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Concern on 'Muslim school takeover'

The findings of an investigation into "deeply worrying" allegations of a takeover plot of some Birmingham schools by Muslim fundamentalists must be published immediately, one of the city's MPs said.

Labour former minister Liam Byrne called for urgent action to reassure concerned parents as fresh claims emerged of enforced segregation of male and female pupils and the promotion of extremist views.

Ofsted last month twice visited Park View Academy - one of several schools at the centre of investigations - but Mr Byrne said the speed of the process was "glacial".

He spoke out as the chairman of the school's governors rejected the allegations as an anti-Islam "witch hunt" and insisted there was "no evidence for any of these things whatsoever".

Birmingham City Council said yesterday that its investigation into the alleged "Trojan Horse" plot was to get a staffing boost after a significant number of people came forward to raise fresh concerns.

The authority said it had received a large amount of correspondence from teachers, governors and parents since launching an inquiry into a letter claiming responsibility for "disrupting" the leadership of several schools.

The Department for Education (DfE) is running a separate investigation, parallel to the local authority probe, covering academies that do not fall under council control.

Tahir Alam, chairman of the trust that runs Park View, told BBC Radio 4's Today: "There is no evidence for any of these things whatsoever.

"Whatever practices the school is observing, they are voluntary, none of them are proscribed. They are purely optional.

"I believe it is a witch hunt based on all sorts of false allegations which have been repeated over many weeks. It is also motivated by anti-Muslim, anti-Islam sentiment which is feeding this particular frenzy."

Mr Byrne, whose Birmingham Hodge Hill constituency includes the school, told the programme he had received complaints about a "degree of segregation which they think is unhelpful" at Park View - which was rated outstanding after its previous Ofsted inspection.

"What we now need is an immediate publication of the Ofsted report. This has been a glacial process," he said.

"Parents have just been given their school choices for next year for their kids. What a lot of them are very worried about is, is Park View the right place for their child?

"It is an outstanding school, there are serious allegations, the right way to deal with it is to get Ofsted in to come and have a look at it. But we need that report on (Education Secretary) Michael Gove's desk now so that he can decide the way forward.

"This has dragged on for well over a month and a half now. There have been all kinds of leaks to the press and we just need the truth on the table now."

He went on: "We have got to find out how we didn't get a full picture in the Department for Education or in Birmingham or indeed in Ofsted and we've got to draw any wider lessons. I want DfE and Birmingham to commit today to go through that process."

Mr Byrne said he believed it was "incredibly important that children are educated in as broad a range of influences and ethos as possible".

"Where there are concerns around governance that interfere or get in the way of that outstanding education, we have got to deal with them fast, forensically and without fear or favour."

Asked if that could mean replacing the governing body and senior teaching staff, he said: "I'm afraid that is the bottom line. That is why we need that report on Mr Gove's desk today so that he can act today."

Graham Stuart, the chairman of the Commons education select committee, said the allegations were "disturbing".

"Having children indoctrinated by extremists in a state-funded school would clearly be utterly unacceptable and a scandal and needs to be dealt with as quickly as possible.

"These are disturbing allegations. Khalid Mahmood, the local MP, himself of course a Muslim, has said that he believes this is going on. But we need to wait for the outcome of the two visits by Ofsted last month and an additional visit by I think nine members of staff from the Department for Education.

"My committee takes this issue seriously. We need to find out from those who have investigated how substantial this is - whether it spreads beyond one or two schools, whether it is a dozen or more.

"In a free and liberal society, we are vulnerable to attack by determined, organised groups who want to try to take over schools. I am confident we can see off that threat."

He said Mr Gove would want to speak to city council leader Sir Albert Bore to "make sure the council is taking this issue as seriously as possible and isn't intimidated by fear of appearing anti-Muslim by taking appropriate and prompt action".

The DfE has said it "will not hesitate to take firm action" if it finds standards are not being met.


From Belfast Telegraph