The Birmingham Book

Lessons in urban education leadership and policy from the Trojan Horse affair

By: Colin Diamond, CBE


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Size245mm x 175mm
PublishedJuly 2022

Edited by Colin Diamond, The Birmingham Book: Lessons in urban education leadership and policy from the Trojan Horse affair shines a spotlight on what really happened during the Trojan Horse affair, and shares informed insights into how its exposure made Birmingham’s schools (and the nation’s) better and safer.

The Trojan Horse affair sent shock waves across England’s education system in 2014. The affair centred around an anonymous letter that contained instructions on how to take over schools with a majority Muslim population by influencing their governing bodies and undermining head teachers. The authenticity of the letter remains hotly disputed, yet its publication generated huge turbulence – not only in Birmingham’s schools and communities, but also in both Parliament and the national news.

The book offers fresh perspectives based on unique access to information from within the city, written by respected educationalists who have worked successfully in Birmingham for many years both during the Trojan Horse era and since. It explains what led to the publication of the letter, its profound consequences for education in Birmingham, and how it influenced events in the city since.

Crucially the book also opens up an informed discussion around the issues raised during Trojan Horse, such as delivering a well-rounded curriculum suitable for a diverse school community, developing working partnerships in the local area, and boosting the attainment and aspirations of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Colin shares case studies of school improvement in local and national MATs in tough, multicultural urban environments, and how schools worked to develop pupils’ social capital. The Birmingham Book reveals how the Trojan Horse affair was handled by the Department for Education as their academies and free schools policies underwent their first major stress tests. Furthermore, the book provides an up-to-date appraisal of the interrelationship between education in England’s schools and the cultural and religious practice of the local communities the schools serve – and of the underachievement levels of the different ethnic groups in Birmingham.

Suitable for teachers, school leaders, governors and policymakers.

Picture for author Colin Diamond, CBE

Colin Diamond, CBE

Colin Diamond, CBE has worked in education leadership for over 40 years. In this time, he has held two Director of Education posts as well as working as a Senior Civil Servant in Whitehall. In 2018, Colin took up post as Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Birmingham. Mindful of his childhood in Liverpool, he is passionate about inclusion and social justice. He also plays in bands and supports Liverpool FC.


  1. The Birmingham Book is not just a book about Birmingham. There are warnings here – and lessons aplenty – for school leaders, administrators and governors everywhere. And, of course, for local and national politicians. More than a book about what happened in Birmingham, this is a book about politics, religion, equality, tolerance and intolerance, about the politicisation of education, abuses of power at local and national level and the ability of ethical school leaders to do what needs to be done, despite enormous pressure, wherever they may be.

    There are many lessons to be learnt by unpicking the debacle that was Birmingham's sorry Trojan Horse scandal. One is about the uses and abuses of power in the education system at school, local and national level. Another asks us to reflect how far we have genuinely come as a society in matters of tolerance, acceptance and equity. And among many takeaways from the inspiring education leaders in this book, it is clear that 'community, community, community' will always be at the heart of all great schools.

  2. The writers’ views about the effects of the Trojan Horse affair, drawn together by Colin Diamond, are a reminder of the damage wreaked upon the reputation of a city and a part of its community by some politicians and a section of the press determined to find radicalised violent extremism where there was none. The Birmingham Book reveals a deeper and disturbing truth which forces one to consider why it is we have failed to encourage, mentor and promote sufficient numbers of teachers of the Muslim faith to become future leaders in our British schools.

  3. Diamond’s book is very relevant and has implications beyond Birmingham. It sheds light onto how the needs of the largest minority group in England – Muslims – are or are not being met and the reaction by authorities to alarmist levels, escalating prejudice, fear and mistrust, despite it resulting in no criminal charges whatsoever. His privileged position to bring together many of the key actors in the Trojan Horse affair allows a focus on the causes of the series of incidents. His reference to Holmwood provides an apt interjection in the discourse. The subsequent effects on the professional lives of many are alluded to in an authentic narrative by Campbell-Stephens. With this, the book leaves the reader wanting to ask more questions – four of which I allude to here: how can the mistrust amongst the Muslim community be repaired with an authentic voice? How can pupil outcomes be regained to the high levels of attainment pre-Trojan Horse? What is the accountability of governance across all multi-academy trusts in England? Lastly, how can barriers be removed for aspiring Muslim school leaders in their career progression who are still in the shadow of the incidents from 2013–2014?

  4. Chapter 12 is a go-to for all educationalists from teachers to leaders as it inspires and is part of the book that is the phoenix rising from the ashes of the Trojan Horse debacle.

    Colin takes us on a roller coaster of a journey, sequencing the historical political contexts from Labour’s high investment and equally high accountability to Gove’s vision of leadership encapsulating low investment and high accountability with ‘corporate management’ approaches to educational leadership. Amazingly well researched, Colin has collated the historical and present-day theories of school leadership from all angles. He then brings all these vividly to life though citing the lived narratives of exemplary school leaders he has worked alongside in the urban Birmingham context. He sums up what works simply as ‘a combination of adaptive leadership and pragmatic interpretation of government education policy from a secure base in the community, driven by a passion for Birmingham’s children’.

    Colin rightly stresses the unique challenges these leaders face and analyses their commonality of moral purpose, values and character – ‘quiet leadership at the heart of the moral compass’. The matrix of the three characteristics is key for any aspiring or established leader. Best of all, Colin has distilled the experiences of the urban leaders into ten wise takeaways for the ‘survive to thrive’ journey. These are the valuable diamonds of wisdom (deliberate pun intended!) such as ‘roots to grow and wings to fly’ and ‘YNWA’ (you never work alone) and the superb UNICEF RRSA as a framework for a diverse, equitable and inclusive curriculum.

  5. The Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham, as it is popularly referred to, was a watershed moment for the way educationalists, community leaders and politicians, both locally and nationally, perceived the local Muslim communities in this great city. In the three decades from the end of the 1950s to the end of the 1980s, Muslims from the predominately rural areas of Kashmir, Pakistan and Bangladesh came and settled in the highly urbanised city of Birmingham. Uppermost in their minds is to live a better quality of life than that which they came from; one route in achieving this is through the education of their children. This book of essays is a must-read for those wishing to understand the important underlying dynamic between Muslims considering the education of their children, and the educational establishment’s quest for a quality education based on British values. The Trojan Horse affair provides the fertile context for drawing those issues. The contributors provide serious and authentic perspectives on the systemic issues of structural racism, Islamophobia, class and cultural imperialism that gave rise to the hysterical response to an unsubstantiated letter. This is excellently achieved by many of the authors giving candid biographical accounts of their own personal experience growing up in Birmingham schools and then of their professional experience as educators. This is balanced by well-researched evidence-based contributions on future policy and lessons for contemporary urban school leadership. The book is the first opportunity for those in the mix of the Trojan Horse affair to give a sober and thoughtful appreciation of the events and of the lessons learnt.

  6. Professor Colin Diamond presides over a cornucopia of authentic and inspiring, hitherto untold stories from school leaders; stories of recovery that offer an alternative lens through which to view the kaleidoscope that embodied the Trojan Horse affair.

    Refreshing and vividly personal accounts of recovery – the existential angst that refines the compassion that inspires motivational leadership – are woven through every chapter and each one offers alternative dimensions through which schools can work relationally with communities.

    The most compelling takeaways from this book are offered by Reza Gholami and Joy Warmington; a reminder of the importance of preparing and equipping teachers and school leaders to work in intersectional spaces, to develop the critical social awareness and cultural humility that enable all learners to flourish.

  7. Colin Diamond, and those he persuaded to write these always-illuminating chapters from the viewpoints of community and professional leaders, deserves our deepest thanks as he calmly sets out the key issues which arose from the extraordinary affair of the Trojan Horse letter - in its way more damaging than the other notorious fake ‘Zinoviev letter’ 90 years earlier. That one affected politics while this one damaged children's futures in vulnerable parts of a great city. It's harder to forgive. Diamond's book ­­­– always calm, generous and informed – reveals the issues which beset that shifting mix of diverse communities, rival faiths and the interplay of professional commitment and parental ambition – or lack of it – which is veiled under the easy heading of ‘urban education’. Those who engage with it will find plenty of stimulus from these pages.

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