Decision of the Complaints Committee 01902-15 Afzal v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Feroza Afzal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “New school ‘Islamising’ plot uncovered”/”Another Birmingham school put in special measures amid ‘Trojan Horse’ fears”, published in print and online on 31 January 2015.
2. The article reported that Ofsted had placed Small Heath School in Birmingham into special measures amid fears of the resurgence of the so-called “Trojan horse plot”. It noted that the report, which was not publicly available at the time the article was published, had found a “narrowing of the curriculum at the school”, following the appointment of a new head teacher. The article quoted messages from messaging app WhatsApp, in which “key plotters” praised the new head teacher, and discussed how she might be able to pursue an “Islamising agenda” at the school.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. The Ofsted report had not found a “narrowing of the curriculum”; rather it had praised the breadth of the curriculum at the school, and noted that “discrimination is not tolerated in any form”. Furthermore, the complainant said that the Education Select Committee had found no evidence of a “Trojan horse” plot, or any other extremist influences, at the school.
4. The newspaper accepted that Ofsted had not found a “narrowing of the curriculum”. This reference had been included in an earlier, draft version of the report, and the information about this had come from an authoritative source, close to the school leadership. The assertion had been contained in quotation marks, to make clear that it was attributable to a source. The journalist had attempted to contact the local council and the head teacher prior to publication, but both parties had indicated that they did not wish to comment on the content of the report. On receipt of the complaint the newspaper had removed this reference from the online article, and added the following footnote:
Update: This article has been amended since it was first posted. As the article stated, the school has been downgraded to “inadequate” and placed into special measures by Ofsted amid what the inspectorate called a “schism” between the new head teacher and her staff. However, the published report did not find a narrowing of the curriculum.
The newspaper also offered to publish the following correction in its Corrections and Clarifications section on page 2:
An article of 1 Feb (“New school ‘Islamising’ plot uncovered”) stated that Small Heath School in Birmingham would be downgraded to “inadequate” and put into special measures by Ofsted, in part due to a finding of a ‘narrowing of curriculum’ at the school. Although the school was indeed downgraded as stated, amid what the inspectorate termed a “schism” between the new head teacher and her staff, the published Ofsted report did not find a narrowing of the curriculum. We are happy to make this clear.
5. The newspaper defended the wider accuracy of the article. It was an incontestable fact that the school was one of 21 schools in Birmingham that was subject to an inspection after the existence of the “plot” became known. It was not misleading to report on the findings of the report in this context, particularly in circumstances where the newspaper had access to messages from some known participants in the “plot”, suggesting that the new head teacher might pursue an “Islamising agenda” at the school.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee expressed some concern that the newspaper had not made clear that, according to its source, the reference to a “narrowing of the curriculum” was contained in an early draft version of the report. However, in circumstances where the article made clear that the final version of the report had not yet been published, this did not raise a breach of Clause 1 (i).
8. The Ofsted report had not been publicly available when the article was published. The newspaper was entitled to rely on a source close to the school leadership, who had access to a draft version of the report, for information its findings. The council and school head teacher had declined to comment on the report’s conclusions. There had been no overall failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (i). Nonetheless, the assertion, made twice in the article, that the inspectorate had found a “narrowing of the curriculum” represented a significant inaccuracy in the context of an article reporting fears of extremist influences in schools.
9. In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), it was necessary to correct the reference to a narrowing of the curriculum, which had not been included in the final version of the report. The newspaper had amended the online article on receipt of the complaint. The footnote to the article and stated the true position. The newspaper had also offered to publish a correction in print. The wording of this was sufficient to avoid a breach of 1 (ii), and page 2 was an appropriate position as the original article had appeared on page 16. This correction should now be published.
10. It was not in dispute that people involved in the “Trojan horse” plot had exchanged messages praising the school’s new head teacher, and suggesting that she might pursue an “Islamising agenda”. Furthermore, it was accepted that Small Heath School was one of 21 institutions that had been inspected when the existence of the “plot” had become public knowledge. The newspaper was entitled to refer to this context when reporting the findings of the Ofsted report and the article had not contained inaccurate information in this regard.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 23/03/2015
Date decision issued: 23/06/2015Back to ruling listing