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Claims-hit school 'set up to fail'
8:03pm Sunday 6th July 2014 in © Press Association 2014
The headteacher of a school caught up in the "Trojan Horse" allegations claims his academy has been "set up to fail" by education officials, despite making improvements.
Acting principal of Oldknow Academy Jahangir Akbar claims the Department for Education (DfE) is laying groundwork for the school to be taken over by another trust, despite answering governance concerns.
He claimed the school's governors had "refused to resign" after being invited to do so by Education Funding Agency (EFA) officials in a meeting on Friday.
Mr Akbar said it had come on the same day the school submitted its improvement plan to Schools Minister Lord Nash, and believes the resignation call was evidence of a "pre-formed" agenda.
The DfE said it would "consider" Oldknow's action plan and "respond in due course".
Oldknow, in Small Heath, was among 21 Birmingham schools inspected by Ofsted after being implicated in the so-called Trojan Horse plot alleging a hardline brand of Islam was taking root in classrooms.
Publishing the results of those inspections last month, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw concluded there "was a culture of fear and intimidation in some schools".
Lord Nash wrote to Oldknow and three other academies on June 9 citing "grave concerns" over its governance and leadership, and warning its funding would be stopped unless all breaches were tackled by July 4.
The EFA's officials have carried out repeated visits and inspections since then.
Mr Akbar said despite an initially positive meeting, he now believes the EFA's conclusions were "pre-determined" and expects the academy's funding to be stopped.
He acknowledged there had been problems with the school's governance, but said that was down to "some naivety among governors" dating from Oldknow's change to academy status.
Mr Akbar said: "Naivety was the extent of it - and we've been punished unfairly for it. Even when the inspectors came in and asked about children's safeguarding, there was nothing asked about radicalisation or extremism.
"If we're doing something wrong then tell us and we'll put it right. Instead, we've been expected to change the academy in a few weeks - we've been set up to fail.
"For example, appointing legal experts to look at where we could strengthen our policies and procedures needs a formal tender process - you just cannot complete that in the time we've been given."
The academy, formally rated outstanding overall by Oftsed, was placed into special measures following its latest inspections.
A separate EFA report cited concern over how school money had been spent sending pupils on a trip to Saudi Arabia, barring non-Muslims, while also finding evidence that Christmas events had been cancelled.
Mr Akbar claimed the school Christmas tree had been stopped when the previous headteacher decided it was too much effort to decorate, while the planning of all school plays had been contracted out to free up teachers' time.
He added the Saudi school Oldknow pupils visited was only initially selected "because it was marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee" in 2012, but the trip had now been cancelled in any case.
Mr Akbar, who took over after the previous headteacher resigned in January, said he would have stepped down if the DfE had guaranteed "a smooth transition for the children".
He added: Instead, "I think we have been marginalised by a handful of people with a narrow political agenda."
Mr Akbar said he believed at least one trust which runs academies in Birmingham had already been approached about taking over schools.
"The process is the EFA will specify a date to terminate our funding, identify a sponsor academy which will then replace the governors, with a new trust then coming in," he said.
"We would rather have a choice of which one takes over - but if it is forced through, I think the governors will go for a judicial review of that decision."
In all, six schools were placed in special measures, 12 were told they needed to improve while three were given a clean bill of health.
Meanwhile, it has been reported the inquiry by the former Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism commander Peter Clarke will criticise Birmingham City Council for knowing of the "Trojan Horse" claims for 12 years, but doing nothing about it.
The Sunday Times, quoting sources close to his inquiry, said the council ignored warnings about safeguarding children from the risk of being radicalised as far back as 2002.
Mr Clarke was sent in by Education Secretary Michael Gove to investigate claims thrown up by the "Trojan Horse" allegations, stemming from an anonymous letter which was leaked to teaching unions and the media.
His report is expected to be published this month.
Birmingham City Council, which received the letter in November 2013, is running its own inquiry into the document's claims a handful of hardline Muslim governors were seeking to replace headteachers at schools across the city.
A DfE spokesperson said breaches of academy's funding agreements "will be acted on".
"When we have concerns about the performance of academy sponsors, we act quickly - for example by stopping them from taking on new projects, so that they focus on their existing schools, and in some cases re-brokering their schools with other sponsors," they said.
"As the Secretary of State said on June 9, and as stated in the published letters from Lord Nash to the relevant trusts, we had significant concerns about the way in which Oldknow trust has been running the school.
"We have received the response from Oldknow trust. We will consider the response and reply in due course."
In relation to Mr Clarke's report, the spokesperson added it is "absolutely vital this investigation is carried out impartially, without pre-judgment".
"It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage."