfE’s involvement similar to that which the Serial/NYT podcast found at Adderley Primary.

Instead, the DfE and BCC allowed the idea that what Colin Diamond calls ‘Trojan Horse activities’ stretched back to 1996 and earlier. In contrast, as I have shown, while the period from 1996 to 2012 was characterised by increased involvement of ethnic minority educationalists in school governance and leadership in Birmingham, it was also a period in which the school improvement programme achieved considerable success and outperformed other comparable cities. It did so against considerable hostility from white professionals as some of the contributors to Diamond’s book set out.

It would seem that it was ‘ideological extremists’ at the DfE that wrought the damaging consequences of the Trojan Horse affair. They traduced a poor Muslim community and educationalists working to secure the educational rights of its children for their own political advantage. They were aided and abetted by the media, but the main explanation of their ability to control the narrative was that, under the academies programme, education has become highly centralised with no countervailing powers. All the main agencies involved in evaluating the affair –  Ofsted, the EFA, the Clarke Inquiry and the NCTL – were agencies of the DfE. Ian Kershaw – brought in by BCC – was the Managing Director of Northern Education Ltd (a private company providing educational services). He became CEO of Northern Education multi-academy trust in October of 2014, which he left in 2017 following criticism by Ofsted of its failure to raise standards in its schools. [Article modified 04.10.22 following clarification by Mr Kershaw].

The most damaging legacy of the Trojan Horse affair is the subordination of schools to arbitrary, centralised and authoritarian power and the failure of the liberal media to hold that power to account. Colin Diamond’s book merits close reading to uncover the alternative narrative within it that cannot be suppressed – no matter how hard its editor looks away.


[1] A defence barrister in the case discusses the way in which witness statements to the Clarke inquiry were given and how they were converted into witness statements here.

John Holmwood is emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham . He is the author (with Therese O’Toole) of Countering Extremism in British Schools: The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair (Policy Press 2018) and (with Gurminder K. Bhambra) Colonialism and Modern Social Theory (Polity 2021).

Header image credit: Wilshaw chats to pupils at Park View school. Photograph: Andrew Fox for the Guardian


Holmwood, John 2022. ‘The Trojan Horse affair; an official’s version’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (2):