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Al-Madinah Muslim School in Derby, the first Muslim Free School, has been threatened with closure by the Department for Education (DfE) for ‘manifestly breached the conditions of its funding agreement’ including by ‘discriminating in its policies and procedures towards female staff’ – potentially in breach of the Equality Act 2010. In a letter from Academies minister Lord Nash, the school has been told ‘I will not tolerate breaches of the commitments you gave when entering into the funding agreement… Unless these problems are addressed promptly and in full I will terminate the funding agreement.’ 17 separate issues are laid out. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said that the situation is another example of the need for further scrutiny and regulation of Free Schools.
Previously concerns were raised that the school has been forcing female members of staff to wear a hijab, requiring girls to sit at the back of classrooms, and had banned as non-Muslim reading fairy tales, singing and stringed instruments. It has also been reported that the school devotes a day and a half a week to religious observance and learning Arabic.
Last week Ofsted commenced its first inspection of the school, but the school was shut after the first day as a result of Ofsted finding a lack of CRB/DBS checks on employees. The school re-opened this week once sufficient checks had been carried out, and it has been reported that Ofsted will judge the school inadequate – the lowest possible rating.
BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘While we welcome the Government’s intervention into the behaviour of this school, we are concerned that such a group has received funding to open a school in the first place. It is clear that the scrutiny of this school’s application was inadequate, and concerning that it took a further year after the school opened for these issues to come to light. We have seen problems elsewhere with the Free Schools programme, from a school opening with a ‘creation policy’ which the Government failed to discover, through to other pseudoscientific groups such as the Maharishi and Steiner schools also gaining state funding. The Government plainly needs to tighten up its scrutiny of such proposals.
‘However, it is difficult to see how any religious school can be equally “welcoming and attractive to students of all faiths and none”, as by its very nature such a school is seeking to follow the tenets of a particular religion to the exclusion of all other beliefs. Such a requirement must surely lead to questions about the appropriateness of funding religious schools at all.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0781 55 89 636.
In his letter, Lord Nash asks the school to
b) Provide me with written confirmation that you have ceased any practices and procedures that have as their reason, cause or effect that women and girls are treated less favourably than men and boys.
c) Provide me with written confirmation that you are in compliance with equality legislation for any proposed practices and procedures where girls and boys are separated and / or treated differently.
d) Notify all staff that they are not required to cover their hair if contrary to their religion or beliefs (the text of the notification to be provided to me for approval before sending to staff).
e) Write to all the parents of pupils of the school confirming the notification given to staff and provide me with a copy of the letter to parents. Communicate the change publicly, including on the school’s website. Provide me with written confirmation that at the first possible opportunity all guidance (staff handbook, School Prospectus) will be updated to reflect the change.
l) Satisfy me that your curriculum is broad and balanced.
n) Provide me with a document setting out how the school will ensure that it is welcoming and attractive to students of all faiths and none.
Read the BHA’s previous news item: https://humanism.org.uk/2013/09/23/concerns-raised-gender-religious-discrimination-derby-muslim-free-school/
Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on ‘faith’ schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-schools/faith-schools
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.