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Illegal schools

Here is a BBC story from a couple of weeks ago: Thousands of children taught in ‘illegal schools’. Similar pieces appeared in the Times, the Guardian, and other newspapers. When this story came out I listened on the radio to an interview on the subject with some Ofsted guy, either the Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted by the BBC or one of his minions. Whoever it was, he came across as so evasive on one particular point that by comparison even the BBC interviewer was plain-spoken. From the way Ofsted Guy spoke of these illegal schools as places where only “religion” was taught you’d think clicking on the BBC Bitesize GCSE Religious Studies page makes a red light flash in GCHQ, and from the way he spoke of “radicalisation” you’d think that all roots resulted in the same flower. Oh, and from the way he spoke of these schools being “illegal” you would think that they had been convicted in a court of being illegal. The BBC interviewer pressed him and eventually got him to admit that the alleged illegality was merely his opinion, not having been tested in court, and that “some” of these schools were Islamic.

That’s progress of a sort. The Guardian article linked to above does not mention Islam at all but has a quote from a disgruntled former pupil at a Charedi school. We should all be very grateful to the Charedim and the Belzers. When one simply must have someone other than the Muslims to point to, they are there. They ought to start an agency and charge for their services: “Jews in Hats: the safe option for all your denunciation needs.”

The Times says the unauthorized schools are “predominantly Islamic”.

So far this post has almost written itself. The usual pathetic fear of naming Islam from the establishment, the usual pushback from angry commenters, the usual opportunity for bloggers like me to use up old out-of-code packets of sarcasm from the bottom of the freezer. But now things get a little odd and diffuse and unsatisfactory.

I would like to offer a few scattered thoughts regarding three points. (1) Not for the first time, the efforts of the media to conceal that some minority are disproportionately involved in some disfavoured activity has resulted in the public overestimating the involvement of that minority; (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear; and (3) there is no evidence that these little informal schools, including the Muslim ones, do any worse than the state schools at either education or terrorism-prevention. There is some reason to suppose they might do better in some circumstances despite worse facilities. Many children turn to these schools having suffered bullying at normal schools. The low number of people involved means that everyone, teachers and pupils, knows everyone else; no one can “slip through the cracks”. Another benefit is that the presence of an affordable alternative helps keep more traditional types of schools on their toes.

Taking point (1) first, scroll down to the end of the BBC story with which I started this post. It says, “Update: This report contains new information from Ofsted, which had previously said most of the schools involved were Islamic or Jewish.” The following line seems to have been inserted into the main text since it was first published: “Roughly a third of them [the unregistered schools] were Islamic and a sixth either Christian or Jewish.” So fully half of them are not religious! I’m guessing hippies. Daft but not scary.

Point (2). If this whole fuss were any more of a smear you could use it to test for cervical cancer. Let us look at the BBC article in particular.

He said his inspectors found schools operating in warehouses and old factory buildings, and the establishments were “often charging parents for the privilege”

Oh, the horror. They weren’t in pretty buildings and they charged a fee. Did Sir Michael Wilshaw ever stop to think what the fact that people, often rather poor people, would rather pay to have their children taught in an old warehouse than not pay to have them taught in a purpose-built school implies?

He said the children were in “very serious danger” and not just from the “filthy” premises, with open drains running through some of them.

I call bullshit. There is dirt a-plenty in modern Britain but there really aren’t that many buildings with open drains running through them any more. I looked on Zoopla and “Open sewer in middle of room” was not offered as a search term. Depend on it, “some” means “one”, and that was probably an ambiguous case.

“If the people in these institutions are not carefully vetted and they are not, then the wrong sort of people could be looking after these children,” he said.

It is undeniable that they could be. It is also undeniable that not a week goes by without a newspaper account of some carefully vetted right sort of person teaching in an official school being revealed to be a kiddy fiddler. I don’t claim that vetting is useless, but its efficacy is greatly overstated. Frequently the effect of CRB forms and other box-ticking exercises is to reduce vigilance. People think the paperwork is correct so all must be well.

“And they could be associating with people who have extremist views.”

Which takes us to point (3). Again, it is undeniable that these children, meaning Muslim children, in unregistered schools could be associating with extremists, meaning Muslim extremists. You know, like Muslim children in state schools definitely do. You want to see Islamisation in schools? This is Islamisation in schools:

Investigations by Ofsted and the Education Funding Authority in 21 schools found evidence of an “organised campaign to target certain schools” by Islamists.

Golden Hillock School, Nansen Primary School, Park View Academy – all run by the Park View Educational Trust – Oldknow Academy and Saltley School were placed in special measures after inspectors found systemic failings including the schools having failed to take adequate steps to safeguard pupils against extremism. Another school investigated, Alston Primary, was already in special measures. A sixth school was labelled inadequate for its poor educational standards and twelve schools were found needing of improvements. Three schools were commended.[3]

Ofsted expressed concerns about an exclusively Muslim culture in non-faith schools and children not being taught to “develop tolerant attitudes towards other faiths”.[3] The inspections found that head teachers have been “marginalised or forced out of their jobs”. Ofsted found that the curriculum was being narrowed to reflect the “personal views of a few governors”. Teachers reported unfair treatment because of their gender or religious beliefs. Ofsted found a breakdown of trust between governors and staff and that family members had been appointed to unadvertised senior leadership posts[3]

Parkview Education Trust were found to be in breach of the Education Funding Agreement by failing to promote social cohesion, failing to promote the social, moral, spiritual, and cultural development of pupils, failing to promote balanced political treatment of issues, and failure to comply fully with safeguarding issues concerning criminal records checks.[50]

Emphasis added. Note that this (“Operation Trojan Horse”) happened in state schools, and they weren’t even the dreaded “faith schools”. Also note that the much vaunted criminal records checks went by the wayside.

Birmingham is not the only place where all that vetting and inspecting that state schools get proved ineffective. Here is a story from London: School of Jihadis: Why have six former pupils of the ‘Eton of comprehensives’ been linked to terror? The July 7 bombers were also products of British comprehensive schools. One of them even mentored at one. Of course vast numbers of pupils go to state schools and do not emerge as mass murderers. But when a high official raises fears that “illegal” schools might incubate terrorists, it is legitimate to reply that we know that “legal” schools have incubated terrorists, rather a lot of them.

A determined and cunning would-be child abuser or would-be terrorist recruiter would not direct his attentions at some wretched hedge school with half a dozen pupils. He would go for richer pickings.

21 comments to Illegal schools

  • Lee Moore

    Surely these are just “undocumented” schools ?

  • Mr Ed

    I’m guessing hippies. Daft but not scary.

    Have you never heard of the Manson Family?

    Real hippies, scary hippies.

  • Paul Marks

    The schools thing is a cover for a broader problem – should parents be allowed to teach their children to hate?

    The parents know perfectly well that these Islamic schools teach the children that infidels should be crushed as soon as the forces of Islam are strong enough to do so. And if the schools were destroyed – they would just teach their children this at home anyway.

    So should the schools be destroyed – no they should not as such action would be pointless.

    And should the parents be allowed to teach their children to hate infidels – yes, on balance, I thing they should.

    I am not a total “parents rights” person – I do not believe that parents should be allowed to rape or murder their children. However “teaching them to hate” is about IDEAS – the state must not be in the business of forbidding the teaching of ideas.

    Nor should the state be in the business of running indoctrination centres to teach children ideas and attitudes that their parents despise. What ideas the children are taught is up to the parents – BUT, BUT, BUT if the parents use physical force to prevent their children hearing an alternative point of view (threats to murder their children and so on) then the state (or anyone else with a sword) has the right to step in.

    “What about the murder of people like you Paul”.

    Yes – schools and parents should be allowed to teach that people like me should be murdered if that is what the parents want.

  • Mr Ed

    Do not overlook the ‘deradicalisation’ rukes that require teachers to report ‘extremism’ in pupils. Of course, some boost the stats by reporting support for UKIP as exremism. Garbage in (teaching jobs), garbage out.

  • Mr Ed

    Do not overlook how ideological the English education system is, after all, how likely is it that a religious school will focus on matters such as these key topic points from the BBC for a GCSE (exam/assessment for 16 year olds) Business Studies learning guide.

    Employment rights

    To prevent exploitation, the government has passed a number of laws that safeguard staff:
    Workers are guaranteed a minimum hourly wage rate of £6.31 per hour in 2013.
    Race, sex, age or disability discrimination is illegal. Businesses must be careful to treat all workers fairly. They must offer equal pay and promotion opportunities for women and ethnic minorities.
    The EU Working Time Directive sets a limit on the number of hours staff can work in a week.
    Parents are entitled to paid leave from work soon after their children are born. The firms must keep their post open for when they return from maternity or paternity leave.
    Protecting workers rights increases the costs of firms.

    That should be ‘costs to firms’ at the end there.

    In previous post ‘rules’ not ‘rukes’.

  • Since your story involves religion and politics – especially political correctness – the term “hedge school” is historically appropriate, though I suspect hedges are almost as rare as open sewers.

    It would be interesting to know how many of these are islamic, how many of other faiths, how many ethnic (i.e. as their point, not just accidentally ethnic from circumstance), how many are home-schoolers-united and how many are hippie or green (maybe that open sewer one is to keep the kids in touch with nature), etc. With a strong agenda at work, I don’t suppose I’ll know reliably any time soon.

    I’m _guessing_ less often hippies, whom my conventional prejudices see as just as ill-organised when it comes to schools as in other things, but more just parents who have noticed what a rotten and insolent product much state education is. If you would rather home school, but don’t have the time or resources yourself, setting up a hedge school with the help of some other parents makes a lot of sense. (That is just a guess – I’ve not met such a case – possibly because the middle class find it easier to influence their local schools a bit, so the real victims tend to be poor and urban.)

  • The Pedant-General

    “That should be ‘costs to firms’ at the end there.”

    Actually, that should be “costs that will end up either as lower wages to employees, or higher prices to consumers, or some mixture thereof”.

    Tax incidence is a bummer.

  • The Pedant-General

    (I’m discounting returns to shareholders here as I suspect that’s not going to be as big an issue as the other components)

  • Mr Ed

    Dear Pedant-General,

    I was referring to the use of the wording, not the consequences.

  • Lee Moore

    “costs of firms” is perfectly good English, though perhaps slightly more ambiguous than “costs to firms” in this context.


    Pedant Field Marshall

  • CaptDMO

    Oh how nice.
    Let us know when “swap days” are introduced.
    Maybe the students discovering:
    “Gee, I never thought about it that way”, to
    “Are you out of your flippin’ MIND?” on a regular basis MIGHT
    alleviate the inevitable Us vs. Them that “parents”, and “educators”, so desperately crave
    their next generations to maintain.
    I’m just not seeing even the slightest pretense of the bidirectional assimilation bit assumed.
    SOME assurance of common tongue might be nice, but it seems THAT budgie slips it’s mortal coil with every new flock of teenagers (or economics/humanities sophomores))of ANY lineage…or cloister.

  • Paul

    CRB Forms.

    Direct quote (paraphrased for memory) of local HT. “We have to start the staff without CRBs. We send them in but the Local Authority are so slow and CRB so inefficient that if we waited for the forms too many classes wouldn’t have teachers”.

    Reality. CRB (i) does not work. It *still* doesn’t think John Smith and Johnny Smith might possibly be the same person. Want to get out of it. Misspell your name they won’t notice. It especially helps if you have a really odd foreign name, even if you type it in properly CRB won’t. (ii) it’s sole purpose is to give people paper to wave to avoid responsibility.

  • (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear;

    So that’s what “Ofsted” (rhymes with “loves Ted”) stands for.

    More seriously, as an American where most of our bureaucracies have acronyms in all-caps, I find the British use of capitalizing just the first letter creepy, because it really reminds me of Newspeak and its bureaucracies like Miniluv and Minitru. Indeed, I often wonder whether the British style of just capitalizing the first letter is, like Newspeak, deliberately designed to obscure what the bureaucracy does. (If I had had to guess, I would have guessed “Office of Science, Technology, and Education” for OFSTED.)

  • Andrew Duffin

    I am guessing that this whole manufactured scare is actually a strawman to justify the ramping up of the class war against anything that’s not the local bog-standard comp.

    Anyone betting against?

  • Mr Ed

    As Andrew D says, it’s more than likely that this is all a cloak for some general interference, given that at a recent OFSTED inspection of an Islamic school, the inspector didn’t ask the pupils any questions as he was told that it was Eid, and he swallowed that.

    The schools watchdog has admitted one of its staff made a ‘mistake’ at the Zakaria Muslim Girls’ High School in Batley last year.
    The inspector was told he could not speak any of the 147 pupils at the school, which is run by members of the Deobandi sect, which teaches an orthodox view of Islam.
    Ofsted said it had taken ‘appropriate action’ against the inspector, who is understood to be no longer working there.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . should parents be allowed to teach their children to hate?”

    I suspect the question actually is narrower.

    Knowing how my local school districts feel (and teach) about any non-progressive sentiment, I’ll posit that the biggest problem the education industry has with out-of-system education is this:

    Children must be taught to hate correctly.

  • PeterT

    On Paul Marks’s point, I think the difference between a school and parents teaching their child to hate, is that learning this within a school environment, where all your friends are learning the same thing, and have the same views, is much more powerful than just being taught it at home. If you go to a secular school then you will at least be exposed to things besides what is in the Koran.

  • Eric

    Maybe, Peter. Once the community reaches a critical mass they tend to teach that stuff in the local state schools at taxpayer expense.

    I still can’t escape the feeling the real problem has less to do with radicalism or the “wrong sort of people” than that the government wants to teach its own form of nonsense and will brook no competition.

  • Lee Moore

    I’m sure Eric is right. Homeschooling has miraculously survived the attentions of those who would control all, by remaining so small and insignificant that it has more or less stayed off the radar. But it’s now on the radar, and this little spat is an ideal excuse to regulate it to death, in the interests of the safety of children, natch.

    Totalitarianism isn’t just fellows with jackboots breaking down doors, or White Sea Canals and suchlike. It’s a mindset. Not quite the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be enjoying themselves, but the haunting fear that someone somewhere is taking actions, making plans, thinking thoughts that have not been properly authorised.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    On Paul Marks’s point, I think the difference between a school and parents teaching their child to hate, is that learning this within a school environment, where all your friends are learning the same thing, and have the same views, is much more powerful than just being taught it at home. If you go to a secular school then you will at least be exposed to things besides what is in the Koran.

    Parents can and should be free to teach their children, even if they teach them hateful bullshit; however, the flipside of this is that laws stating that children must be kept out of the employment market until a certain age should be relaxed. I’d feel happier about fundamentalist parents if I also knew that the children had more freedom to bugger off and start doing things for themselves.

  • Andrew Duffin

    The State isn’t just bothered about parents teaching their children to hate.

    What really worries them is the fact that some parents teach their children, full stop.

    The hegemony and monopoly of Government Schools is what we’re really discussing here, hence the use of the emotive word “illegal” to cover any educational activity outside the state’s purlieu.