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New rules 'could bar conservative Muslims from being school trustees'

New rules brought in by Michael Gove in wake of 'Trojan horse' controversy tell governors of new academies and free schools to abide by 'British values'

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Mr Gove wants schools to promote 'British values' Photo: YUI MOK/PA

By Keith Perry

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Some Muslims could be effectively excluded from becoming trustees or governors of new academies and free schools under rules introduced by the Education Secretary Michael Gove in response to the "Trojan horse" controversy, community leaders have warned.

The Department for Education has inserted new clauses into the model funding agreement for academies stipulating that its governors should demonstrate "fundamental British values", and giving the Education Secretary powers to close schools if they do not comply.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) told the Guardian that the new rule would make it very difficult to become a school governor if conservative Muslim beliefs were deemed to be incompatible with "British values", and that it put too much power in the secretary of state's hands to define those values.

The document is the first written definition of the "British values" by the Department for Education that Mr Gove said all schools should be promoting in the wake of the Trojan Horse row over allegations of Muslim extremism in Birmingham schools.

It says that schools must promote British values of respect for the law, democracy, equality and tolerance of different faiths and religious and other beliefs.

Following the controversy, Mr Gove announced that schools will in future be required to promote "British values", including equality between genders and tolerance of other faiths.

The document, obtained by the Guardian, sets out the practical implementation of that announcement.

The new clauses come in revisions to the funding agreement between academies or free schools and the DfE – a contract that is the legal basis of the relationship between an academy and the government. The new wording will apply to all free schools and academies opening or schools converting to academy status.

Under the existing legal agreement the education secretary was only able to cut off a school's funding if there had been "a serious breakdown in the way the academy is managed or governed" or if the DfE regarded a governor as "not a suitable person".

But the department's new rules enable the education secretary to close the school or dismiss its governors if he thinks that any member of the academy trust is "unsuitable" because of "relevant conduct", defined as anything "aimed at undermining the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs".

A spokesman for the MCB said the danger was that the new clause allowed the Education Secretary to decide who was or was not an extremist based on his own views, and would penalise law-abiding Muslims who wanted to take part in public life.

Talha Ahmad, a senior member of the MCB, told the Guardian: "As a matter of principle, to have so much power vested in one hand is wrong. But then to have powers over an area over which there is no consensus is, frankly speaking, quite dangerous."

A DfE spokesperson said: "There is absolutely no bar to Muslims becoming school governors. We want a diverse range of people, of all faiths and none, to serve on governing bodies."

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