Theresa May and Michael Gove at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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May takes round one in battle with Gove

A leaked Ofsted report says that pupils were not protected from "the risks associated with extremist views".

The Tories have done their best today to gloss over the Whitehall war between Michael Gove and Theresa May, which so overshadowed the Queen's Speech. As he left home this morning, Gove said: "Theresa May is doing a fantastic job. There's a lot going on...She's doing a very fine job." Chris Grayling told the Today programmme: "Tensions and debates within Whitehall are not unusual; the fact is that we are pussycats in comparison with the last government if you remember the battles between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown."

But the truth is that the multi-layered feud has been one of the most damaging since the formation of the coalition. A day after it was leaked, May's abrasive letter to Gove (which now appears to have been taken off the government's website) on his alleged failure to prevent the infilitration of Birmingham schools by Islamist extremists still makes remarkable reading. In the manner of a shadow secretary of state, she demanded of the Education Secretary: "How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain? Is it true that Birmingham city council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act? I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools."

And after an Ofsted investigation into one of the schools involved in the affair was leaked, it is the Home Secretary who has taken round one. The report, one of 21 due to be published next week, found that too little had been done to protect pupils at Golden Hillock School in Sparkhill from "the risks associated with extremist views". It concluded that leaders and governors were "not doing enough to mitigate against cultural isolation" and that this "could leave students vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which could include radicalisation." It also warns that "Sex and relationships education has not been delivered through a carefully planned curriculum."

Labour, unsurprisingly, has brandished the report as the political gift that it is. Tristram Hunt said in response:

Gender discrimination, undue influence of extremist views, the school curriculum influenced by hard-line beliefs. This report confirms that Michael Gove can no longer seek to distance himself from this episode. He is responsible.

In 2010, Michael Gove was warned by a highly respected Birmingham head teacher that this was going on. Four years on, he has failed to act and has not explained why. Rightly, his record is now being called into question. Rather than rowing with Theresa May, he needs to answer why he has refused to act.

The Tory education programme has created a vacuum in the local oversight of schools which Labour has warned about for years. It is inconceivable that ministers can oversee half of our country’s secondary schools from a desk in Whitehall. Labour will introduce local Directors of School Standards to oversee all schools and end this exposure to risk that is damaging school standards.

For years, Labour has found itself on the backfoot on education as Gove has defined the terms of debate and claimed political ownership of the academies programme. But the lack of oversight revealed by this episode and others, such as the Al-Madinah case, means that the tide has finally turned in its favour. It will now be harder than ever for Gove to justify his belief that it is possible to run an education system on the basis that thousands of schools should be directly accountable to the Secretary of State.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Our treatment of today's refugees harks back to Europe's darkest hour

We mustn't forget the lessons of the Second World War in the face of today's refugee crisis, says Molly Scott Cato.

In the 1930s, thousands of persecuted people fled Europe. Our own press ignominiously reported these as "Stateless Jews pouring into this country" and various records exist from that time of public officials reassuring readers that no such thing would be allowed under their watch.

With the benefit of historical hindsight we now know what fate awaited many of those Jews who were turned away from sanctuary. Quite rightly, we now express horror about the Holocaust, an iconic example of the most shocking event of human history, and pledge ourselves to stop anything like it happening again. 

Yet as Europe faces its worst refugee crisis since the Second World War we are witnessing a deafening cacophony of xenophobic voices in response to people fleeing their own present-day horror. We must therefore reflect on whether there is an uncomfortable parallel in the language being used to describe those seeking asylum today and the language used to describe Jews seeking refuge in the 1930s.

Our response to the current refugee crisis suggests we feel fearful and threatened by the mass movement of desperate people; fearful not just of sharing what we have but also of the sense of disorganisation and chaos. Does the fact that these refugees are from Syria, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, and so not part of our continent, provide an excuse to allow them to be bombed at home or drowned during their desperate journey to safety?

We are not helped by the poorly informed public debate which—perhaps intentionally—conflates three quite different movements of people: free movement within the EU, irregular or unauthorised migration and the plight of the Middle Eastern refugees. While our misguided foreign policy and unwillingness to tackle change may give us a moral responsibility for those fleeing famine and conflict, our responsibility towards refugees from war zones is clear under international law.

Due to our commitments to the UN Refugee Convention, the vast majority of Syrian refugees who reach our territory are given asylum but the UK has taken fewer Syrian refugees than many other European countries. While Germany admitted around 41,000 asylum-seekers in 2014 alone, the UK has taken in fewer than 7000.

The problem is that any sense of compassion we feel conflicts with our perception of the economic constraints we face. In spite of being the fifth largest economy in the world we feel poor and austerity makes us feel insecure. However, when actually confronted with people in crisis our humanity can come to the fore. A friend who spent her holiday in Greece told me that she saw local people who are themselves facing real poverty sharing what they had with the thousands of refugees arriving from Turkey.

A straightforward response to the growing sense of global crisis would be to restore the authority of the UN in managing global conflict, a role fatally undermined by Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq. Our role should be to support UN efforts in bringing about strong governments in the region, not taking the misguided ‘coalition of the willing’ route and running foreign policy based on self-interest and driven by the demands of the oil and arms industries.

We also need EU policy-makers to show leadership in terms of solidarity: to co-operate over the acceptance of refugees and finding them safe routes into asylum, something the European Greens have consistently argued for. The EU Commission and Parliament are in clear agreement about the need for fixed quotas for member states, a plan that is being jeopardised by national government’s responding to right-wing rather than compassionate forces in their own countries.

Refugees from war-torn countries of the Middle East need asylum on a temporary basis, until the countries they call home can re-establish security and guarantee freedom from oppression.

The responsibility of protecting refugees is not being shared fairly and I would appeal to the British people to recall our proud history of offering asylum. Without the benefit of mass media, the excuse of ignorance that can help to explain our failure to act in the 1930s is not available today. We must not repeat the mistakes of that time in the context of today’s crisis, mistakes which led to the deaths of so many Jews in the Nazi death camps. 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.