Author - Discover Society


Sally Tomlinson

How far has Ignorance – one of William Beveridge’s five Giants that stalked the land in 1942 – been overcome some eighty years later?  My father left school at 14 in 1914, becoming a messenger on a bike for the army in the Great War. At the start of World War 2, in 1939, some 88% of young people still left school at 14 – not much progress there. But over the next 80 years, through which I have lived, starting school as a child evacuee, the Giant was hobbled if not completely eradicated. Ignorance seems, however, to have regrouped and recovered as the free market ideology, dating especially from the Thatcher years, has produced in England, (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have separate systems)  a pointlessly competitive and  potentially corrupt  schooling system.  

Other countries in post-war Europe managed to banish much ignorance in their populations through more just and equitable education, without the often hostile denigration of England’s state-maintained system and its teachers.  Schools in England have been turned into business-oriented institutions with all the claims for confidentiality, efficiency and performance that characterize business.  Parents have been demonized as vigilantes at worst and nuisances at best. Criticism of policy and practice is discouraged and claims that governments are interested in ‘what works’ avoids the question ‘works for whom?’

There have been many advances in education over the years, especially up to the 1970s. But Beveridge himself envisaged only a simple system of more literacy, numeracy and skills for the working classes, and noted the hostility of many of his own class to educating the masses.  The determination of many politicians and policy-makers to retain a social-class based school system, extolling ‘academic’ schooling, downgrading the ’vocational’ and allowing the obscene levels of child poverty that now characterizes our post-pandemic society, has helped to reproduce a divided and divisive system.

The people in charge of a state-maintained system have, even today, almost all been educated in a separate private system, with an astonishing number attending the University of Oxford

The people in charge of a state-maintained system have, even today, almost all been educated in a separate private system, with an astonishing number attending the University of Oxford, with some clinging to eugenic beliefs that the ‘lower’ classes and some minorities have lower innate intellectual capacities. As one writer has suggested, it is ‘public schools boys’ who still mainly run and perhaps ‘ruin’ Britain (Verkaik 2018). They are supporters of a theory of ignorance – agnotology. This describes the deliberate production of ignorance by those with power, who use lies and misinformation to confuse and control the rest of us. Attendance at the ‘public’ school Eton makes it far more likely that a person will end up as Prime Minister! Our recent Prime Minister, Liz Truss, is unusual in that she actually attended a comprehensive school before she went on to take a degree at Oxford University, but she has tried to suggest her old school was not good enough, which infuriated the school!

So how did the English school system go about deciding who should get certain kinds of knowledge and who should be kept ignorant of much important knowledge. Cyril Norwood’s 1943 White Paper on educational reconstruction and the 1944 Butler Education Act famously recommended schooling from 5-15 years with ‘elementary’, now primary, school to 11 years. This was to be followed by attendance at one of three types of secondary school: grammar, technical or secondary modern, plus special schooling for those with a ‘disability of body or mind’ and an exam at 11 to ‘select’ the academic child, who, like me, often left school not knowing how to change a light bulb.

By the 1970s only a small number of local authorities retained their grammar schools, with a vociferous lobby that continues to the present day to urge grammar school expansion with rampant hostility towards comprehensive schooling. Many urban secondary modern schools, underfunded and with a high turnover of teachers, became the  comprehensives so easily derided into the 21st century as ‘bog standard’ and ripe for conversion into ‘Academies’.

The establishment of Academy schools and their Trusts as corporate entities responsible for their own budgets, outside the purview of local education authorities, and with their expansion into Multi-Academy Trusts (MATS),  removed many powers from local authorities. It also diverted funds from actual teaching and learning into the high salaries of CEOs and payments to unelected Trustees who manage multiple schools and the education of hundreds, if not thousands of children. The academization rigmarole has left the public largely ignorant of  how schools are run and operate, and some parents, particularly of those with  children  with special educational needs,  furious  as to how the government  makes claims about provision which are simply not fulfilled.  It has also created, as many commentators have pointed out, a system that is ripe for corruption and lacks any democratic underpinning.

The success of comprehensive schooling has exposed the lies about every child’s ability to learn and represents a genuine removal of ignorance

But the slow success in attacking the Giant of Ignorance was based on an expansion of schooling first to age 15, then in 1972 to 16, then in 2013 joining other European countries in requiring young people to stay in education  or skills training to 18. The success of comprehensive schooling has exposed the lies about every child’s ability to learn and represents a genuine removal of ignorance. Despite this, governments over the years have consistently refused to acknowledge the benefits of teaching children of all backgrounds together, as happens in Finland and Canada, which top international exam league tables such as PISA (the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment).

Further success in overcoming ignorance has been the gradual acceptance that girls’ brains are equal to those of boys, although even up to the 1960s a report suggested that a majority of girls should primarily  be educated to be wives and mothers. Once girls were offered more equal schooling, by the 2000s they began to outperform boys at almost all levels in tests and examinations, including in 2021 in maths examinations at 16. But women teachers did not receive equal pay with men until 1960, and women still struggle to translate their educational success into business and professional lives.  

Another success has been a focus on the early years, those who were termed ‘infants’ and were taught in separate infant schools into the 1960s. Early years education in nursery and reception classes has become an important policy focus. Nationwide, Children’s Centres, despite funding reductions and being part privatized, have become a way of guarding against ignorances in later years.

By the1980s with more comprehensive schools established and Kenneth Baker’s GCSE (with all its faults) in place, test scores rose steadily

Lies and misinformation abound on the standards front.  By improving primary education and allowing   more secondary students to actually prepare for and take examinations, standards as measured by test results rose steadily. Attempts by eugenically inclined Black Paper writers and some politicians to claim that standards were, or are, falling or slipping are simply not true. In the 1960s some 20% of pupils took the (then) GCE, secondary modern pupils were downgraded to a lower type of exam (CSE). By the1980s with more comprehensive schools established and Kenneth Baker’s GCSE (with all its faults) in place, test scores rose steadily.

By 1991 some 50% of 16-year-olds taking GCSE exams passed with the benchmark of A–C, by 2018 nearly 70% of those who sat the exams gained the A–C equivalent. The 5% entering universities in Beveridge’s time had become 35% by the 1990s and well over 40% in the 2000s. A continued failure has been the lack of information, funding, resources and respect for Further Education and apprenticeships, which has left a trail of ignorance in its wake over provision for vocational courses and training in crucial skills.

Partial success at removing ignorance does include the greater attention paid to children and young people who, after Mary Warnock’s report in 1978, became children with special educational needs (disability added in 1995 to make SEND). Despite the failures in adequate funding, expanded labelling and confusing legislation both in schools and the wider society, there is now a much greater acceptance of educational needs and disabilities. Inclusion has become a popular concept, if not a reality. Schools continue to exclude pupils who are troublesome or problematic, especially if they fail to contribute to higher exam scores in the competitive market of testing and funding, and there is a potential resurgence of ignorance with the development of ‘Alternative Provision’.

There has been mixed success in the reduction of violence in schools since the legal violence allowing teachers to hit children was abolished in 1987 (1999 in private schools). Unlike other European countries it is still legal in 2022 for parents to hit their children. In some mainly urban schools, violence between pupils and gang rivalries spill over but by and large schools are reasonably orderly places. The harassment of girls, gay and trans pupils, and even teachers, aided by the use of social media is a new component of the Giant not envisaged or acknowledged in the Beveridge times. Schools can lay the basis but cannot be expected to teach civil and moral behaviour in a society that is not supportive of such behaviour.

The biggest barrier to reducing ignorance has been the narrowing of the school curriculum

But the biggest barrier to reducing Ignorance has been the narrowing of the school curriculum by successive governments into a vehicle for government-approved learning, the ultimate aim being to pass tests and examinations rather than to educate. Policed by Ofsteds, Ofquals and dictats on what can and cannot be taught and influenced by politicians who look back on their own ‘traditional’ schooling, extolling Latin and misunderstanding the digital world are all supports for Ignorance. Most teachers think that the curriculum does not contribute to the broad and balanced knowledge promised in legislation. The failure to teach the truthful history of imperialism and how Britain became multiracial and multicultural counts as a ‘Monstrous Ignorance’ which is slowly being recognized. The Black Lives Matter movement and the acknowledgement of racism in sport are currently doing more to educate the population and help decrease racism and xenophobia than schools.

Those in government during World War 2, Beveridge, Attlee and Butler, who had all been educated in ‘public’ schools, knew something of the lives of the ‘common people’, and they were joined in government by a few working-class men and women. The private system may have given them confidence and entitlement, but they had the humility to realize that the country not only needed a better educated work force, it also needed to become a fairer and more socially just democratic society.  It did not need the strategies that keep much of the population in ignorance and deny them important knowledge.

The Giant of Ignorance will not be demolished until a comprehensive school system and a fair, re-imagined common curriculum for all children and young people is the accepted mode of schooling

Those in charge now seem to have lost humility and empathy and to have minimal knowledge and understanding of the lives of most of their fellow citizens. The current private school and selective state policies seems guaranteed to perpetuate such ignorance.  The marketization and semi-privatization of schooling and the ending of much democratic control through local authorities are ugly and ignorant policies. The Giant of Ignorance will not be demolished until a comprehensive school system and a fair, re-imagined common curriculum for all children and young people is the accepted mode of schooling.

But this is not a fairy story, so never underestimate Giants.

Drawn from Sally Tomlinson’s book, Ignorance, with Agenda Publishing.


Verkaik, R. 2018. Posh Boys: How the English Public Schools Ruin Britain. London: Oneworld.

Sally Tomlinson started her career as a social worker and infant school teacher and has worked in higher education for over thirty-five years. She has taught, researched and written in the areas of race, ethnicity and education, educational policy and special and inclusive education and was a member of the Commission on the Future of Multi-ethnic Britain, which reported in 2000. She has held Professorial Chairs at the University of Lancaster, England;  University of Wales, Swansea; and as Goldsmiths Professor of Education Policy and Management at Goldsmiths, University of London, where she also served as a Pro-Warden (Vice Principal). She is now Emeritus Professor at Goldsmiths, and an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Education, University of Oxford.

Header Image Credit: Agenda Publishing


Tomlinson, Sally 2022. ‘Ignorance’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (3):


Ashwin Kumar

Beveridge was writing his report just as the UK emerged from two decades of very high unemployment.  Today, the labour market is very different.  Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK had the highest proportion of people in work ever recorded. 

High rates of employment have coincided with historically high rates of in-work poverty: far too many people find their wages insufficient to provide a decent standard of living

However, high rates of employment have coincided with historically high rates of in-work poverty: far too many people find their wages insufficient to provide a decent standard of living.  Many are stuck in jobs that offer virtually no training or development.  This is particularly bad for people – mostly women – working part-time, where existing skills are under-utilized and little or no support is provided for progression to better-paid work.  Legal innovation in the form of zero-hours and short-hours contracts has resulted in a return to forms of insecurity that seemed to have been made illegal in the 1960s.

These changes have not been reflected in public debate.  Too often, politicians on the left of centre talk about the need for more jobs whilst many on the right of centre vary between trumpeting high employment rates and saying that ‘shirkers’ should get off benefits and go to work.  It feels as if the debate is stuck in the 1980s or 1990s and fails to recognize where we are in the 2020s.  Today’s problem is not insufficient work but insufficient secure, good quality work.

Balance of power in the labour market

Underlying this crisis is the question of power.  The balance of power between low-paid workers and employers has shifted decisively towards the latter.  Too many people feel trapped by a lack of progression options, and by the lack of alternative jobs that offer a better future. 

If employers know that getting another job isn’t a realistic possibility, what is their incentive to try harder to keep you?

The evidence shows that leaving a job for another one is the best way to get a pay rise.  If employers know that getting another job isn’t a realistic possibility, what is their incentive to try harder to keep you?

The state should have an interest in promoting good work, decent pay and better progression.  A better-paid population is happier, healthier and pays more taxes.  Improving social mobility is a shared objective across the political spectrum, which should mean empowering low-paid workers to have more options. And it should mean providing support for progression that is independent of the current employer.

Yet parties fight to prove their ‘pro business’ rather than ‘pro economy’ credentials, and the last thing businesses want is their workers being encouraged to look for another job.  In a world in which jobs are scarce, and the priority is to widen the pool of people offered work, this might make more sense.  But where the challenge is enabling people in work to progress, then supporting low-paid workers to rebalance the power relationship with their employers is vital.

The role of the state

However, the state is not simply neutral when it comes to empowering low-paid workers.  The truth is that it is often part of the problem.  In fields as diverse as unemployment policy, childcare transport, skills and regulation, the effect of the state’s policies is to constrain the labour supply of low-paid workers and reduce their employment options.

For example, employment services are intended to support those out of work into a job.  How best to do this should be an empirical question: what works most effectively.  Instead, we have an ideological filter that drives decision-making.

Our employment services treat everyone as if they are the problem to be managed, rather than the recipients of a service designed to help them

The starting point is the question of whether being out of work is the fault of the person in question – is it due to a failing on their part or is it a result of circumstances – for example, economic, health, or geographical.  Our employment services seem to assume that the first option applies to most people.  So our employment services treat everyone as if they are the problem to be managed, rather than the recipients of a service designed to help them.

Given that employment rates are at historically high levels, there is clearly less ‘fault’ going around and yet sanctioning – depriving people of benefits because of apparent breaches in benefit conditions – is rising. Attitudes seem to be driven by the high unemployment levels we have seen in previous decades rather than by today’s economic problems. 

The way people are treated by employment services affects not only how people feel at the time they receive the service but also the wider labour market.  If the state’s message is ‘take any job at any cost’, employers know that low-paid workers aren’t free to turn down jobs that offer no potential for progression.

Low-paid workers are also trapped by poor infrastructure.  Childcare costs have been rising faster than wages and support through the benefit system has been frozen.  Crucially, most formal childcare options don’t operate at the times when shifts are available in many low-paid sectors such as retail, hospitality and care. 

The result is that families stitch their childcare together from a patchwork of family support and formal provision. The practical reality is that if one element is changed, the whole arrangement will need to be reorganised.

Poor quality, and declining, local transport services outside of London add to the problem.  Local transport services often only run at peak times and during the middle of the day.  Bus services to suit shift patterns and to reach the location of care services are likely to be thin on the ground.

Put the two together – complex childcare arrangements and poor-quality public transport – and it is clear that the binding constraint of the school gate or after-school club pick-up limits the pool of potential employers.  Being able to leave an employer, or the possibility of it, increases the bargaining power of low-paid workers. The degradation of social infrastructure limits the options for low-paid workers.

A further reason why the state doesn’t help low-paid workers as much as it should is a series of lazy assumptions that are part of economic orthodoxy, despite emerging evidence that these are out of date. 

Public discussion about productivity is obsessed with the ‘shiny and new’ yet the Bank of England says that the UK has more ‘frontier’ – highly productive – companies than comparable economies.  The UK’s poor productivity performance is due to the ‘long tail’ of companies that have seen barely any productivity growth for years.  Ministers should focus on improving output in the everyday economy rather than assuming that visiting an already-highly-productive, high-tech business will solve the UK’s problems.

Similarly, the default assumption in economics is that regulation of the labour market that might improve working conditions for the low-paid will always have a negative effect on the economy.  However, evidence suggests that this trade-off might not exist.  As increases in the minimum wage have shown, firms can actually respond to tighter regulation with more efforts to improve productivity.

What needs to change?

So how could things be different?  First and foremost, we must commit ourselves to creating an economy in which the state empowers workers.  This means challenging established orthodoxies on productivity, skills, employment services and social infrastructure such as childcare and transport.

Many businesses pay the voluntary Real Living Wage and others have signed up to Good Work initiatives such as the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter

Away from national government, there are encouraging signs.  For example, many businesses pay the voluntary Real Living Wage and others have signed up to Good Work initiatives such as the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter.  Devolved and city-region government have begun actively to consider how to promote better quality work.  But there is still a gap in this area in national policymaking.  Since the Taylor Review, commissioned by Theresa May, there has been little attention within national government to the quality of work.

When it comes to employment services, what would a more productive and empowering approach look like?  Firstly, the government should be honest about its ‘Any job, Better job, Career’ slogan.  The evidence is clear: most out-of-work claimants only get to A and never reach B or C.  The ‘Work First’ approach, pushing people into any job, however low quality, does not help enable future progression.  The ‘human capital’ approach is used in many other countries, and interaction with the state’s employment service is used to help people build a satisfying and productive career.

The danger is that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is moving in the opposite direction.  Universal Credit allows government to set conditions for receipt of in-work benefits.  Announcements from the DWP suggest they are likely to demand that low-paid workers try to seek more hours in their current job.  Pressure to do more of the same does nothing to address low pay rates.

Jobcentre staff should be capable of inspiring people to develop their careers and have the skills to support access to quality opportunities that offer meaningful careers rather than be a ‘nagging’ service that metes out punishment.  Why not equip people with more knowledge about employment rights?  This would leave them less open to exploitation and reduce the potential for rogue employers to create a race-to-the-bottom on pay and conditions.

Switching to an objective of supporting longer-term career development requires a shift in priorities.  Rather than short-term reductions in the benefit bill, the measure of success should be higher hourly rates of pay in the years after entering work.  This may cost more in the short term but has obvious benefits for people, businesses, the economy and government finances in the long term.

As we have seen, an unrealistic attitude to childcare and poor local transport contribute to the narrowing of labour market horizons when caring responsibilities intervene.  To liberate the UK’s economy from its low-pay low-productivity rut, such services must be treated as economic infrastructure and not just social services.

Juggling childcare and shift work in sectors such as care, hospitality and retail is a long way from the corridors of Whitehall.  Low-paid work does not fit the simple 9-to-5 pattern of office workers, and neither should childcare and transport services.

Improving work quality and employer practices

More importantly, government action has been weakest on the need for improvement in the quality of work.  Equating better labour market standards with higher business costs has  led to backtracking decades of employment protection.

Having high labour standards should be something to be proud of. This will improve the health and wellbeing of the population but also its wealth as productivity starts to improve

The minimum wage has resoundingly disproved the ‘equity-efficiency’ trade-off.  Having high labour standards should be something to be proud of.  This will improve the health and wellbeing of the population but also its wealth as productivity starts to improve.

Politicians should ensure that their policies are actually ‘pro-economy’, which may be different in some situations from being ‘pro-business’. Being pro-economy means making business compete harder to attract workers, shifting the balance of power so that workers – particularly low-paid women – can pick and choose from employers and not the other way round.

If we are to support workers to develop the skills and confidence to get new jobs, in principle, such support cannot be delivered through the current employer: as the point is to widen their choices.  So we need to consider job brokerages and skill support delivered through other means.

Employers need to be better managers and restoring employment protections, such as the right to a meaningful contract of employment, is an important step.  However, much more needs to be done through government’s soft power to support and encourage Good Work at a national level.

Changing economics and economic policymaking for the better

Although there are a range of policies that can help, some of the challenge lies in changing the economic thinking that underlies policymaking.  Economics should reject the notion that, in the short-term, workers have a fixed level of productivity, which ignores a mountain of evidence that management matters.

Specifically, it is management outside of the small number of frontier firms where efforts need to be focussed.  The challenge is to improve management education and support for small businesses.  There have been pilot projects which have had some success, and recent Chancellors of the Exchequer have asked the question, but this is a conversation that has only just started.

We need to develop a work culture where being good at management is something to be proud of, to aspire to, and worth spending money on learning

We need to develop a work culture where being good at management is something to be proud of, to aspire to, and worth spending money on learning.  This cannot all be about government, but it has a crucial role to play in accelerating this process.  If we get this right, we have the prospect of making a real difference to the UK’s productivity as a whole, providing higher quality work to many more people, and tackling the UK’s low pay problem. 

Drawn from Ashwin Kumar’s book, Idleness, with Agenda Publishing.

Ashwin Kumar is Professor of Social Policy at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has previously worked as Chief Economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Senior Economic Advisor at the Department for Work and Pensions and as an economic advisor to Gordon Brown.

Header Image Credit: Agenda Publishing


Kumar, Ashwin 2022. ‘Idleness’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (3):


Daniel Renwick and Robbie Shilliam

Our book, Squalor, part of A New Beveridge Report published by Agenda, was written in the shadow of the worst residential fire in Britain since the Blitz. As part of its renovation, Grenfell Tower had been wrapped in insulation and cladding that was highly combustible. When the fire started, it was accelerated by tens of thousands of litres of solidified petrol present in this wrapping. Ambiguities in government guidance – especially Approved Document B – gave the building industry far too much room for reckless manouevre.

The manufacturer of the cladding system, Arconic, the insulation companies Celotex and Kingspan, as well as the developers and architects stretched their interpretations of the regulatory documents to breaking point. A local government, highly invested in property markets and speculation, signed off and sanctioned the renovation. Mass death followed. The seventy-two souls that perished in the fire were killed by a confluence of factors – from regulatory failure to an inflexible command to stay put. Several private and public organizations face potential criminal liabilities for their failures. Yet more than five years later, justice remains to be done. 

We present a political history of squalor from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day in which the causes and consequences of the Grenfell Tower are our point of arrival

Our book presents a political history of squalor from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day – a history in which the causes and consequences of the Grenfell Tower are our point of arrival.  Our objective is to demonstrate that squalor in Britain has been consistently re-made by political elites, even when they have pursued policies to ameliorate squalid conditions.

We track a process of what could be called “population sorting” across a historical vista constituted by imperial, welfare, neoliberal and populist eras. We argue that diverse strategies such as slum clearance, new town building, social housing provision, and buying incentives have all rested on a fatal flaw: those who live in squalor have been judged to be part of the dysgenic environment themselves – they are a part of squalor, rather than sufferers of squalid conditions.

Of course, all elite projects are not the same, even if they depend on similar logics. For instance, one project attempted to resist the impulse to segregate populations; another replaced a public duty to house almost entirely with a private interest to buy. In many ways, the consistent reproduction of squalor over time eventuates as much through the clash between various projects as from the similarities of their premises and assumptions.

We include in our story the defence of shared space

Central to these clashes is, we argue, a resistive project by those who have suffered squalor. So, we include in our story the defence of shared space, in predominately urban settings, staged by the residents and denizens rather than by architects, planners or state officials. Such grassroots defence demonstrates a distrust of the state and its services, and a desire for self-determination through methods sometimes considered illicit. Yet we suggest that the act of defence itself has been treated by elites as illegitimate – whether illegal or not – as revealed in the testimony of Ed Daffarn to the Grenfell inquiry concerning the dismissive treatment of resident action groups by local government. 

Our political history indicts present-day politics for a failure to confront squalor. Where the state might once have considered housing a public health issue, contemporary politics is predicated upon maintaining the economic conditions for house price inflation. Simple supply-side economics chokes demand. For all the valorization of the private sector, rental markets are presently a shameful site of squalor stitched together by threadbare regulations. Subdivided households conceal overcrowding across our major cities. Deregulations announced since the Grenfell Tower fire allow potentially dangerous conversions of office buildings into homes.  Undocumented denizens find themselves especially dependent on the criminal housing market, where sheds and outhouses come to house the most vulnerable. 

Daniel Hewitt and Kwojo Tweneboa have shone valuable light on the housing associations and councils who have left their residents to suffer squalor. Incredibly, though, the public sector has better housing stock than that of the private sector. Huge amounts of the sector fail to meet housing standards, with mould, infestations and broken heating systems inducing misery for millions. And if current trends continue, by 2050 the majority of the country will be privately renting.

Grenfell was a victim of the new not the old

Policy Exchange, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy sought to frame the tragedy of Grenfell Tower as a legacy of past social housing inequities. We argue, unabashedly, that Grenfell was a victim of the new not the old. It is no longer the Dickensian stereotype of the slum-dweller who stands to be burnt. Private leaseholders and first-time buyers have found their blocks covered in ACM cladding.

Since 2010 there have been twelve housing secretaries

The government took four and a half years before promising to make the developers and building owners responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire pay. One might wonder how yet another regime in Downing Street will honour that promise. That said, when it comes to housing, turnover of government leaders is now the norm. Since 2010 there have been twelve housing secretaries – an average of one per year. For those residents campaigning for change, the frustration this builds cannot be overstated. How can meaningful relationships be built with such turnover?

Above all, while each government ascribes, variously, to the deregulation mantra, the same governments ascribe to the mantra of surveillance and social control. In our book, we argue that this combination produces “organized negligence”. Riffing off David Harvey and Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s idea of “organized abandonment”, we argue that the aftermath of Grenfell has shown just how much communities are not so much abandoned but neglected – that is, purposively trapped in rules that do not serve their interests or even provide for their basic safety. In sum, housing policy is absent of humaneness, let alone justice, and least of all a commitment to reform.

Mortgage rates and interest rates are to rise to such a level that millions more now find themselves facing precarious housing futures

The Grenfell Tower fire should have been an event that signally changed the politics of housing. But what should have been a full stop to a sentence enumerating vicious and inequitable injustices has become a comma. There have since followed constitutional and political battles over Brexit, a pandemic, and an energy crisis. Since we finished the manuscript, every month has brought new developments in the politics associated with squalor. Most recently, the “growth” policies of the current (since writing even this has changed!) Chancellor of the Exchequer has led mortgage rates and interest rates to rise to such a level that millions more now find themselves facing precarious housing futures, with monthly costs threatening to strip them of their securities and push them into homelessness.

Since Thatcher’s revolution in housing, land prices have risen sixteen-fold

A political solution to the problem of housing does exist but requires, above all, controls to be placed on the valuation of land. This requires a robust state response to the inordinate power that landowners wield in our contemporary system. Whereas the minister for housing and health in Attlee’s post-war government, Aneurin Bevan, intimately involved the state in the accrual of “betterment” in land and thus in the sharing of profits from land sales, speculation and trading, that role ended abruptly in the 1960s. The Land Compensation Act of 1961 enshrined the right of private landowners to profit through land banking and speculation. And since Thatcher’s revolution in housing, land prices have risen sixteen-fold. 

The state should be compelled to actively regulate such that a safe and affordable living standard is enjoyed by all

Whatever the numbers and scale, and even while acknowledging contending interests, it is reasonable to propose that the prospect of a shared fate could unite those suffering in the private sector with those suffering in the public sector. Instead of the de facto rule of large landowning bodies, the state should be compelled to actively regulate such that a safe and affordable living standard is enjoyed by all. The 20th century provides lessons in what might be possible when government is frightened into reform by the prospect of radical change.

Squalor will not be slain by the market nor by political elites but only by a movement of engaged denizens who demand accountability and expect that every home should be fit for human habitation – and for its flourishing. 

Drawn from Daniel Renwick’s and Robbie Shilliam’s book, Squalor, with Agenda Publishing.

Daniel Renwick is a writer, youth-worker and videographer. He lives in London.

Robbie Shilliam is Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University. He was previously Professor of International Relations at Queen Mary University of London.

Header Image Credit: Agenda Publishing


Renwick, Daniel and Robbie Shilliam 2022. ‘Squalor’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (3):

Editorial: Beveridge’s Giants 80 Years On

John Holmwood

November 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the publication of the Beveridge Report, or Social Insurance and Allied Services, as it was unpromisingly titled. It set out the five ‘Giants’ that confronted public policy – idleness, want, ignorance, squalor and disease – and made proposals for how they might be tackled, most famously arguing the need for a National Health Service. Yet 80 years on and the Giants remain. To be sure, there has been a general rise in living standards, but this has occurred alongside deep-seated inequalities that seem no less entrenched than when Beveridge drafted his report.

Our present moment is not auspicious. The last decade has been witness to the politics of austerity that has put a severe strain on the very social services whose foundations Beveridge sought to build. The disastrous and short-lived budget by Prime Minister Truss and Chancellor Kwarteng has placed further strain on public finances, such that the same month that we celebrate Beveridge’s landmark report, we will witness another budget that will likely make further deep cuts to public spending and exacerbate inequalities and poverty yet further.

Discover Society is pleased to publish five articles marking the anniversary of the Beveridge Report and addressing the five Giants that we have failed to slay. They each represent an introduction to five books published separately by Agenda Publishing, which together constitute A New Beveridge Report. Importantly, the authors of this new Beveridge Report, do not look backward, but seek to find solutions for what might otherwise seem by their longevity to be intractable problems. Indeed, to some degree they argue that while the reforms to social services inaugurated by Beveridge were carried through by a wave of enthusiasm in the immediate post-war period, a flaw was concealed in the heart of the report.

This flaw was the liberal understanding that economic growth and prosperity was the national goal to which the reform of social services was the answer. This facilitated a transition to a neo-liberalism where the ‘burden’ of social services could be represented as an obstacle to growth and prosperity, even where that prosperity was disproportionately enjoyed by those already advantaged. A new basis for public services, our contributors argue, must be found in a central goal of social justice and welfare for all.

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: Agenda Publishing


Holmwood, John 2022. ‘Editorial: Beveridge’s Giants 80 Years On’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (3):


Fran Darlington-Pollock

If a person died from tuberculosis in the eighteenth century, this might not only be expected but might also be considered unavoidable. But if a person dies from tuberculosis today, is that either expected or unavoidable? We have the means both to prevent and also, almost always, to cure tuberculosis.

Galtung saw violence, where the unequal distribution of power in society led to unequal life chances, as ‘structural violence’

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist, famously posed that very question, concluding that if a person does die today from tuberculosis ‘despite all the medical resources in the world’ that death is a violent death (Galtung, 1969: 168). Galtung widened the concept of violence to capture the intangible harms and injustices in society’s structure. He saw violence where the unequal distribution of power in society led to unequal life chances: he termed this ‘structural violence’.

We live in a society characterized by structural violence and sadly, there can be no greater signal of that fact than the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus tore through society, but it was not indiscriminate. The burden of exposure and death was disproportionately shouldered by people at the bottom of the social ladder: people still reeling from a decade of government austerity. In illuminating the violent structures of society, Covid-19 also shone a light on deep chasms in the provision of welfare. It revealed a broken system of health and social care, a social security safety net no longer fit for purpose. But perhaps it can also catalyse change.

Beveridge’s characterization of the Five Giants mobilized public and political support for radical change

In November 1942 – a similarly turbulent time of war, fear and death – Sir William Beveridge delivered a report to a parliamentary committee placing the UK firmly on a path towards a universal healthcare service, free at the point of use.  Beveridge’s provision for the health of the nation was the flagship of his welfare system that for a time became the envy of the world. His characterization of the Five Giants mobilized public and political support for radical change, the impacts of which still resonate today. But his assault both on disease and its brothers-in-arms has run its course.

Our current health and longevity undeniably owe much to the healthcare system he envisaged, but also to the improved living conditions through better housing, the expanded education system, and the full-scale attack on poverty which his proposals led to. Consider for example that babies born when Beveridge was writing his report might have expected to celebrate around 60 birthdays. By the time they reached 60 they were in fact looking to enjoy another 20 or so years of life.

Despite such successes, the health and social care systems established through, and in response to, Beveridge’s landmark report have not kept pace with the changes they heralded. We are a very different population from that of 1942. We are more diverse, and we are older. Even aside from our increasing longevity, what ails and kills us is today very different from what ailed and killed people in the 1940s. Though we live longer, we do so often with more complex and multiple health conditions, and our mental health is at least as complex as our physical health. This challenges the sustainability of a system that in the 1940s Beveridge and Bevan premised on treating illness and returning people to their ‘normal’ state ready either to resume work, if they were men, or motherhood, if they were women.

Not only has the nature of our ill-health changed, so too has our understanding of it. Health is socially determined. Where we sit in the social and economic hierarchy matters for our chances of good health, both physical and mental. Whether or not we live in a leafy suburb or a crowded inner-city tower block, for example, matters for our health. The 1980s saw growing concern about health inequalities between social groups, which had occurred despite a comprehensive, universal health service. This concern led to a report – the Black Report – that was suppressed during the Thatcher administration’s programme of rolling back, rather than shoring up, a struggling social security system.

Almost as soon as Aneurin Bevan realized Beveridge’s ‘Assumption B’ and created our National Health Service, the costs began to worry those responsible for delivering it. But instead of concerted and sustained effort to establish a new approach, better suited to the changing size, age, diversity and health of the population, successive governments seemed more ready to dismantle, weaken and erode the extent and value of welfare provision, whether in earnest or by accident. Beveridge, though perhaps unintentionally, had already offered the means to do this.

The health and wellbeing of the population were seen as a means to an end rather than as a goal

Framed in the liberal ideology that governed Beveridge’s politics, the health and wellbeing of the population were seen as a means to an end rather than as a goal. Providing for the health of the nation provided for the wealth, growth and prosperity of that nation. A healthy population was a happy by-product of a prosperous society. The maturing of liberal ideology in the UK and the growth of neoliberalism saw policy and political rhetoric increasingly centred on the individual. At the same time, economic debate elevated the market and competition principles as the key mechanism through which to organize society, allocate resources and measure success. The primacy of both the market and the individual carved out space in which responsibility for health and wellbeing has gradually been relinquished by the state and progressively transferred to the individual.

Those who depend on the welfare state are increasingly demonized and marginalized by political rhetoric

Prioritizing the global competitiveness of the economy and the labour market has come at the expense of a strong safety net of social protection – such as Beveridge had sought to weave – or regulated wages and progressive taxation. When people are framed as being solely responsible for their own health and wellbeing – while ignoring the harmful social structures that differently enable or prohibit good health – shared interests at either the political or even public level in maintaining a welfare state declines. Those who depend on that welfare state are increasingly demonized and marginalized by political rhetoric. The fleeting premiership of Liz Truss saw a resurfacing of her infamous quote that “the British are among the worst idlers in the world” – a rather apposite example of such demonization. And yet, it is ironic that the ideology, which enables this demonization and emphasis on individual responsibility, is the root cause of the growing numbers of people in urgent need of welfare support.

Recall Galtung’s concept of structural violence and his condemnation of the unequal life chances afforded by the unequal distribution of power in society. Where we agree with the primacy of the pound, of economic growth, and of competition, are we complicit in that violence? If we prioritize economic growth and those who can contribute to it, we simultaneously erode the health and wellbeing of society at large. We create far more problems than we solve, and we drive up the costs of a system we already fear is unsustainable. We are complicit. Without public and political recognition of this complicity in maintaining a system that harms and demonises those who need it most we are enabling if not actively wielding that violence.

Beveridge’s giant is now a behemoth

Beveridge’s giant is now a behemoth. Despite remarkable gains to life expectancy, those gains began to stall and reverse even before Covid-19 emerged alongside the nudging upwards of infant mortality. Through vaccines and antibiotics, tuberculosis and other respiratory complaints are no longer among the leading causes of death for our children and young adults, but suicide has taken over. Although we celebrate extending lifespans, we simultaneously dismiss, marginalize or stigmatize older people in our society. Our health and social care systems are both chronically underfunded, and the act of ‘caring’ is relegated to the margins of political interest and public merit. What is the alternative?

In revisiting Beveridge, I explore what gaps in provision have emerged as the needs, shape and size of the population has changed: the importance of ‘care’ cannot be overstated. A care or caring economy is not a new idea, but it is one that the experiences of Covid-19 should now give new urgency to. Primacy should no longer be given to economic growth but to “everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible”, to repeat Berenice Fisher and Joan Tronto’s (1990: 40) famed definition of care.  Economic growth need not be the be all and end all, but it is both possible and equitable in an economic system which prioritizes all forms of care sustaining life and the planet.

Care economies focus investment in public services, allowing for sustained, targeted and substantial investment at all levels of the health and social care system. The benefits to overall levels of well-being and life satisfaction, as well as the health of the population more generally, would be sizeable. But so too would the economic benefits, with health and well-being framed as both the means and the goal, recognised to be worth more than their instrumental value. Afterall, think how much we are capable of when we have our health, the ability to manage and cope with ill-health, our wellbeing, and are content.

Care work, informal and formal, cannot be secondary to wider macroeconomic planning and policy

Beveridge underpinned his recovery and flourishing with an Assumption B, the creation of a National Health Service. For us, let us underpin a new recovery and a new flourishing with Assumption B.2, driving forward from a national health and social care service adequately resourced to tackle more than the immediate costs of morbidity. Care work, informal and formal, cannot be secondary to wider macroeconomic planning and policy. Build a system that is community-led, where care is valued and reciprocal. Build a system for a society committed to dismantling the violent structures through which unequal life chances are maintained and perpetuated. Beveridge proposed revolutionary, radical change, not simply ‘patchy reform’. It was needed in the aftermath of war, and it is needed now.

Drawn from Frances Darlington-Pollock’s book, Disease, with Agenda Publishing.


Fisher, B. & J. Tronto (1990). “Towards a feminist theory of care”. In E. Abel & M. Neslon (eds), Circles of Care. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Galtung J. (1969) Violence, Peace, and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 6 (3): 167-191.

Frances Darlington-Pollock is an outgoing research advisor at an INGO, soon to take up the role of head of a charity based in the North West. Frances is a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences, University of York and currently Chair of The Equality Trust. Prior to moving full time into the third sector, Frances was a University Lecturer in Geography at the University of Liverpool, and Queen Mary University of London. Twitter: @F_Darlington

Header Image Credit: Agenda Publishing


Darlington-Pollock, Frances 2022. ‘Disease’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (3):

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):

The illusion of objectivity, as revealed by the Trojan Horse affair podcast

Rehana Parveen

Before I begin this piece, I want to give a disclaimer and declare my own positionality. As a non-white academic, I am always expected to explore my own biases when I write or research on matters specific to my own faith, background or any aspect of my identity. I have not found the same level of responsibility placed on white academics to explore their own positionality.  I will return to this theme when I look to unpack what it means to be ‘objective’ or ‘neutral’ and how this discourse of objectivity or neutrality as synonymous with whiteness has very real and very practical consequences in the Trojan Horse Affair.

However, before I get to that, I do wish to declare my own personal connections to the Trojan Horse saga.  Not only am I a Muslim from Birmingham, but I grew up in Alum Rock, one of the key areas of Birmingham embroiled in this affair. Moreover, the secondary school that I attended was Park View School. I attended Park View from 1980 to 1985. When I started my secondary education, the school was not called Park View. It was called Naseby School. In my third year it joined with Ward End Park School and was renamed Park View.

For a while many of us students were moved to the Ward End Park buildings and that is where I completed my secondary education. Mr Packer joined the school when it became Park View and he was my computer studies teacher in my 3rd year, I think. I recall I was the only girl in that class. Eventually the Ward End Park buildings would be shut down and the entire school once again based at the campus on Naseby Road. I had left Park View School by the time this final transition of the buildings took place.

I attended Park View school as a minority pupil and this was the case throughout my education there as the majority of students (and nearly all teachers) were white. I recall perhaps around 4 or 5 Muslim students in each class that were from a similar background to mine (Pakistani and Mirpuri/Pahari speaking). There were even fewer Black students. At the time even Alum Rock Road consisted mainly of white owned businesses. I would walk through  Alum Rock Road on my way to school and pass by butchers, Woolworths, Timpsons, a sewing machine shop, fish and chips shops to name a few, all of which were white owned. My parents owned one of the very few Pakistani restaurants on Alum Rock Road. When I left Park View, the demographics of that area changed, and  the ethnic and religious make up of the school also changed. Indeed, by the time our family moved out of Alum Rock it was turning into the bustling, Muslim majority area that is now familiar.

Though I would not have been able to articulate it at the time, I was well aware of my minority status at school. I was fully conscious of being different to the majority of students and also how much of myself I left outside of the classroom. I tried very hard to ensure my differences remained largely invisible as I had always thought the best way for me to fit in and progress was to ‘assimilate’; to pretend that the cultural norms of the majority applied in exactly the same way for me. I thought the differences in my life outside of school were unimportant and an inconvenience for me to mention.

For example, I recall a P.E lesson where we were expected to go running for almost the entire lesson. This was during Ramadan in the summer months and I was fasting. When I mentioned this to the teacher she had no idea what I was referring to and seemed to have little sympathy. I felt embarrassed and quickly just ended the conversation and then proceeded to participate in the lesson as though there was nothing different about me.

As an academic, I can now better understand that the invisibility that is welcomed by minimising any differences, is also the source of intense alienation; that classrooms are not neutral or objective spaces and presenting them as such masks the perspectives, values, norms and cultural behaviours of the empowered (Crenshaw 1998).

It is this notion of objectivity and neutrality that I now wish to explore in the context of two different but, in my view, overlapping themes that are addressed in the Trojan Horse Affair podcast. First, is in relation to episode 5 and the evidence of the whistleblowers. I want to unpack what this episode tells us about the way in which whiteness and white culture is made synonymous with neutrality and how difficult it becomes to challenge Islamophobic tropes when they have been embedded into the psyche and culture of our society. Our society is only at the earliest stages of unpacking its own colonial and racist legacies. The particular tropes that I am interested in exploring are the perceptions of Muslim women as illustrated by the interviews with the whistle blowers.

The second, is in the conversations between Hamza Syed and Brian Reed as they explore and address their own personal relationships to the investigations that they are conducting. Hamza’s rawness and at times emotional responses can be contrasted with Brian’s more detached approach, highlighting what I said at the beginning of this piece; that people of colour are more readily expected and indeed invested in exploring their own positionality.

I will draw these two themes together in arguing that exploring positionality is a key method of challenging biases that one may hold. Positionality, in particular allows for challenging  claims to an objective, singular, universal and natural description of the world, and to question issues related to hierarchy and power (Moghli & Kadiwal 2021). Euro-centrism and whiteness has generally evaded addressing positionality on the assumption that white culture itself represents neutrality and natural norms of behaviour.

A failure to address positionality both at an individual level and at a systemic level leads to perpetuating racist, colonial and, in the case of the Trojan Horse Affair, Islamophobic tropes. Moreover, positionality challenges the paternalistic ‘saving’ rhetoric (Moghli & Kadiwal 2021). Eurocentrism can, however, be so deeply embedded that there remains an unwillingness to reconsider the supposed neutral and objective assumptions when confronted with evidence that directly contradicts those tropes. Episode 5 captures the practical application of this theory.

The whistleblowers

In Part 5, A Study in Scarlett, we meet my former teacher, Steve Packer, and his wife, Sue Packer, the initial ‘whistleblowers’. The meeting between Hamza and Brian and the Packers begins pleasantly enough as they set out their version of events and complaints that they have made. One theme in particular emerges regarding the treatment of Muslim female students and staff by Muslim male members of staff at Park View. Sue Packer expresses her view that ‘there was a lot of unfairness going on. Equality had gone out the door’. A number of generalised claims are made about the treatment of girls and then some specific examples are provided as evidence of the removal of female agency. She further emphasises that she felt ‘the girls needed to be strong. They needed to be feel in control’ [sic].

Sue Packer recounts a particular incident when a Muslim female staff volunteer was berated by a male Muslim staff member on their return from a school outing. In Sue Packer’s view this incident was emblematic of the male/female interactions that were taking place, demonstrating a misogynistic culture which had developed in the school and which was rooted in the Islamically sanctioned religious views of the men. She regarded this incident with such seriousness that it ultimately resulted in her making a formal complaint and her subsequent resignation.

As stated in the Podcast this incident is relied upon in the evidence given by the Packers in the disciplinary hearings and the various investigations that took place. The Packers are convinced that not a single Muslim woman came forward to support their version of events because ‘the [Muslim] women aren’t very good at speaking out…. perhaps aren’t confident to speak out in that community, especially female Muslims. I think there’s just sort of fear about speaking out’

Razak (2004) poses the question of how to address patriarchy within Muslim communities without descending into the well-worn narrative of brown Muslim women needing to be saved from inherently dangerous brown Muslim men, by civilised white Europeans (see also, Spivak 1988). Unfortunately, this framing seems to be exactly what we see on display in this episode and indeed running throughout the investigations. Essentialised and reductive notions of Muslim women are presented thereby justifying them being ‘saved’, reinforcing the notions of superiority of the saviours (Abu-Lughod 2002).

It is particularly troubling that, for the whistleblowers, having worked with Muslims students and staff over a very lengthy period of time and, indeed, in the case of Steve Packer, actively participated in some of the changes that were made to support the environment for Muslim students, the perceptions of Muslim women remained resolutely one dimensional. They steadfastly remained convinced that female Muslim staff and students were unable to speak for themselves and needed them to be speak on their behalf.

The Podcast highlights that not a single Muslim female from the school came to testify in support of the claims made by them and yet when challenged on this the only conclusion that they can draw is that the women are unable to speak for themselves; reinforcing the assumptions that they already hold and reinforcing their own virtuous goal of speaking on behalf of muted Muslim women. There appears to be little re-assessment or reflection having taken place over the years since the Trojan Horse Affair, as to any other possible reasons why their allegations received so little support from the women whose interests they claimed to represent.

This critique is not limited to the whistleblowers. Ann Connor, an inspector from the Education Funding Agency Report on Park View Educational Trust and Education Advisor to the Clarke Report had spoke to female Muslim students at Park View School as part of the former review. In giving her evidence she referred to her notebook in which she had noted the fierce and challenging questions that she had been met with by the students. Yet this did not feature in her assessment and nor did this allay her concerns. The framing of Muslim women is so deeply embedded that even when it is forcefully challenged it does not appear to make any impact on those tropes unless Muslim women surrender their faith.

I would argue these are all examples of failing to address one’s own positionality. When one assumes they hold the objective, neutral position there is no need to reflect on one’s own location in the geopolitics of knowledge production. Nor is it necessary to consider one’s own complicity in preconceived notions that you hold, nor to attempt to counter those notions, nor to consider how your own views of the world may be shaped by Eurocentric thought, knowledge and power structures (Moghli & Kadiwal 2021). One can remain safe in the assumed comfort that you hold the ‘normal’, ‘neutral’, ‘secular’ position that is untainted by any historical, colonial, political or social context.

Abu-Lughod argues a more productive approach for those seeking to address inequalities is to ask questions as to how we may contribute to a more just society and to think of egalitarian forms of alliances, coalitions and solidarity rather than salvation (Abu-Lughod). This requires giving space to Muslim women, listening to them, recognising they do not all speak in one voice, recognising the significance of faith and the different ways in which faith manifests itself for the women, and acknowledging all the complexities and nuances that this brings.

In my view everyone engages with the world around them through their own particular lens and through their own complex locations. The danger arises when you fail to or refuse to acknowledge that whiteness and Eurocentrism is not a neutral space.

Hamza Syed’s exploration of his own positionality

Throughout the Podcast we see Hamza grappling with his own positionality and the impact this has on his investigations. The very first episode begins with Hamza locating himself within the geographical, political and social context of the letter. Hamza makes it clear from the outset that the consequences of the letter were of significance to him personally as a British Muslim from Birmingham.  Indeed, in Part 6, a member of the Humanist Society almost nonchalantly asks about the Trojan Horse Affair: ‘what impact did it have?’ Hamza’s impassioned reaction demonstrates the deep, lasting and very significant effect that has been felt by Muslims including Hamza himself and Hamza does not hide his emotions or his anger at the casual manner in which the question is asked. 

At various stages of the investigations we see much deeper reflections from Hamza in which he not only reflects on his own positionality but we see him engaging in reassessments of his own identity and his role as journalist. Again, in Part 6, reference is made to an incident in which Hamza sets out his own truthful personal views in a letter to potential witnesses in order to allay concerns and to reassure them as to his takes on the entire affair.

What I find interesting is that Hamza’s openness in revealing the positions that he takes is seen as so problematic. I understand a need to have an open mind when investigating but Hamza’s disclosure of his positionality simply makes clear the lens through which he is approaching the investigation? It recognises that he is part and parcel of the community that has been impacted, it allows for the reflections and analysis that take place, it allows for the different perspectives that he brings to the claims. I would go so far as to say that had Hamza not been a Muslim from Birmingham this entire investigation and podcast would never have been created. It even leads to reflections on the part of Brian of his role as a journalist and the supposed objective place from which he approached journalism.


It is a well-established in decolonial and post-colonial theory that exploring positionality is one of the methods through we can challenge claims to objectivity and neutrality. But exploring positionality is not just for those of us from ethnic or Black minorities. We are already fully invested in undertaking that work. Where we need to move to is for ‘whiteness’ and euro-centric to being unpacking its political, social, historical and geographical contexts in values and norms that it espouses.

For me personally, so much of Hamza’s reflections resonated with my approach to my academic work and the Podcast has given me renewed hope that Muslims and people of colour more generally need to be active in every public space and to reclaim what is seen as objective, neutral or normal.


Abu-Lughod, Lila (2002) ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativisms and Its Others’ American Anthropoligist, 104(3) 783-790.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé ‘Towards a Race-Conscious Pedagogy in Legal Education’, National Black Law Journal 11(1)

Moghli, Mai Abu and Laila Kadiwal, (2021) ‘Decolonising the curriculum beyond the surge: Conceptualisation, positionality and conduct’, London Review of Education 19(1)

Razack, Sherene H. (2004)  ‘Imperilled Muslim Women, Dangerous Muslim Men and Civilised Europeans: Legal and Social Responses to Forced Marriages’, (2004) Feminist Legal Studies 12: 129-174.

Rehana Parveen is a former solicitor and a former senior tutor at The University of Law. Rehana joined the University of Birmingham Law School in 2012 and completed her doctoral thesis exploring Muslim women’s experiences of using religious tribunals (shari’a councils) and comparing this to their experiences of using state law. Rehana currently works as a Senior Lecturer in the Law School, teaching on a wide range of undergraduate and post graduate modules. Rehana is particularly interested in the developing relationship between English Family Law and Islamic Family Law and how women navigate these interacting frameworks. More recently Rehana has been exploring how legal concepts and structures may be decolonised to place them within their social, historical, political and postcolonial context.

Header Image Credit:


Parveen, Rehana 2022. ‘The illusion of objectivity, as revealed by the Trojan Horse Affair podcast’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (2): 

Editorial – The Trojan Horse affair

John Holmwood

In February of this year, Serial and the New York Times published a podcast on the Birmingham Trojan Horse affair. The latter was an alleged plot to ‘Islamicise’ schools in Birmingham and Bradford that emerged in November 2013. It came to be centred on schools associated with Park View Educational Trust in Alum Rock Birmingham and its teachers and Chair of Governors, Tahir Alam.  

Media coverage of the ‘plot’ was overwhelmingly hostile through a three year period of inspections, inquiries and misconduct hearings against teachers. The case against senior leaders at PVET collapsed in May 2017 because of ‘serious impropriety’ on the part of lawyers acting for the Department of Education and its agency bringing the misconduct cases.  

There was a resounding silence from the journalists and political commentators covering the case, except to observe that the impropriety leading to the collapse was a ‘technicality’. It was at this point that Birmingham-based journalism student, Hamza Syed, pitched the idea of a podcast to Brian Reed, producer of Serial (an offshoot of the public broadcasting venture, This American Life). 

For the next four years, the two of them researched the affair and produced their podcast series in 8 parts, making up around 7 broadcast hours. The series was downloaded over 13 million times in the first three and a half weeks. The series established the injustice that underlay the affair across two episodes as well as the role of various actors, such as Humanists UK, Birmingham City Council and the Department for Education. But it was also a ‘whodunnit’, seeking the author of the letter that had triggered the affair. This was widely accepted as having been a hoax, even by the parties that were prosecuting the idea of a plot.  

It took a media organisation from outside the UK to provide the first systematic journalism to examine the events, but the response from the media within the UK was largely a resounding silence. They had been shown up for accepting the government’s script, but they neither responded, nor took up the offer by Brian Reed and Hamza Syed to provide all their material for further inquiries into the loose ends. Instead, they were denounced for being one-sided.  

This special issue of Discover Society represents the first revisiting of the Trojan Horse affair and its consequences in the light of the podcast. It is curated by Shereen Fernandez and Kamran Khan.  A final contribution, posted after the publication of a book on schooling in Birmingham by Colin Diamond (former official at the Department for Education with responsibility for investigations into Park View Educational Trust and Oldknow school), has been added to this series of articles.

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: Trojan Horse Affair Podcast, Serial


Holmwood, John 2022. ‘Editorial – The Trojan Horse Affair’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (2):

Beyond Prevent and the Trojan Horse scandal

Zin Derfoufi

Since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition set out its intentions to direct counter-terrorism policies towards ‘non-violent extremism’ in 2011, the Prevent strategy has pivoted away from community engagement and towards a stronger focus on the alleged risks of young people being ‘radicalised’ by their own community. It was not until after the Birmingham Trojan Horse affair that this new agenda was fully implemented, with a legal duty placed on all those providing public services – employees in education, health and mental health and social work, etc – to monitor service users and report individuals who may be a cause for concern to local Prevent panels.

As this article argues, this has further securitised British Muslims instead of empowering them and recognise their ability to challenge violent narratives. This shift toward targeting so-called ‘non-violent extremists’ reinforces Prevent’s problematic assumption that young Muslims are inherently vulnerable to violent extremism due to ideas that are widely held within their communities which, despite being non-violent, promote detachment from British society and, therefore, makes young people unable to resist engaging in violence.


Yet, a large body of research shows that it is various anti-terror legislation and policies that are the primary source of discontent. Much of this research focuses on high volume encounters – notably stops and searches, detentions at ports, and Prevent – and highlights a sense of frustration among Muslim communities with the constant questioning of their identities and the role of counterterror policies in sustaining wider societal prejudices over their ability to integrate into British society.

As these are high volume encounters that routinely draw large numbers of Muslims into the focus of counterterrorism, they can be viewed as a litmus test of the relationship between those communities and state authorities. Research shows that these measures promote a sense of the state not being interested in the priorities of Muslim communities nor of their lived experiences as victimsof crime or of the types of anti-Muslim racism in society that are partly sustained by the racialised assumptions of counterterror and counter-’radicalisation’ policies. This sense of injustice is reinforced at the structural level as political violence from the far-right and secessionist groups hardly feature within these measures, despite Europol’s constant warnings over the threats posed by them.

Impact on democracy

The UK’s Prevent strategy is consistently highlighted as a tool for undue state control over civil society. In 2010, a UK parliamentary committee criticised national and local government for using Prevent-related funding as a means for “social engineering”, arguing “There is a sense that Government has sought to engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model”. Although the main community funding schemes were discontinued after this report, a recent study with activists and campaigners across different political causes (both Muslim and non-Muslim) suggests that this practice remains the case with government funding more generally and is creating a climate where organisations in receipt of funding are under pressure to censor critics of counterterror policies and foreign policy, particularly critics from Muslim backgrounds.

Censorship and a ‘chilling effect’ on freedoms are two specific impacts often cited by research in this area. This includes censorship of teachers, health professionals and other public sector staff who express professional concerns over whether their legal obligations to monitor service users for signs of ‘extremism’ is compatible with the relationship of trust needed to promote the wellbeing of their service users. Awareness of how critics are targeted by Prevent has created a ‘chilling effect’ among wider groups of professionals, campaigners and members of the public who engage in self-silencing out of fear of being sanctioned too and, in the case of Muslims, creates anxieties over being able to express even the most basic aspects of their religious identity.

The first study into Prevent’s structural impact on civic space shows that anti-racism, environmental and international solidarity campaigners from non-Muslim backgrounds are now also being targeted by Prevent. It reveals how these groups are being censored across different spaces and that a chilling effect is widely felt as a direct consequence of the securitised climate created by Prevent. Ultimately, Prevent is an example of how counterterror policies are themselves harming democracy rather than protecting it. This is highly problematic because protest movements contain narratives that can robustly challenge violent narratives and in ways that are far more credible than government-led approaches.

Supporting community-led, counter-terror initiatives

Survey-based research into the attitudes of British Muslims alongside community facing professionals – notably doctors and teachers – show a consensus exists on terrorism being a real problem, but these surveys also highlight a sense that counterterrorism policies are failing to address it in a proportionate way. This could explain why Muslim communities and civil society actors are cooperating to challenge terrorism independently of the state. Whether it is British, Dutch, Norwegian, North American or other community of Muslims in the west, a growing body of evidence reveals strong anti-terror narratives already exist in Muslim communities, despite being the primary target of state-led counterterror policies.

However, counterterror policies are undermining community-led initiatives, partly due to local and national government practices that result in groups who align themselves with government policies being supported while those of a more critical stance being discredited and unsupported. It is well-known within grassroots counterterror activities that “those who provide the most invaluable support in drawing people away from violent extremist groups generally come from the demographic or community that is under suspicion”. It is, therefore, important to learn from the mistakes of the past and protect civic efforts to counter violence. This requires national and local government bodies to recognise the value of a broad range of community groups that are operating independently of government and drawing upon their own expertise to tackle violence.

A version of this article was sent as evidence to an inquiry of the European Council’s Parliamentary Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

Zin Derfoufi is a lecturer in Criminology and Sociology at St Mary’s University, London. His research blends psychology with sociology to understand why and how people engage in serious violence, and how local communities organise to counter violence. He is an independent advisor to various civil society and community-led groups as well as local and national policing bodies.

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Derfoufi, Zin 2022. ‘Beyond Prevent and the Trojan Horse Scandal’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (2): 

Truth and falsehoods in the Trojan Horse scandal

Shereen Fernandez

“And yet the work of reporting on the Clarke report, aka Britain’s official narrative of the case, was emptying. Sitting there surrounded by documents, I struggled to imagine what other group of people you could do this to in Britain and get away with it. Trying to come to terms with how worthless people must think we are, that they’ll be comfortable assembling an official report riddled with errors and mistruths, submitting it to parliament, sharing it with prominent journalists to write articles about, all with no expectation that people wouldn’t believe them.” Hamza Syed, Trojan Horse Affair, Serial/ NYT podcast

These are Hamza Syed’s reflections on the Clarke report, commissioned by the Department of Education to assess the allegations about Birmingham schools made in the ‘Trojan Horse’ letter. Peter Clarke was the former head of counterterrorism at Scotland Yard and was selected by Michael Gove for this job. An anonymous letter informing Birmingham City Council about a plot to ‘Islamify’ schools was now in the hands and realm of counterterrorism, despite the overwhelming opinion (including of Clarke himself) that the letter was a hoax. You can hear Hamza’s frustration with the report but also the overall handling of the Trojan Horse scandal. And as he rightly says, what other group of people could you do this to in Britain and get away with it?

The Clarke report is just one of many reports which has dictated the relationship between Muslims and the state in an era of counterterrorism. The UK’s counterterrorism infrastructure depends on documents. To quote Hamza again, we are surrounded by documents. Documents which outline how Muslim communities have failed to integrate, reports that Muslims are driven by an ideological violence that potentially leads to terrorism, and guidance for schools and other public institutions on how to handle the issue of extremism and radicalisation, again largely perceived to be a Muslim problem. It’s often hard to keep track but the narrative is well established. Nevertheless, it took a podcast from Serial and the New York Times to sift through the countless documents and confirm the toxic relationship between Muslims in Britain and the state which continues to grip communities.

As you listen to the podcast, it’s clear that the truth did not matter to the authorities. It did not matter that the letter was a hoax, it did not matter that it wasn’t clear who wrote the letter and for what purposes. These schools were infested with power-driven individuals who would do anything to cling onto the power they had at the expense of staff considered more inferior to them. At the end of the day, it is the children who suffered from the fallout of the scandal and continue to do so, with many former students reluctant to put the names of their schools on their CVs due to any possible repercussions. Being a Muslim in these spaces associated you with potential extremism, whether you were a student or a staff member. Muslim staff members who were driven out of schools even before the Trojan Horse affair came to light refused to speak to Hamza or Brian, the other co-host of the podcast, for fears of what could happen. Their refusal to engage was to protect themselves from the brutal British media who were adamant that an Islamist inspired takeover of schools took place. 

Of course with the rollout of the Prevent Duty since 2015, this had wider consequences for Muslims in the education sector. It was no longer confined to Birmingham. Officials within Prevent will cite that the Duty is about all forms of extremism, including the Far Right. The purpose is to show that those racialised as Muslims are certainly not being singled out by this measure which aims to safeguard individuals from the threat of terrorism, which again is legislated towards the mass. They will argue that it is about vulnerability rather than race.

I often think about Nadya Ali’s (2020: 580) piece on Prevent’s racialised borders, in which she argues that “Prevent operates through racialized understandings of radicalization and extremism that ‘border’ (van Houtum et al., 2005) Muslim populations as a suspect community representing a threat to white Britain, while individualizing the violence of white supremacists as the work of ‘lone wolves’”. This was certainly the issue in the Trojan Horse Affair, which collapsed Muslim identity in Britain to ‘Salafi’, ‘extremists’ and ‘Islamists’. Again, it didn’t matter that the allegations were disputed; it was merely the strong possibility that these educators could be all of the descriptors above, as influenced by political rhetoric and understandings of terrorism and extremism in a post-9/11 world.

I was a primary school teacher when the Trojan Horse affair was unfolding. As a recent hijab-wearing Muslim, I became conscious of my more visible Muslim identity. I was teaching 4 and 5 year olds at the time who were always so curious about my hijab and yet I would have to take several steps back as a ‘just in case’. This became a sort of insurance policy for Muslims who are teaching, working and learning in an era of pre-emptive policing. Ultimately I didn’t trust that I would be supported if a claim was made against me, especially considering how vague the term ‘extremism’ is. I’ve heard from many other Muslim practitioners who have acted in the same way, given how Muslims in public and private were demonised. This didn’t get any easier as time went by and it certainly was not an isolated incident.

Tarek Younis and Sushret Jadhav (2019) have documented how Prevent operates in the NHS, with specific attention given to how Muslim medical practictioners manage the policy. In their article, they found that Prevent training and Prevent in general depoliticised Muslim identity and disciplined Muslims to essentially ‘keep their mouths shut’. It did not matter if those Muslims in the Prevent training knew that they were being told falsehoods about their identity and beliefs. There are of course other Muslims who are willing to attest to the truth of these claims, that Islam is a violent religion, that there is an extremist problem in the community and so on.

So it is not at all surprising that there is an issue with trust. Our ability to trust authorities and public narratives was hindered further for Muslims by the the raft of measures and policies aimed at curbing the so-called ‘Muslim threat’. Trusting our nearest and dearest was compromised by the Prevent Duty, as reported by Open Society, and other Government initiatives such as parents reporting their children for potential extremism, following the travels of Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana to Syria. The reason why Hamza embarked on this podcast project was because he simply did not trust the official narrative. How could he, when he’s being told that the city he lived in was littered with Muslim extremists waiting to take down schools?

In Part 6 of the podcast, we hear how conflicted Hamza is as a journalist but more importantly a Muslim journalist when investigating this story. Hamza keeps saying ‘I never believe…’ and is adamant to change the narrative which shaped counterterrorism and education policy in the UK. Distrust is a common feeling for many Muslims encountering the security state as a result of the War on Terror. From Prevent in the UK to the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, it is far easier to distrust, than it is to trust, officials. In the latter case, there were guards force feeding detainees through tubes in their nose in the name of ‘healthcare’. Muslim chaplains, like James Yee, were brought into Guantánamo to act as a sounding board for distressed detainees but he was then imprisoned for espionage, spying and aiding the enemy because the US administration believed he had ulterior motives. He was released after spending 70 days mostly in solitary confinement. Even working alongside the state does not entitle you to being trusted. As Muslims caught in the webs of the War on Terror, we both distrust and are not trusted.

After listening to the podcast, I picked up Rizwaan Sabir’s book called The Suspect. Sabir was arrested whilst an MA student at the University of Nottingham in 2008 for possessing an Al Qaeda training manual as part of his research. The police believed its intended purposes were for terrorism, hence his arrest under Section 58 of the terrorism law which ‘criminalises the collection of information that is said to be useful to somebody who is preparing or committing terrorism’ (Sabir, 2022: 53). Although Rizwaan could prove this was not the case, he said that ‘a Muslim did not have to do much wrong to be viewed with suspicion or classified as a terrorist and disappeared into the matrix of counterterrorism…the only thing that seemed to matter was my Muslimness and how that connected me to terrorism in the eyes of the police’ (2022: 30).

This made me think a lot about the Trojan Horse Affair and how in some ways, it’s an expected response of the War on Terror. The suspicion that Muslims are faced with invades our everyday spaces, from our universities to schools to our GP surgeries in the UK. If you are believed to be affiliated with an organisation deemed to be ‘controversial’ or ‘untrustworthy’ by the Government then that is enough to deem you as suspicious. As mentioned earlier, even former students of Park View were scared to include the name of the school on their CVs. As Brian says in one of the episodes, “​​they don’t want potential employers to know where they went to school. They actually keep it off their resumes”. Affiliation to an ‘untrustworthy’ organisation for Muslims is risky business.

In her book Tangled in Terror (2022), Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan recounts how the Henry Jackson Society felt her appearance on BBC Radio 4 was inappropriate because of her ‘affiliation’ to the organisation CAGE (2022: 149). Nothing ever came about but it was enough to show that Muslims are not free to work or engage in various work without scrutiny.

The Trojan Horse scandal (or hoax as many refer to it as) did not care much for the truth but what is true is that Islamophobia on the back of this affair continues to rage. Rather than see this affair as an isolated incident in Birmingham schools, it must be included in a broader conceptualisation of racism and policing. To deny these accounts, to deny that there is a problem with Islamophobia in society is to accept only one version of the truth, and that is that Muslims are not to be trusted.

But the Trojan Horse podcast did reassure listeners that there is space for truth and accountability, even if the ‘official’ narratives suggest otherwise. There is a desperate lack of transparency and accountability as the War on Terror continues to be experienced even 20 years on. Yet through our prodding and questioning, these official narratives – which have constructed Muslim communities as radical, risky and in need of securitisation – will start to unravel. Since the release of the podcast, I’ve noticed a revival in Muslim communities demanding justice for the wrongs of the Trojan Horse affair. From Twitter Spaces to social media posts, this is a community who have felt unheard because of their unfair dismissal and stigmatisation. There is a dire need to hear these voices, to listen to concerns and testimonies which speak against the narrative. And we too must help create and nurture those spaces.


Manzoor-Khan, S. 2022. Tangled in Terror. Pluto Press: UK

Sabir, R. 2022. The Suspect. Pluto Press: UK

Younis, T. and Jadhav, S. 2019. ‘Keeping Our Mouths Shut: The Fear and Racialized Self-Censorship of British Healthcare Professionals in PREVENT training’. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. 43: 404-42. DOI

Shereen Fernandez is an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at LSE. She researches the impacts of counterterrorism and counter-extremism legislation on Muslims in Britain and is currently looking at the legal infrastructures of the War on Terror.

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Fernandez, Sheree 2022. ‘Truth and falsehoods in the Trojan Horse scandal’ Discover Society: New Series 2 (2):