Governors of new academies and free schools told to abide by ‘British values’
New rules brought in by Michael Gove in wake of ‘Trojan horse’ controversy could stop conservative Muslims from being trustees.
Community leaders have warned that some Muslims could be effectively barred from becoming trustees or governors of new academies and free schools under rules introduced by the education secretary, Michael Gove, in response to the “Trojan horse” controversy.
The Department for Education has inserted new clauses into the model funding agreement for academies stipulating that its governors should demonstrate “fundamental British values”, and giving the secretary of state powers to close schools if they do not comply.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that the new rule would make it very difficult to become a school governor if conservative Muslim beliefs were deemed to be incompatible with “British values”, and that it put too much power in the secretary of state’s hands to define those values.
The document gives for the first time the education department’s written definition of the “British values” that Gove said all schools should be promoting in the wake of the row over allegations of Muslim extremism in Birmingham schools.
The “Trojan horse” row, sparked by allegations of Islamist infiltration into Birmingham schools, involved four academies in the city which were deemed to have failed to instil British values into pupils, and were placed in special measures prior to having their funding cancelled and leadership replaced.
In the wake of the furore, Gove announced that schools will in future be required to promote “British values”, including equality between genders and tolerance of other faiths.
The document, seen by the Guardian, sets out the practical implementation of that announcement.
The new clauses come in revisions to the funding agreement between academies or free schools and the DfE – a contract that is the legal basis of the relationship between an academy and the government. The new wording will apply to all free schools and academies opening or schools converting to academy status.
Under the existing legal agreement the education secretary was only able to cut off a school’s funding if there had been “a serious breakdown in the way the academy is managed or governed” or if the DfE regarded a governor as “not a suitable person”.
But the department’s new rules enable the education secretary to close the school or dismiss its governors if he thinks that any member of the academy trust is “unsuitable” because of “relevant conduct”, defined as anything “aimed at undermining the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.
A spokesman for the MCB said the new clause was dangerous because it allowed the education secretary to decide who was or was not an extremist based on his own views, and would penalise law-abiding Muslims who wanted to take part in public life.
Talha Ahmad, a senior member of the MCB, said: “As a matter of principle, to have so much power vested in one hand is wrong. But then to have powers over an area over which there is no consensus is, frankly speaking, quite dangerous.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “There is absolutely no bar to Muslims becoming school governors. We want a diverse range of people, of all faiths and none, to serve on governing bodies.
“It is right that unsuitable people should not be able to become governors. We are clear that any behaviour which undermines the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs is incompatible with being a governor in a state-funded school in England.”
Ahmad said Gove’s views would make it difficult to persuade Muslims of all persuasions to take part in school governance, because of the vagueness of “British values” as a standard.
“People may have different views, and those views might be informed by faith. But does that mean the secretary of state should have the power to arbitrate these ideas, so much so that they should not be part of an educational establishment?” Ahmad said: “This whole idea of giving the secretary of state the power to decide which views fall foul of British values, on matters such as school governors, seems to be draconian.”
Gove said, following the publication of Ofsted’s investigation into 21 state schools in Birmingham, that he would “put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children”.
Sources at the education department have said that school leaders involved in some of the schools in Birmingham, such as the Park View Educational Trust, could be barred from involvement in schools in the future.