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Department for Education criticised for not scrutinising extremism risk

The Department for Education has been criticised for not being "inquisitive" enough after it was told about the possibility of extremism in Birmingham schools.

An internal review clears the DfE of ignoring specific warnings, but says that procedures to deal with the issue could have been tighter. As a result, the department is to strengthen its unit that addresses extremism in schools and introduce a formal system for reporting and handling concerns.

The review was carried out by permanent secretary Chris Wormald, the most senior civil servant in the DfE, in response to allegations that officials and ministers had ignored warnings about extremism in Birmingham schools.

It follows a number of inquiries which found that warning signs of potential extremism had been missed. The inquiries were set up in the wake of allegations of a "Trojan Horse" conspiracy by Islamist extremists to take over schools in Birmingham.

Five of the schools, including Park View (pictured), were placed in special measures when Ofsted found they had failed to take sufficient action to prevent students being exposed to extremism. The schools rejected the allegations.

The latest review says that concerns about schools in Birmingham were raised with the DfE on six occasions in the past 20 years, including three times in the past five years. They were dealt with according to normal practice at the time, Mr Wormald finds.

“Whilst I have not found evidence of people having acted inappropriately, I have concluded that in individual instances the department has lacked inquisitiveness on issues related to potential extremism or destabilisation of schools by external interests,” Mr Wormald says in the report.

“It is also true that the processes for dealing with such warnings were not as robust as, for instance, the process around child protection concerns.”

Following the review, the DfE is to increase the size of its due diligence and counter extremism division to 36 staff. It is also introducing a formal system to allow staff to refer concerns about extremism and to log and handle warnings.

Related stories:

Trojan Horse: 'Lessons must be learnt', says Laws – 21 July 2014

Trojan Horse: Five schools placed in special measures – 9 June 2014


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