LONDON (AFP) - The government has ordered inspections of 15 schools in Britain's second-biggest city after allegations that they are being taken over by Islamic hardliners, officials said on Sunday.
A row has been brewing in Birmingham 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 that 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 this week froze the recruitment of school governors pending the outcome of its inquiries.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has now ordered formal inspections by the Ofsted watchdog of 15 schools across the city, a spokesman for his ministry said.
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, Ofsted could declare the schools inadequate and replace governing bodies and head teachers, the newspaper said.
The 10 members of parliament (MPs) representing Birmingham last week wrote to Gove to express their concerns.
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.
Mr David Hughes said that in his 15 years as school governor at the Park View School academy there had not been a single complaint about extremism or radicalism in the school.
The spokesman for the Department for Education said: "The allegations made in relation to some schools in Birmingham are very serious and we are investigating all evidence put to us in conjunction with Ofsted, Birmingham City Council and the police.
"It is absolutely vital these investigations are carried out impartially, without pre-judgment."