The letter at the centre of the Trojan Horse affair was “designed to stir up racial and religious antagonism” and the reaction to it has been “disproportionate”, according to Birmingham City Council’s former chief executive.
Writing for LGC, Stephen Hughes, who left the authority in March, says the Trojan Horse letter, which alleged an Islamist plot to take over some Birmingham schools, “wove together different issues in different schools that in the main the council’s education department was aware of and was dealing with.”
He writes that some schools made “poor judgements”, but adds that it is “disconcerting” that a local matter became “a national issue that required the personal attention of two secretaries of state and the prime minister”.
He also questions the case made by the watchdog Ofsted that there had been a “rapid deterioration” at some of the Birmingham schools after its inspections found them to be outstanding.
He adds that, when he first saw the Trojan Horse letter in November last year, he referred it to the West Midlands Police counter-terrorism unit who found no terrorist threat.
Speaking to LGC, Mr Hughes said he feared the case would lead to greater state regulation and would stifle innovation. “It’s the standard response of governments,” he said.
“You can’t on a day-to-day basis keen an eye on schools, so you regulate. It leads to a lack of local innovation and choice.”
Mr Hughes told LGC he supported a call by the LGA this week for councils to be given greater powers to intervene in non-maintained schools, such as triggering Ofsted inspections, challenging governors, scrutinising budgets and offering early support and intervention.
“You wouldn’t use the powers all the time, but the more capability a local authority has to intervene and make changes, the more likely it is that the council can ensure there’s proper governance and that schools improve,” he said.
However, he said he did not support proposals by the Labour party to set up education commissioners acting alongside councils.
“You don’t need both,” he said. “It wouldn’t add value; it would just add complexity.”