Head teacher ‘forced out’ for making Muslims attend assembly
There has been an awful lot of anti-Muslim reactionary nonsense written about the head teacher of the Meersbrook Bank School in Sheffield, who has allegedly been ‘forced to resign’ after telling staff she wanted to hold school assemblies or ‘daily acts of collective worship’ which encompass all faiths. The clueless journalist for The Daily Telegraph who ignorantly writes ‘Muslim parents should obey the law of the land’ manifestly has no idea at all of what the law actually says on this matter. His or her ignorance has only served as swill for the bigotry of other journalists who speak about Muslim ‘ghettos’ and splutter their usual ignorant ad hominem pontifications on the matter, simultaneously bloating their own egos whilst feeding the trolls.
Cranmer has no doubt that Julia Robinson was a well-meaning head teacher, quite possibly very able, and even ‘marvellous’. She was also undoubtedly not ‘racist’. But her grasp of the statutory guidelines was flawed to the extent that she was presuming to override what Parliament decided upon in 1944, reiterated in 1988, and affirmed again in 1996. As The Telegraph observes, these education acts do indeed stipulate that pupils ‘shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship’ which should be ‘wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character’.
But neither The Telegraph nor Mrs Robinson appear to be aware that a head teacher may apply to the Local Education Authority for a determination to have this requirement lifted if it is deemed to be inappropriate for their school (Section 387, Education Act 1996). And neither do they appear to be aware that parents have always had (since 1944) the option of removing their children from these acts of worship, and that over the past 60 years Jews, Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses have proportionally considerably outnumbered the Muslims (and Sikhs and Hindus) in withdrawing their children from what is perceived to be an inappropriate act of induction.
And no-one has spoken about Jewish, Catholic or JW ‘ghettos’ being created as a consequence.
Let us turn this around for a while, and consider Labour’s drive to expand faith schools in the state sector. There is a statutory requirement upon these schools to take in a quota of students of other faiths or none. Those who deplore the actions of the Muslim parents in withdrawing their children from Mrs Robinson’s multi-faith assemblies would doubtless be the first to insist that their children were not subjected to the ‘acts of worship’ led by Imam Ali or anyone by the name of Mohammed.
Those who decry the accusation of 'racism' levelled at Mrs Robinson are likely to be the first to hurl 'bigot' at those who express a faith which dares to question any tenet of theirs.
Muslims are simply agitating for what Roman Catholics have enjoyed since 1902 – a state funded education system which is free to dissent from the Protestant establishment and manifest a religious ethos which is distinct from Anglicanism.
Since 1944, schools have been on the frontline of a rapidly-changing society. While the school act of collective worship had traditionally been uniform and predominantly confessional up until the 1960s (reciting the Apostle’s Creed, saying the Lord’s Prayer, singing hymns and listening to a mini-sermon), immigration and the advent of other religions, coupled with the process of secularisation, has forced change. As Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks observes, the UK has seen ‘a wider disintegration brought about by the loss of what Peter Berger called “the sacred canopy”, that overarching framework of shared meanings that once shaped individuals and society. In its place has come pluralism: the idea that society is a neutral arena of private choices where every vision of the good carries its own credentials of authenticity’.
And this pluralism demands change. All this fuss over one school is mind-boggling when one learns from The Guardian that the ‘weekly Muslim assemblies were led by a teacher and (were) open to children of other faiths’.
Muslims having one assembly in five which is open to children of other faiths is hardly ghettoisation. And it must be observed that Mrs Robinson sought to end a decade-long tradition, which Muslim parents and students had doubtless come to value.
Cranmer is not commenting on the merits or demerits of having a separate weekly assembly for Muslims, for he is not concerned to encourage faith per se. But he does wish to confront the manifest ignorance in the assertion that Mrs Robinson ‘was simply observing the law of the land’.
She was not.
She is free to ‘celebrate the diversity of our pupils and the community’ to her heart’s content. But she is not free to make the school’s daily act of collective worship ‘multi-faith’. And if she were to do so, then every Christian parent would have the right to withdraw their children from it, or request that the school provide something suitably orthodox.
Segregating children within a school may not be viewed as good practice. But if not within, why without? Why should the children of any community be divided by faith? Those who favour faith schools (as His Grace does) must accept the logical corollary that faith groups within ‘secular’ schools may wish to do things differently: indeed, why should a ‘multi-faith’ or ‘secular’ ethos be permitted to become the prevailing orthodoxy?
Church schools were founded for the education of the poor, whoever those poor were. They made no distinction between class, colour or creed. Those schools which today are majority Muslim, or which operate with a significant proportion of Muslim pupils, are still carrying out the Church’s mission of providing service to those who need it. It is the essence of loving one’s neighbour.