“At the end of the day we have a school that has 90 to 95% Muslim children, we meet their needs”.
This statement is really the key to the whole issue. I’ve lurked here for a fair old time, but I hope I might be able to contribute something, having taught workshops at one of the “Trojan horse” schools in Birmingham.
I found that in a nominally secular school where the majority of pupils are Muslim, the efforts made to “meet their needs” created a culture which accepts these “needs” as normal and this had conspicuous effects on the relationship between male and female pupils. When we “meet the needs” of children who have been brought up to believe that it is normal that man have hegemony over women, then we simply allow them to act out their poisonous beliefs.
The boys did not mix with the girls, though there was no segregation practiced by the staff.
The boys paid no attention to the female staff.
The girls only talked amongst themselves.
The girls would not proffer answers to questions.
The boys regulated the girls’ behaviour by shouting them down.
Allegedly there was a problem with girls disappearing at “marriageable” age.
If you accommodate the hijab in such a school, then it becomes abnormal not to wear it if you are a Muslim girl.
It doesn’t even take a great uniformity of belief amongst the pupils; just that enough over-indulged boys are allowed to set the tone and cow the rest into living their way. The girls are silent on the matter, so who knows or cares what they think. The children operated in their own, self imposed, self policed culture. No outside pressure from islamists is needed (and may indeed be fictitious). They have been raised to believe this is the way things should be; and have never been challenged by staff who attempt in good faith to accept and accommodate their needs.
I’d be very reluctant to blame the staff for this. They work in an extremely difficult environment and struggle generally heroically against a tide of low expectation, little support, inadequate facilities and insufficient money. I can’t imagine any of them would feel it was their place to tell the assembled school that most of their deeply held beliefs were both crazy and wrong.
(Hence, actually, the conflicting narratives from staff and the government can be resolved by realising that even if the staff were doing great things in terms of raising attainment, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t operating in a culture in which the nastier elements of conservative religion thrive.)
If you think this is only Muslim problem: look to the revelations about faith-based institutions in Ireland. This can happen anywhere the most misogynistic elements of religion are allowed to go unchallenged – they become normal.