Wednesday, February 21, 2007

British schools attacked for not pandering to Islam

Oldham Evening Chronicle:

ISLAMIC leaders accused schools today of failing to respect the wishes of Muslim children when organising sex education, changing rooms and religious assemblies.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) criticised state schools for refusing to take account of “legitimate and reasonable requests” from parents and pupils.

It urged head teachers to build prayer rooms and individual changing cubicles and avoid scheduling exams during Ramadan, when many pupils are fasting.

But the country’s biggest heads’ union warned that a long list of demands risked sparking a backlash.

Nearly all pupils at Grange School, Oldham, are Muslim and the school responds to their needs by providing prayer facilities, Halal food and separate cubicles for girls who can choose to wear tracksuits during PE.

PE activities are altered during Ramadan, when pupils are fasting, although head teacher Graeme Hollinshead said that exam timetables were set externally.

The school has worked with representatives from the community to draw up its sex education and relationships policy, and has received dispensation not to provide the statutory Christian worship.

Mr Hollinshead does not believe that it is easier for a school with predominantly Muslim pupils to meet their needs and said: “Head teachers in Oldham are very aware of the needs of Muslim pupils. However, all these things we are talking about must be provided for all pupils. It is about accommodating the needs of all pupils, not just Muslim pupils, otherwise it becomes divisive.”

A 72-page guidance document issued by the MCB says many schools are meeting the needs of Muslim pupils.

However it states: “Others have not been receptive of legitimate and reasonable requests made by Muslim parents and pupils in relation to their faith–based aspirations and concerns.

“It is essential that positive account is taken of the faith dimension of Muslim pupils.”

Oldham’s secondary schools are set to be rebuilt and refurbished with £187 of Government and private money. Councillor Hugh McDonald, cabinet member for children, young people and families, said that the imminent public consultation on the proposals was a chance for parents to raise concerns such as prayer rooms and separate cubicles.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Some of this sounds completely un–doable.

“It does seem to fly in the face of current wisdom about embracing the culture in the place in which you are living.”

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