Category Archives: UK Education

Curriculum losing out to prayers

THE amount of time spent on prayers and religion means there is less time available for the rest of the curriculum at the North Dublin Muslim School, the school inspection report found.

The report says that external personnel are employed by the school to teach religion. They work in all classrooms for 45 minutes each day, teaching the Koran and Arabic — in other national schools the normal period is 30 minutes a day.

Pupils in middle and senior classes also attend prayers for 20 minutes each day with additional time required for preparation, the report says.

However, the report says all of this eats into the delivery time for the national school curriculum.

The inspectors say it is imperative that the integrity of the school day be maintained and that the suggested minimum timeframe be adhered to for delivery of the six curricular areas as advocated in the Primary School Curriculum.

It notes that some of the teachers absent themselves from class during these times.

They say it is essential that the pupils are supervised at all times by qualified and recognised teaching staff and that class teachers continue to have teaching contact with pupils throughout the school day.

The board has been told it must ensure that pupils are adequately supervised at all times by qualified teachers.

– John Walshe


Muslims angry at school’s sex education plans

Muslims angry at school’s sex education plansBritish Muslims have reacted in anger at plans by a school in London to teach children about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history.

Muslim leaders are now calling on the council in Leytonstone, east London, not to prosecute parents for withdrawing their children from the lessons.

A spokesman said that up to 30 parents may face prosecution for withdrawing their children from school, disobeying the teachers in the school, “simply to secure a decent moral upbringing for their children.”

As part of the school’s plans for the lessons, they included a special adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet retitled Romeo and Julian as well as fairytales and stories changed to show men falling in love with men.

“Rather than filling the heads of impressionable boys and girls with fatuous drivel about gay penguins, schools should be ashamed of the fact that they are sending children out into the world barely able to read, write and add up properly,” said Iftikhar Ahmad of the London School of Islamics.

He accused teachers of promoting tolerance, but did not tolerate the parents’ views that their children were too young to be taught about gay relationships.

“This isn’t education, its cultural fascism,” said Mr Ahmad.

He added: “ If the local council does decide to go through with a prosecution, it would be in line with the government’s approach to the Muslim community. Muslims who believe homosexuality is a sin would be labelled as extremists.

“Liberal totalitarianism is a growing phenomenon in Britain and the west in general but many people will be shocked that the school can override a parent’s view of what’s appropriate or inappropriate to teach their children.”

He said that the only solution was state-funded Muslim schools with bi-lingual Muslim teachers as role models.


Muslim faith school fails to meet standards

A TEAM of experts will be sent in to monitor the overhaul of a primary school which has been strongly criticised in the most damning inspection report ever issued by the Department of Education.

The unprecedented move follows a litany of shocking revelations contained in an inspection report into the North Dublin Muslim School in Cabra, which is housed in the former School for the Deaf.

Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe last night said the standards of management, teaching and learning at the school were “unacceptable” and that child protection policies were “inadequate”.

The findings — the most critical of nearly 3,000 inspection reports issued by the department — are set to cause alarm within Ireland‘s 32,000-strong Muslim community.

The report — seen by the Irish Independent — will be officially published tomorrow. It reveals:

  • Taxpayers’ money given to the school in the form of grants since it opened in 2001 is unaccounted for;
  • The quality of teaching of English, Irish and maths is “poor” or “very poor“, with teacher morale “very poor“;
  • Sanitary facilities are “inadequate;
  • The school is in breach of several pieces of legislation;
  • The school refuses to implement the music curriculum.

Separate correspondence, also seen by the Irish Independent, reveals that the school failed to pay around €37,000 it owed to the department.

To recover some of the money, the department withheld payment of the capitation grant in June 2008 and threatened to do so again recently.

Critical

The patron of the school, Imam Yahya Al-Hussein, said the report was too critical and a bit “over the top”.

He said the current board of management, appointed last November, inherited the problems and was trying to solve them. The former board chairperson Shahzad Ahmed was unavailable for comment last night.

The draft inspection report says that no financial accounts are available since the school opened and there is little physical evidence of where state grants have been spent.

The current acting principal (the fourth since it opened) has still not completed the probationary process. All the mainstream teaching staff resigned last June and the board made 12 new appointments. No member of the teaching staff had completed the probationary period at the time of the inspection on November 28 — only four of them are fully qualified within the Irish system.

The report says that the school is unable to provide support for newly qualified teachers or those experiencing professional difficulties.

Several policies that relate to the care, welfare and protection of children have not been drawn up. The school is in breach of the Education Welfare Act (2000) and of the Rules for National Schools.

The report says there are no policies on attendance; child protection; social personal and health education and on the duties of special needs assistants. The Relationships and Sexuality Education programme has not been implemented. There are no plans for assessment; for English as an additional language; for visual arts, physical education; drama and music.

The North Dublin school is one of two schools catering for the Muslim community. Pupil numbers there have fallen significantly since 2006, the report says. However, the report found inconsistencies between class roll books, the attendance book and the register of pupils.

Since 2006 almost 3,000 inspection reports have been published by the department on its website. There are two kinds of reports: single subjects; and Whole School Evaluation (WSE) such as that prepared for the North Dublin Muslim National School.

The inspectors review the quality of school management, school planning and the quality of learning and teaching. There have been a few very critical reports, mainly at post-primary level, but none come anywhere near this one in terms of the directness of the language and the criticism.

It represents a significant step change in the approach taken by the department whose lawyers checked and double checked the report before agreeing to its publication.

– John Walshe Education Editor


Census question on religion as “flawed” and discriminatory

During a debate in the House of Lords, speeches criticising the Census question on religion as flawed and contributing to discrimination against non-religious people. Lord Harrison and Lord Macdonald of Tradeston both contributed to the debate on public confidence in government statistics, raising a number of concerns about the question from a humanist perspective.

Lord Harrison, a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association (BHA), said he was ‘Appalled to learn that the ONS will keep the flawed 2001 question – “What is your religion?” – in the forthcoming 2011 census’. He argued that ‘This is a leading question…it not only overrepresents the religious in our country, but underrepresents the non-religious. It also fails because it confuses and conflates the concepts of belief and ethnicity…It is, indeed, arguably discriminatory under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2006.’

Lord Harrison suggested some improvements that could be made to improve the question but, failing significant changes, that the ‘question should be eliminated, especially in this flawed form.’

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, stated that ‘It undermines our confidence in the Office for National Statistics when [the Census] contradicts other authoritative surveys to declare that only 15 per cent of British people are non-religious’, and provided examples including the ‘ONS’s own Social Trends survey, which reported about the same proportion of people saying that they belonged to no religion as saying that they belonged to a Christian denomination’ and the British Social Attitudes Survey, which ‘reported that 69 per cent of people either did not claim membership of a religion or said that they never attended a religious service.’

Lord Macdonald highlighted that the question is really aimed to measure ethnicity and not religion: ‘The ONS wants to identify by stealth as many members as it can of two ethnic groups protected under race legislation, by asking its leading question on religion, which, it claims, “provides a reasonable proxy for Sikh and Jewish ethnic groups”.’

However, Lord Macdonald made clear that this was highly problematic, saying, ‘It matters because inaccurate data can lead to the misallocation of resources and public funds. It matters because misleading statistics can be used to argue the religious case for the expansion of faith schools, when some of the more divisive institutions discriminate against non-religious people in their staffing and admissions policy. It matters because more accurate statistics would offer reassurance to those who fear that their sceptical, tolerant, vaguely agnostic Britain is being defined and divided increasingly by religion. It matters because accurate statistics might have particular importance for the Equality Bill currently before Parliament, which would mandate public authorities to treat non-religious citizens equally and with the same respect as religious people.’

The Minister stated that he would respond to all questions asked in the debate.

The BHA has been campaigning to raise awareness of the wholly inaccurate measurement of the religiosity of the population by the Census question on religion and its very damaging effects, and for a change in the question.

Notes

For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips at on 020 7079 3585

Read more about our campaign on the Census 2011 question on religion

Read the full debate on public confidence in government statistics

The British Humanist Association represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.


Humanists disappointed with Faith Foundation’s new education programme

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today commented on the launch of a new global education programme from the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, ‘Face to Faith’.

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs commented, ‘Given our own commitment to improving understanding and working with people with different beliefs, we support programmes that purport to encourage such dialogue and learning. However, it does seem that this programme may be exclusively for religious people, which would be a missed opportunity for real education about people from all different backgrounds, including non-religious young people throughout the world.’

‘In any case, it does seem ironic that the aims of this education programme to counter prejudice and tension and to increase awareness of people with different beliefs contradict the realities of British education policy during Mr Blair’s premiership. At that time, the government began to expand significantly the number of “faith schools”, while at the same time permitting them to discriminate widely in their admissions and employment on religious grounds, creating religious segregation of children and young people which we know contributes to social inequalities and damages community cohesion.’


Girls raped by Catholic priest told to stop ‘dwelling on old wounds’

A father who wants to confront the Pope about the rape of his daughters by a Catholic priest has reacted angrily to claims by a senior Australian bishop that he was dwelling crankily on old wounds.

Anthony Foster, who is flying from Britain to Sydney, is demanding that Benedict XVI and Australia’s senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, beg for forgiveness over the repeated rape of his daughters by the priest at a Melbourne primary school between 1988 and 1993.

Mr Foster said that his daughters had been devastated by the attacks. The elder, Emma, committed suicide this year, aged 26. Her younger sister, Katie, who became a heavy drinker, was hit by a car, aged 15, and now needs 24-hour care.

The Pope, who begins his official duties today at World Youth Day celebrations attended by an estimated 225,000 people, has promised to issue an apology this week to young people sexually abused by priests.

But when asked yesterday about an Australian Broadcasting Commission report on the Fosters’ complaints, the Church’s World Youth Day spokesman, Bishop Anthony Fisher, sounded dismissive. He said that he had not seen the report because he had been at the celebrations. “Happily, I think most of Australia was enjoying, delighting in the beauty and goodness of these young people,” he said, “rather than dwelling crankily, as a few people are doing, on old wounds.”

In an interview with an Australian website at Tokyo airport, Mr Foster rejected the comments and said that they showed “a complete lack of understanding of the victims, that there are so many people out there that really do have open wounds”. His wife, Christine, said that she was also deeply hurt: “There are no old wounds for victims. It is always current.”

The bishop’s comments forced Cardinal Pell — who was Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the attacks — to try to repair the damage by making a public statement in which he said that he had been “very saddened” by Emma’s story.

She had endured “one of the worst things that can happen to a young woman”, he said. Cardinal Pell repeated his earlier apology to the family.

He did not say that he would meet Mr Foster, who insists that he will only accept the pontiff’s planned apology “if the Pope will embrace the notion of begging forgiveness from victims, and supporting them in every way possible and putting the resources of the Church behind that support”.

In his case Mr Foster said that it had taken eight years to win a financial settlement. He said that Cardinal Pell had introduced a system that imposed a A$50,000 (£24,000) cap on compensation. “It wasn’t just,” he said. Others had been offered as little as A$2,000. Emma and Katie’s attacker, Father Kevin O’Donnell, was convicted in 1996 of the abuse of 11 boys and a girl, aged 8 to 14, between 1946 and 1977.


Faith Schools in Wales get a FREE RIDE

CHILDREN should be given free transport to faith schools – but pupils travelling for Welsh-language education should be denied the same service, an Assembly committee decided yesterday.

A cross-party body voted to close a loophole denying those attending faith schools access to free transport, but refused to back similar proposals to strengthen the right to free travel to Welsh-medium schools.

The faith school vote in a cross-party committee was won with the backing of Labour AM Ann Jones, who said it put her in the “dreadful” position of having to choose between her conscience and party policy.

Her decision was applauded by Archbishop of Wales Barry Morgan.

A final vote on the Assembly Government’s plans for school travel is expected in the autumn. It could put the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition in the uncomfortable position of opposing amendments in support of Welsh-language rights put forward by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

The amendment securing transport to faith schools was championed by Lib-Dem AM Kirsty Williams and Conservative AM Alun Cairns. They argued free travel should not be left to the discretion of local authorities.

Mr Cairns warned that at a time of tightening local government budgets councils may seek to make cutbacks.

Shortly before the vote, Labour’s Ms Jones said: “I’ve thought long and hard about this one and I think this is a matter of conscience. I’m quite upset that the Government can’t accept this amendment…

“You are right. It is a matter of social justice; it is a matter of equality. And this amendment, and the Government’s stance on this amendment has placed me in a dreadful situation.”

The Archbishop of Wales said: “I am delighted with the decision. It will enshrine in legislation the same privilege to learners in the faith sector without fear of discrimination. It will reassure parents that the Assembly values the contribution of faith communities in Wales to maintain education. I am pleased that Ann Jones recognises it for what it is: a matter of conscience and social justice and not a budgetary option.”

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones had opposed the amendment, saying: “There is actually nothing in the Measure that reduces the powers of local authorities to support transport to schools on the basis of religious preference.”

He added: “If we were to legislate on the basis of an entitlement to have transport provided to a school that provides religious education which accords with the parental wish, we would also have to provide the same entitlement to those who did not want a faith-related education. And the problem is, once you have provided a duty, then the duty must be available to everybody.”

After the vote, Ms Williams said: “He was unable to adequately defend his reasoning and so the vote went against him – it’s as simple as that.” She added: “I am greatly disappointed that the amendment seeking to strengthen the travel provisions to Welsh-medium schools was voted down by the Government.”She said the obligation on local authorities to “promote access” to Welsh-medium education was too vague and did not guarantee safe, free transport.

Mr Cairns added: “We are not playing any more. We are writing laws and if we can’t offer absolute equal access to Welsh-medium parents as we are to English-medium pupils then I think we would have abdicated our responsibilities. The Assembly Government now faces two clear choices. Either they support our demand for those in Welsh- medium education to be given the same rights as those at English medium or faith schools, or they vote to reverse today’s decision on faith schools.”

A Welsh Assembly Government spokesman said: “We will now reflect on this matter before it returns to a debate during a full plenary session. To a greater or lesser extent, councils across Wales do provide such transport and we recently issued guidance encouraging them to continue using their discretion to provide transport to denominational schools.”