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Society and communities

The Trojan Horse Affair

The Trojan Horse affair, as it came to be known, initially centred on 21 schools in Birmingham, amid fears that they were attempting to “Islamicise” children, but later came to concentrate on just four schools associated with Park View Education Trust.

Official reports laid charges of extremism and gave rise to a new Government Counter Extremism Strategy, including a duty on schools to promote ‘fundamental British values’. When professional misconduct cases were brought against just 12 teachers, the charges were reduced to ‘undue religious influence’. The cases collapsed following serious improprieties by lawyers acting for the Department for Education – but the impact on schools and religious groups across the country was profound.

Professor John Holmwood, who was an expert witness for the defence in these cases, has continued to study the impact of the events that took place.

His work centres on issues of ethnic and religious difference, in an attempt to understand the nature of multi-culturalism in a society where the dominance of any one religion has declined.

He said: “The affair represents a serious injustice upon teachers and governors, as well as parents and pupils linked with the schools. It has also had a profound effect on public policies that have created anxieties about the integration of British Muslims.

“Researchers should involve themselves on the basis of their role as citizens as much as researchers. No one should be indifferent to injustice.”

His findings, which he believes highlight a “key moment in multicultural Britain” were published in a book (co-authored with Therese O’Toole) Countering Extremism in British Schools? The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair in 2017.

"The aim is to transform understandings of the role of religion in schools, produce resources for combating Islamaphobia, and contribute to changing national policy."
Professor John Holmwood

The book struck a chord with many in marginalised communities and Professor Holmwood has since been working with community theatre group LUNG and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, now Leeds Playhouse, to create a play, Trojan Horse, based on the affair.

It sold out for all 28 showings at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year, where it also received the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award, and is beginning a national tour this autumn.

Professor Holmwood said: “There will be over 50 associated community events and workshops running alongside the play. The aim is to transform understandings of the role of religion in schools, produce resources for combating Islamaphobia, and contribute to changing national policy.”

The play’s run will conclude with a performance at Parliament, hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, supported by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Naz Shah MP, to coincide with the Independent Review of the Government’s anti-terror Prevent strategy. “It provides an opportunity for the play to be used to address the consequences of the strategy for Muslim communities and also to seek reinforcement of religious rights as protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010,” said Professor Holmwood.

“Theatre performance provides a level of emotional engagement with the issues involved that is not possible in an academic account.”

Professor Holmwood, Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead from LUNG have written about academic research and verbatim theatre in an Open Access article, Writing Justice/ Permorming Injustice. 

In the event, Covid-19 brought the play run to an end and the proposed performance at Parliament did not go ahead.

Professor Holmwood has continued his critical engagement with the Government’s Prevent strategy, co-chairing the People’s Review of Prevent which issued its report in February. 

Professor Holmwood had also been advising Brian Reed and Hamza Syed for their Serial/ New York Times podcast on the Trojan Horse affair which was recently broadcast and became ‘No 1’ listed on various podcast lists, with over 13 million downloads in its first three weeks. The connection between the issues raised in the podcast and the People’s Review of Prevent are set out here. His efforts to rectify the injustices associated with the Trojan Horse affair continue.

John Holmwood

John Holmwood is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology in the School of Sociology and Social Policy. His research focuses on social stratification and inequality and the nature of public sociology.

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