The British government has ordered inspections of 15 schools in Birmingham after allegations they are being taken over by Islamic hardliners.
A row has been brewing in the UK’s second largest city for weeks since the local council received an anonymous letter alleging a plot to force a change of leadership at four state-run schools.
The aim was apparently to impose a conservative religious agenda, turning parents against head teachers by telling them the school is corrupting their children with sex education, promotion of homosexuality and making them take part in Christian prayers.
Unnamed school staff have since made accusations about gender segregation and the bullying of non-Muslim staff.
The central English city has one the highest Muslim populations in the country. The 2011 census found 22 per cent of residents were Muslim, compared to 4.8 per cent nationwide.
Birmingham City Council has been trying to get to the bottom of the alleged plot and last week froze the recruitment of school governors pending the outcome of its inquiries.
Education Secretary Michael Gove had ordered formal inspections by the Ofsted watchdog of 15 schools across the city, a spokeswoman for his ministry said on Sunday.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister David Cameron warned that “we will not accept any school being run by extremists or promoting extremist views”.
Speaking on a visit to Birmingham, he said: “It’s not acceptable, we can’t have that happening in our country and Ofsted have all the powers they need to intervene.”
Ofsted monitors educational standards but the Sunday Times newspaper said it would also look into whether religious conservatism was getting in the way of learning in Birmingham.
If this was found to the case, it could declare the schools inadequate and replace governing bodies and head teachers, the newspaper said.
However, a governor at one of the schools allegedly targeted in the plot has hit back, saying it was the victim of a “witchhunt” and denying allegations of extremism.