03 Dec 2014
A cash-strapped Islamic school has been accused of spending £1million of taxpayers’ money on a brand new state-of-the-art facility in Pakistan. Council chiefs are investigating claims that the leaders of Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham, which is currently in desperate need of repair, have used public money to help fund a hi-tech school 5,000 miles away in the Pakistan city of Ziarat.Birmingham City Council confirmed it has launched a probe into the school’s finances and said it is ‘concerned about the severe deficit it has got itself into’. It is the latest controversy to hit the school, which caters for 800 children aged between four and 16. In May, it was placed in special measures after being branded ‘inadequate’ in a damning Ofsted report, and a month later the whole governing body was sacked over financial troubles, including a £900,000 budget deficit. It now faces allegations that the trust used public money to build the boys-only school in Ziarat, situated just 240 miles from the Afghanistan border, which opened in 2004 and is said to be prospering. The trust’s website boasts that the school provides children with an environment in which they can ‘develop their Islamic principles’. In a seven-minute video on the website, the school also appeals to the public for charitable donations for the Pakistani school. The clip begins by showing the communities of Baluchistan, the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, and claiming that it is ‘one of the poorest regions in the world.’ The slick video then show the students wearing blue blazers and ties, working at wooden desks piled high with books and standing in regimented lines on the school’s drill square with mountains in the background. Pupils are seen conducting science experiments with extensive laboratory equipment while the video pans shows off the expansive buildings and perfectly manicured grounds. The narrator says that the school can only continue to give all students free board and lodging as well as an education through charitable donations. He says: ‘Al-Hijrah Trust UK is a well-established charitable organisation run by the Muslim community in the UK. ‘The trust is a pioneering institution focusing on establishing an educational system which delivers high academic standards within an Islamic environment. ‘The existence of this institution is a token of love, help and solidarity from the Pakistani and wider Muslim community in the UK for the needy students of Baluchistan. ‘All the educational needs of the students are addressed by Al-Hijrah Trust through donations and generosity of kind-hearted people like you.’ However, in England, the school in the Bordesley Green area of Birmingham, is apparently in a state of disrepair and desperately needs refurbishing. A school insider said: ‘The school in Birmingham is falling apart, its roof is leaking and there is little space for outdoor play. ‘Yet the trust has used £1million to build a new school in Pakistan. It beggars belief.’ The Birmingham school, which opened in 1988, became voluntary aided in 2002 and, therefore, secured funding from the city council. The council has confirmed a probe into the school’s finances, including the allegations public cash was used to help fund the school in Pakistan, is now underway. A spokesman said: ‘We were concerned about the severe deficit the school has got itself into and where that money might be going. ‘We put a board in place in the school with access to financial records and we carried out a retrospective investigation. ‘We have gathered enough information to warrant further investigation into the use of public funds and we continue to work with the relevant statutory agencies. ‘If we find anything criminal it will be referred to the police.’ The majority of the school’s students are of Pakistani origin, and the senior school receives over 1,000 applications for 60 places a year, making it one of the most over-subscribed schools in the UK. The Department for Education said it was liaising with the authorities while the investigation takes place. A spokesman said: ‘We are aware of these serious allegations which are being investigated by Birmingham City Council. ‘We are liaising closely with them and continue to monitor the situation. ‘The school is currently in special measures and we have approved the council’s choice of interim executive board.’ A number of teachers from the nearby Calthorpe Academy in the Highgate area of Birmingham have been drafted in to Al-Hijrah School in recent weeks as part of a ‘buddying’ scheme to try to ‘share best practice’. However, sources claim the school is still riddled with problems, including continuing to segregate boys and girls. One person, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘Even the staff have separate meeting rooms for male and female teachers.’ Parents waiting for their children outside the school today condemned the idea of £1million being sent to fund the Pakistan facility. Father-of-three Mustansar Mahmood, 29, said: ‘I would not be happy if I found out funds meant for this school were being spent elsewhere. They should not be. ‘If they are given money to spend at this school, it should stay in this school. ‘They could spend the money on a new building because this one is not good enough. ‘If you go into Birmingham you can see other schools and they are more modern and much better. ‘So if they are given money they have to use it here. ‘If I gave you money to improve your life and you gave it away that would be wrong, and it is the same here.’ Father-of-two Walrur Rahman, 40, has already taken one of his sons out of the school. He said: ‘I moved my elder son to a different school this September, but that was just because he was struggling. ‘I cannot see how they would get away with just giving this school’s money to the one in Pakistan. ‘If they have been taking the money then that is totally wrong because this school could definitely do with it.’ In July, Birmingham City Council was forced to take out an injunction banning former chairman of governors Waseem Yaqub from the school. Mr Yaqub was accused of leading a harassment campaign against the new interim board, but he denied those claims. He has been issued with a High Court writ warning him that he faces a damages bill of up to £100,000 due to his conduct. The writ accuses him of harassment, intimidation and trespassing on the school site after he was sacked from his post.