Tuesday 20 March 2018

Theresa May aide quits as Michael Gove says sorry

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove

BRITISH Education Secretary Michael Gove was forced to apologise to the Prime Minister and Home Office counter-terror chief Charles Farr, while Theresa May's special adviser has quit as the crisis over the damaging row at the heart of the Cabinet deepened.

The row between Mr Gove and the Home Secretary claimed its first scalp as Mrs May's aide Fiona Cunningham resigned following the investigation ordered by David Cameron into the dispute between two of his most senior ministers.

Mr Gove wrote to apologise to Mr Farr and the Prime Minister "in acknowledgement of his role" in the row, which saw the Education Secretary's camp and Mrs May's side publicly feuding over the way Islamist extremism was tackled.

Mr Cameron ordered Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood to investigate the row after details of the dispute between the two ministers became public.

Quotes attributed to a Department for Education source in The Times detailed Mr Gove's concerns about the Home Office's approach to tackling extremism.

The source said: "Charles Farr always believed if extremists become violent we should deal with it. It has been characterised by others in government as just beating back the crocodiles that come close to the boat rather than draining the swamp."

But Mrs May's camp hit back, releasing a letter from the Home Secretary to the Education Secretary questioning his department's response to the Islamist "Trojan horse" allegations Birmingham schools and a source said: "Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010? Lord knows what more they have overlooked on the subject of the protection of kids in state schools? It scares me."

Announcing today's developments a Downing Street spokesman said: "In relation to unauthorised comments to the media about the Government's approach to tackling extremism and the improper release of correspondence between ministers, the Prime Minister has received the Cabinet Secretary's review establishing the facts behind these events.

"In acknowledgement of his role, today, the Secretary of State for Education has written separately to Charles Farr and the Prime Minister apologising for the original comments made to the Times newspaper. In addition, in relation to further comments to the Times, Fiona Cunningham has today resigned."

Ofsted is set to publish its reports on Birmingham schools at the centre of claims about an Islamist takeover plot on Monday and Mr Gove will make a statement in the Commons.

No 10 said: "The Prime Minister has been deeply concerned by the allegations made about extremism and a number of Birmingham schools. The Government, through the Department for Education and Ofsted, has taken swift action to investigate these allegations since they emerged in late 2013.

"The Prime Minister is taking a specific interest in ensuring this serious matter is being dealt with effectively.

"The detailed findings of the investigations will be set out in Parliament on Monday by the Secretary of State for Education.

"The Prime Minister has made clear that he expects a robust response from all relevant organisations to any findings that confirm that the safety and learning of children in our schools have been put at risk.

"The Prime Minister has prioritised fighting all forms of extremism, including through setting up his Extremism Taskforce in the wake of the horrific killing of Lee Rigby."

Mr Gove had earlier denied that the row with Mrs May had damaged the Government or that he was considering his position over his department's handling of the Birmingham allegations.

Questioned about the spat at a public appearance for the first time since details of the clash emerged, Mr Gove responded in one word: "No."

The Education Secretary's brief reply came at a Policy Exchange event in central London as it was reported that a school mired in the Islamist controversy in Birmingham would be given a damning Ofsted report.

Park View Academy, which only two years ago was given Ofsted's highest rating of outstanding, will be downgraded according to The Guardian, quoting a leaked copy of the latest inspection report.

The school's managing trust has issued a statement rejecting the findings, saying inspectors have misrepresented the facts, adding there was "no suggestion" in the report of extremism being present in classrooms.

The academy in Alum Rock in Birmingham has been the focus of allegations made in the Operation Trojan Horse letter - now widely believed to be a hoax - which alleged a plot by Islamists to take over the running of schools, triggering a wave of inspections and four separate inquiries.

The academy is among three schools run by Park View Educational Trust (PVET), including Golden Hillock School in Sparkhill, which it was last week revealed is set to be placed in special measures.

PVET said no evidence of extremism has been uncovered by Ofsted at either school and has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, with trust chairman Tahir Alam previously branding the inquiries "a witch-hunt".

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