Inam Malik – former Head of Modern Foreign Languages at Park View and one of two teachers who were banned from teaching for life, a ban that was subsequently overturned in High Court.
“A lot has been written about the Trojan Horse Affair, but it has been very one-sided, sensationalist, extremely irresponsible reporting, jumping to conclusions, leading on the story of a jihadist plot. It became a political football. But this play told the story in a balanced way. It captured everything – Tahir’s vision, the pupils’, teachers and the council’s perspectives. There has been so much care, commitment and courage to put this together. I can’t thank Helen and Matt enough, and Professor Holmwood – his passion for speaking the truth and educating people is incredible.
There was a huge appetite for this show in Birmingham. It sold out weeks in advance. I attended all the performances and spoke on all the after shows. It was very emotional and personal to me. My family and friends were there, my network. I felt naked in front of them, I choked up. But it was an opportunity for the people of Birmingham to know the impact on me and others involved and the wider society. It opens up old wounds, which won’t close until we get justice, but talking about it heals as well. People were very sympathetic and quite shocked. They were saying they must have been asleep, ‘we can’t allow something like this to happen again’. We had members of the LGBT community on the panel and in spite of what we see in media, faith based and LGBT communities can work together to support children’s education; the Muslim community shouldn’t be used as a tool [of division?]
Going back to Alum Rock for the performance was electrifying. The trauma was there, but having a guerrilla performance on the doorstep of the school was a surreal experience – the energy, the emotion and the unity in an intimate space. It was epic.
The play had a massive impact on the audience and on social media. Four days were not enough. So many people contacted me afterwards, upset they couldn’t get tickets.
Right now the Muslim community feels insecure, about Brexit, about our political leadership. We’ve been screwed over, so we have mixed feelings. Policies have changed as a result of Trojan Horse. The impact is felt on a daily basis. Some parents are afraid that if they become governors and speak about their rights, they would be accused of being a repeat of Trojan Horse. This play, written by non-Muslims, gives hope that there are still people out there who support justice. We need to get out and work for a better society together. You can’t allow the system to shut you down, you have to fight, you have to speak up.”
Qasim Mahmood – actor playing Tahir Alam – former head of Park View Trust
“I grew up in Alum Rock till I was 20 years old. My house is behind Nansen Primary school – across the road is Parkview. My dad and uncles went to Parkview and my cousins went to Parkview while this was happening; Tahir was a governor of my school. So I was so part of that environment that the play is talking about.
When I was younger, I knew the Trojan Horse was happening but I didn’t know the other side, the side that the media wasn’t telling. The only person in my life who used to say it was bullshit was my dad. Everyone believed something bad had happened. It was so hurtful to discover the truth [through the play]. Since watching it, my Dad calls me up all the time to tell me how upset he feels. He was of the generation that only got one GSCE out of that school, he left when he was 15. He feels robbed of an education he could have had.
Bringing the play to Birmingham, I knew people would get it, would hear and understand. I wasn’t scared, but there was this added responsibility of serving this community. There were people in the audience who were affected by it. One of the teachers and his family were on the front row.
In the performance in Alum Rock, I had never been so close to what it was like to be in that situation, because the school was right behind me. It was the most truthful performance I had done. Near the end Tahir says something like Michael Gove came and destroyed this community and then walked away. Those lines felt so right and I got the weight of those words and my responsibility. Normally people laugh through the play. In Alum Rock, they didn’t laugh at all; normally they like Elaine Buckley – silence. You could feel how much they disliked her, what she was saying about the community, right there and then. People were nodding along, hearing this side of the story. But they were hurt in the room.
The LGBT issue is about being heard, and they don’t feel heard at the moment. There was one guy who came to the play who said ‘I didn’t speak out then but I am speaking out now’. I wondered if has an issue about LGBT or is it more because he feels he is not being heard. The people I know who came to see the play have more of an understanding it is part of their history now. Now it feels like this is part of our story.”
Artistic Director/CEO Midland Arts Centre Debbie Kermode
“MAC is located within a large South Asian, with significant, relatively conservative Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. We have a long-term objective to engage critically with the issues that are relevant to these communities. It is not enough just to have people from BAME communities attending the venue. Trojan Horse was therefore an important and meaningful play for us to support as it allowed an alternative perspective and voice to the community, and we took it on proudly and paid considerable attention to work we did around it. We invested our own funds to support the translation of the play into Urdu and the supported outreach work. We worked with residents in Alum Rock, families and ex-pupils who supported the play and the issues raised, which they felt passionate about sharing. We approached the Core Education Trust which in 2015 took over the running of the schools caught up in the Trojan Horse Affair, with a strong desire to build a partnership, however unfortunately for many reasons the school leadership resisted any engagement with us, and voiced serious concerns about MAC taking the play.
Adrian Packer, CEO and Co-Founder of Core Education Trust, was a vocal critic of the play coming to Birmingham at this time, given the current controversy over teaching of LGBT lessons and other concerns, because the Trojan Horse happened in schools he has jurisdiction over, he was keen to influence MAC’s decision to take the play. I absolutely understood his feeling that it was the school’s story, taking place in their classrooms and that he has a duty of care to his pupils, however it was difficult to reconcile his belief that he represented the views of the wider community. As one mother of a pupil I spoke to after the show at MAC candidly said, “They changed everything. They came in, got their MBEs and OBES and felt they “rescued” the situation.” It was clear that many community members took a different view and wanted a safe space to discuss the issues raised.
Adrian Packer talked about opening old wounds that would upset the community, however together with the play’s writer and director, the team at MAC felt that it opened up an important debate that has been suspended since the collapse of the trial. Sadly we were never going to see eye to eye. From where I stand, perceptions of what happened in 2014 are complex and there is a wide range of opinion about the Affair. The show attracted 4 capacity audiences, and I think we could have filled it 10 times over, with the majority of the audience from South Asian heritage, who welcomed the opportunity to talk about it even if they didn’t all agree!”
Member of Core Education Trust
“We invited Adrian Packer to respond in November, but he was unfortunately not available to comment until mid-January, after the publication of this case study. We asked for comment from other members of the Trust, but have not had any response.”
Professor John Holmwood
“Dialogue secures democracy; constraining dialogue breeds suspicion. Everything is resolved through talking about it. But when it comes to Trojan Horse many people think that if you talk about it people will tell you things that you wont want to hear. So let’s stop people talking about it.
This is about justice, about not being heard, not being listened to, and the power of the state to create the narrative and let the consequences be dealt with by other people. They are not going to take responsibility. But at the core of this is a discussion about education. And the play is really saying – if you accept that this is a false narrative then what this play is about is how should we be managing teaching ethnic minority children in multi-cultural society. For the parents, it is also a question of justice – how do we get the same educational chances for our children as for others. If it had been white middle class children who were failing their parents wouldn’t have put up with it and they would have been supported in their desire for change. When Muslims try and take it into their hands they are accused of being extremists.
Wherever the play is performed wherever the story is told, it is accepted and what people respond to is that there is an obvious injustice there – there is never a rebuttal of the story there is only an attempt to have the story not heard. My optimism is that anyone who comes to it fresh sees how the story was previously constructed was false, that is how many people have responded to the play. That for me is the Hillsborough comparison. It is why the play went down so well in Liverpool. Probably the best set of performances they were right into the play right from the start. There is no need to explain to us what happened they understood, because they had been regarded that they were not worth listening to. The awareness that the play generated was exactly what the play’s detractors were afraid of, but what drives the play – to build grassroots support to demand an inquiry.”