The Trustees of the Al-Madinah School in Derby, the first Muslim Free School, have been ordered by the Department for Education (DfE) to resign, and will be replaced by a new body formed by the Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust. The change follows on from widespread concerns about gender and religious discrimination at the school as well as the teaching of a narrow curriculum, the result of which being that the DfE wrote to the school outlining 17 separate breaches of the school’s funding agreement. As the DfE is not satisfied with progress made since that letter, it has now decided to impose new leadership. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news.
Concerns raised include that girls were required to sit at the back of classrooms behind boys, female members of staff were forced to wear a hijab, that the school devoted a day and a half each week to religious observance, and that the school’s prospectus described Darwinism as ‘totally against Islam’.
Welcoming the news, BHA Faith Schools Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘We are pleased that this school is going to be placed under new leadership and are hopeful that this resolves a lot of the problems that we have seen. However, the fact remains that the freedoms afforded to Academies and Free Schools over areas such as admissions, employment and the curriculum, means some religious groups may choose to take advantage of those freedoms and teach a narrow, unshared curriculum and appoint governors and senior staff not purely on merit but in order to impose a certain religious or pseudoscientific ideology. We have already seen a number of scandals around Free Schools in particular, and are concerned that unless the DfE tightens up its scrutiny we will see many more.’
In his letter, Lord Nash has written that ‘An important factor in making my decision is delivering your original vision for an inclusive, all through school with a Muslim ethos, serving the local community.’
Mr Thompson continued, ‘We are concerned that the school will remain a Muslim school as the fact of the matter is that Muslim state funded schools are not at all inclusive. Recent research by the BHA showed that most Muslim state schools have no white British pupils at all, with none having more than a handful – compared to over a third of the population in their areas. Whether this is due to restrictive admissions policies or self-sorting by parents applying, the fact remains that any Muslim school is likely to be highly segregated and this must be of huge concern.’
For further comment or information, please contact Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0781 55 89 636.
Read the DfE’s letter to the current Al-Madinah Education Trust: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/lord-nash-letter-to-the-chair-of-the-al-madinah-education-trust
Read the BHA’s previous news items:
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.