Saturday, September 21, 2013
By Zena Hawley
WOMEN teachers at Al-Madinah School in Derby claim they are being told to cover their heads and shoulders with a hijab – an Islamic scarf – whether or not they are Muslim.
This is one of several complaints made by staff to their unions at Al-Madinah School, which is currently under investigation by the Education Funding Agency for alleged irregularities over its grants.
The scene yesterday outside one campus of Al-Madinah School, Norman House in Friar Gate, Derby
A member of the teaching staff told the Derby Telegraph that women were being told to sign new contracts that say they must wear hijabs and that girls are told to sit at the back of classes.
Two non-Asian women, who refused to comment, were spotted taking off their hijabs as soon as they were out of sight of the school during the lunch hour.
Nick Raine, regional NUT officer, said he was “very worried” about the school and the education of the 200 children there.
He said: “It’s one thing to have a dress code which we can challenge and quite another to build it into a contract.”
It is understood that the new contracts for staff also include rules about not taking non-halal food into the school and not being allowed to wear jewellery.
Mr Raine added: “There are worries over practices concerning the discrimination between male and female pupils in the school, with the girls being told to sit at the back of the class regardless of whether they can see the board properly.”
The school, which occupies space at Norman House, Friar Gate, where primary-age children are taught, and Midland House, Nelson Street, for secondary children, was set up in September 2012.
The then head teacher, Andrew Cutts-Mckay, who has left after less than a year in post, said at the time that the school was being set up so that “the timetable will be flexible with time for Islamic teaching but pupils will be able to opt out of this and there will be a chance to learn about other faiths”.
He said the school would “honour all faiths” and that he envisaged a school where 50% of pupils are Islamic and the other half were not.
Sue Arguile, branch secretary of Derby National Union of Teachers, said: “This school was first launched as based on Muslim principles and not as a Muslim school.
“If the school is not sticking to the original reasons behind why it was set up, then it does call into question whether public money is being used properly and for its intended purpose.”
Mr Raine said: “The school is publicly accountable so there needs to be greater transparency.”
Initially, the free school was scheduled to admit 120 reception and year-one children, together with 180 pupils into years seven and eight. Eventually, the all-groups school will have up to 1,100 pupils.
Al-Madinah is a new type of free school, which the Government is allowing groups of parents, or interested parties, to set up.
These operate in much the same way as private schools, outside local authority control but qualifying for Government funding.
Councillor Martin Rawson, city council cabinet member for children and young people, who is opposed to free schools, said he was aware of the investigation by the EFR.
He said: “I hope that the outcome of that will be available in the near future. We are awaiting the findings before commenting further.”
The school has yet to receive an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education, which could reasonably be expected to happen this academic year as it is a new school but it could be brought forward in view of representations from the teaching unions and city council.
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “As schools are only notified the afternoon before inspections begin, we would not be able to let anyone know when the school is being inspected.”
A Department for Education spokesman would not comment on what stage the investigation had reached and said: “We are investigating the allegations and will respond in due course.”
Despite repeated requests for a comment or interview being made to the school and its trustees by e-mail, phone and letter, by the Derby Telegraph there has been no response.
But the school has put out a statement to parents on its website which reads:
Rumours and the news
It has come to our attention that there are a number of rumours circulating about the school that are worrying some parents. The situation is not helped by the local television news and local newspapers running stories that are at best premature, or in some cases, simply fly in the face of the established facts.
The school is not going to shut down and close and it is not going to start charging parents to send their children here. Aside from possible temporary closures for severe snow or other Health and Safety reasons, it would take seven years to shut the school. Similarly, it is against the law for state funded schools like Al-Madinah to charge parents for education.
Some parents have found difficulties with certain items of uniform, especially stretching sweatshirts. We have already switched suppliers (and in the future we will give parents a choice of suppliers) but please do let us know if there is still a problem. Last year the school made a small loss on uniform. We hope to avoid that this year but it is our intention never to make money on school uniform.
We do have fully qualified teachers in our Primary School, despite what has been suggested, but in addition we also have Higher Level Support Assistants in every year group, many with their own nationally recognised qualification as well. Some staff have moved on, as they would do in any school, for a variety of reasons, and any administrative or contractual issues will be worked through. Al-Madinah has prioritised learning and teaching, that is the education of your child, in a safe and encouraging environment, as it settles into its new buildings and introduces new systems to reflect its planned growth in numbers. Your children come first, and as for the teething pains of our growth spurt, please give it time.
As a parent, if you do have any concerns please contact us directly and ask about whatever it is that is worrying you. I am pleased to say that we met with a group of parents last week and they helped us understand a little more about what we need to communicate to you. We are in the process of making our website more parent friendly, but in the meantime, we will still be posting information on the website. If it is easier for you to contact Mrs Higgins at the Primary School, or Mr Hussain at the Secondary School, please do so. Just let us know the name of your child (or children) when you ring, and what year group or groups they are in, and we will be able to tell you what you want to know. We are here for you.
Al-Madinah is a pioneering school, the first of its type in the whole country, and not everyone wants it to succeed. Unfortunately politics have been allowed to interfere with education. Our only concern in the success of your children. Like all pioneers, we are on a journey, and as a new school open for just one year (and only a few days in our new, wonderful, secondary building) we simply ask for time to get going and grow into an excellent school.
Assuring you that we have the best interests of your child at heart.
G S Wilson
HIJAB A COVERING AND ‘STATE OF MIND’
The term hijab refers to a head cover, like a scarf.
It covers the head and chest, but not the face, and is particularly worn by a Muslim female beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males.
It not only refers to the physical body covering, but also a state of mind, where al-hijab refers to “the veil which separates man or the world from God”.
Hijab can also be used to refer to the seclusion of women from men in public.
Most often, it is worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality. If differs from a burqa, a veil that covers the entire body head and face, and the niqab which covers the entire head and face except for the eyes.
DERBY TELEGRAPH COMMENT: Ministry spotlight will have to be shone on free school
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should teachers at the Al-Madinah School be forced to wear hijabs? Have your say on our anonymous poll (on the right).