26 March 2020
Whilst it is unsurprising that some want to exploit this incident to further division and to marginalise Muslim communities, our primary focus must be on the wellbeing of young school-children.
Reports suggest the image shown to students was one that depicted the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wearing a turban with a bomb in it – an extremely offensive image that plays into the Islamophobic trope of Muslims and/or Islam being synonymous with terrorism, and Muslims having a unique penchant for violence.
According to parents at the school, the cartoons created a hostile atmosphere and led to Islamophobic discourse and language. We all want our schools to be inclusive spaces that foster a productive learning environment – an increase in Islamophobic discourse within a school setting cannot be deemed as acceptable.
The NEU guidance on the responsibilities of teachers states that:
“All teachers, including those on the way to gaining QTS, have a ‘duty of care’ towards their pupils. According to this duty of care, you are required to apply your education and acquired skills to safeguard pupils, demonstrating reasonable and careful professional standards while you are at work.”
It is important to assert that safeguarding children from becoming marginalised, or being victimised, in this way falls well within the remit of this duty of care. The need to safeguard children in the face of the current climate of increased hostility towards Muslim – and indeed BAME – school children is acute.
A 2015 study on young people’s attitudes towards Muslims revealed that 31% of young children surveyed agreed with the statement that ‘Muslims are taking over England’ to some extent – an Islamophobic conspiracy theory that used to be the preserve of the far-right. Whilst in 2017, for example, Childline reported that it had held over 2,500 counselling sessions for children concerned about race and faith-based bullying, where children as young as nine reported being called terrorists, enduring abuse, and threats of violence.
It is welcome that the school has acknowledged this material is inappropriate for use as a resource in a teaching environment and is taking proactive steps to engage the local community so as to resolve the matter, and that the engagement between the school and parents on the ground remains measured, respectful and productive in nature. There is always value in close engagement between schools and parents regarding issues not on the national curriculum, and in particular where significant offense is likely, and/or where children may feel excluded or victimised. The MCB will continue to engage its affiliates to listen to their concerns on this issue and support ongoing efforts at a local level within the Batley community.