Friday, 20 September 2013

Derby Islamic School's Teachers Forced To Wear Hijab

Female teachers at a Muslim school have been told to cover their heads with Islamic scarves during school hours - even if they are not Muslim.

Staff at Al-Madinah School, Derby, claim they have been told to sign new contracts agreeing to wear hijabs and even make girls sit at the back of classes.

The Muslim faith school, which caters for 200 students aged four to 16, is also thought to have forbidden teachers from bringing in non-Halal food or wearing unacceptable jewellery.

Non-Asian staff have been spotted removing the headwear immediately after stepping outside the school building during lunch hour, but today refused to reveal the extent of the school’s demands.

It is thought that at least five teachers at the school have complained to union bosses about the dress code change - which was introduced over the summer.

Stunned staff at the free school - who faced losing their jobs if they did not agree - are now working with the National Union of Teachers to seek legal advice.

Sue Arguile, branch secretary of Derby National Union of Teachers (NUT), insists that the possible breach of employment law is a result of the Al-Madinah's status as a free school.

She said: 'We have always had a number of concerns about this school ever since it was first set up as essentially they can do what they like. There is no buffer between them and the state and no protection for staff and pupils. Our understanding is that the teaching staff were told about the contractual changes over the summer in time for the new academic year. But at least five teachers - both male and female - have made complaints to the union of concerns about the school breaching employment law. We will now be seeking legal advice in order to determine what action to take - but it may very well be that teachers have to bite the bullet and agree. Free schools set their own rules, curriculum and dress codes and so long as pupils and staff are aware of them before joining then there is no upset. But forcing people to agree to contractual changes or face being out-of-work could breach employment law.'

Nick Raine, regional NUT officer, said: 'We are very worried about the school and the education of the 200 children there. It's one thing to have a dress code which we can challenge and quite another to build it into a contract. The school is publicly accountable so there needs to be greater transparency.'
However, acting Principal, Stuart Wilson, says he has not received any complaints from staff.

He said: 'I've been told not to speak about the school's policy. I haven't received any complaints from members of staff.'

The school, which caters for primary-age children and secondary children, was set up in September 2012.
It is based in two different locations in Derby - one in Midland House, Nelson Street and the other in Norman House, Friar Gate.
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 percent of pupils are Islamic and the other half were not.

The free school was initially 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.

Sue Arguile, the branch secretary of Derby National Union of Teachers, 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. 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.'

The school has yet to receive an inspection by the Office for Standards in Education, but is due one this academic year. However, the inspection could be brought forward in view of representations from the teaching unions and the 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.'

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