26 MAY 2021 • 6:00 AM
Give pupils ‘safe space’ for pro-Palestinian protests, says Muslim group
Muslim Council of Britain said it would work with unions to make sure students can hold debates
Schools could face further protests over the situation in the Palestinian territories, after the Muslim Council of Britain said it would work with unions to make sure students have "safe spaces" for debate.
The group said it had heard of a number of cases where students displaying Palestinian flags or supporting pro-Palestinian views had been reprimanded.
It said it was “engaging with key stakeholders within the education sector” to “support concerns” regarding issues raised at Allerton Grange school, after the headteacher called the flag a “call to arms”.
The Leeds school faced a “barrage” of online criticism and protests on Monday after headteacher Mike Roper made the comments in an assembly. He later apologised and said external speakers would be brought into the school.
“The comments made by the headmaster were inaccurate and unacceptable. Schools should be able to facilitate safe spaces for dialogue on important global human rights,” the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said in a statement.
“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.
“The incident demonstrates the importance of engagement and consultation between parents and the school.”
It is understood the MCB is planning to speak to educational experts at a national level, including teachers and teaching unions, about how students are allowed to voice their support for the Palestinians within schools.
It comes after a number of schools across the country experienced protests from pupils in response to the conflict.
In one video shared on social media students at Judgemeadow Community College, Leicester, were seen chanting “Free Palestine” and waving flags during their morning break.
The school confirmed staff were watching nearby but did not intervene to allow students to “have their voice about a subject they are clearly passionate about”.
“Students were vocal and energetic, but the event was contained in their Year group bubble, minimising disruption to others,” Jason Smith, the college Principal, said.
An audio recording of a pupil being reprimanded at Oulder Hill Community School, Rochdale, after protesting about Gaza received criticism on social media, and the school has now launched an investigation into the incident.
In a letter to parents the school said: “We must allow this investigation to take its course and avoid making comments or taking actions that may prejudice these proceedings.”
At Clapton Girls Academy, London, a “large number” of students staged a protest last week regarding the conflict. In a letter sent to parents last Wednesday the school said it was planning ways for pupils to explore the conflict in a “structured” way.
On Friday headteacher Anna Feltham said the “complex issues behind the student concerns” had begun to be discussed, but added it was investigating incidents of “manipulated” footage of staff shared online.
“In support of this, can you please ensure your children are not posting or sharing images, accusations, or any other potentially damaging information online,” she wrote to parents.
Pupils at Allerton Grange were reportedly told not to wear lanyards with the Palestinian flag on and posters were removed. In an assembly, which was intended to defuse tensions, Mr Roper said the flag is seen by some as “a call to arms and seen as a message of support for anti-Semitism”.
A group of activists then gathered outside the school on Monday afternoon in protest. Some parents expressed concern that the protesters had no links to the school and were using the situation.
It is understood schools have a duty to ensure political impartiality, but this should not restrict the expression of senior pupils.
However, this expression should not be disruptive or breach a schools’ behaviour policy, sources said.