All primary schools and secondary schools in Stoke-on-Trent have been issued with the guidance aimed at Muslim pupils who may still be fasting when the new term starts in September. But critics dismissed the dictats as ‘over-zealous’ bureaucracy and said all pupils would be forced to miss out on activities as a result.
During Ramadan, all Muslims who have reached puberty are forbidden from eating food or drinking liquids between sunrise to sunset to encourage discipline and self-restraint. Some younger children also choose to fast for all or part of the month.
To help them with this, Stoke-on-Trent City council advises schools not to schedule exams or hold parents' meetings and social events after school. They are also directed to avoid swimming lessons because some parents and pupils consider the risk of swallowing water too great.
The papers even advise schools to cancel sex and relationship education because Muslims are expected to avoid sexual thoughts and relations while fasting.
Although the guidance was specifically drawn up to help Muslims, it will affect every pupil in the roughly 90 schools in the area. According to the last official figures in 2001, just 3.2 per cent of the population of Stoke is Muslim.
The guidance, which was issued at a council meeting, advises schools that fasting pupils who are eligible for free school meals should have the option to take their food home with them in a packed lunch. Teachers are warned that fasting children should not be over-exerted during PE lessons as they may become dehydrated.
They are also told that they should provide more space for prayer in school and offer their support to pupils who may have had to get up before dawn to have their breakfast and may therefore be tired.
Critics from the Campaign Against Political Correctness said the document was an ‘over-bureaucratic waste of time’. Co-founder of the campaign John Midgley said: ‘Instead of meddling in this politically-correct way the local authority should trust the judgement of pupils, parents and teachers. They should be able to cater for what goes on within the schools without wasting time on an overly-bureaucratic and politically-correct piece of 'guidance. The schools have to be even-handed in how they treat everybody and not single-out certain sections of the community in how they treat them.’
He warned that the guidance could prove counter-productive and encourage stigma towards the Muslim community. And he added that the advice could ruin school activities for all pupils. ‘If there's an over-zealous implementation of this guidance that may mean some pupils could miss out on activities they could reasonably expect at school,’ he added.
Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, meaning the date it falls on a different date each year. It is between August 11 and September 9 this year. This means that for most of the month, the pupils will be on school holidays. They will only be at school for the last week.
Mr Midgley said the guidance was a ‘waste of time’ as pupils are rarely examined in the first week of term and parents’ evenings would be unlikely to fall at the beginning of the school year.
The guidance was put together with material produced by the Muslim Council of Great Britain and was presented to the city council's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education.
Claire Ellicott - Daily Mail