Parents and members of the Batley community have come together calling for calm and a transparent investigation, in light of the Batley Grammar School incident, where on Monday 22 March during a religious studies lesson on blasphemy, children were shown a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, which is considered deeply offensive to Muslims.
The official statement released by the group who call themselves the Batley Parents and Community Partnership, has been signed by concerned parents of pupils at Batley Grammar school, the Indian Muslim Welfare Society (IMWS), The Peace institute, Rabetah Al-Ulama Al-Islamiyyah, Pakistan & Kashmir Welfare Association and all local mosques in Batley.
Spokesperson of the Batley Parents and Community Partnership Yunus Lunat, exclusively told Asian Sunday:
“We as parents and citizens, stand resolute that our children should be able to go to school without having their faith (a protected characteristic under the Equality Act) and culture ridiculed, insulted and vilified. Our children should be allowed to engage with challenging ideas such as blasphemy without their teachers having to utilise Islamophobic material. Such material serves only to marginalise Muslim communities and spread Islamophobic sentiments.”
Following the incident on Monday, parents and members of the community on Thursday 25 March protested outside Batley Grammar school, where the school population is estimated to be 70 per cent Muslim. They were protesting to demonstrate that ‘Islamophobia’ would not be tolerated.
Despite chanting and shouts of ‘get the head teacher’ the protest was reported to be peaceful with police confirming no arrests were made or fines issued for breaking coronavirus restrictions.
A further protest also took place on Friday, and the school was closed to safeguard pupils from renewed protests. Since the protests, it was revealed at a live masjid broadcast for Snowden Mosque in Batley, on Saturday 27 March, that three staff members at Batley Grammar School have been suspended pending investigation.
The incident has made several headlines and has even got senior government ministers wading into the row. Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson condemned the protests outside the West Yorkshire school calling them ‘completely unacceptable’.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge.
‘However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.
‘Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance.
‘They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.’
However, community members have accused the Department of Education of fanning the flames, (protests were on the whole peaceful with no arrests), and raising the issues of freedom of speech and tolerance.
The right to freedom of speech is protected under common law in the UK. It is also guaranteed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Under Article 10, freedom of expression includes the right “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority”. This means that both the public and the press are able to share what they think, feel and believe without censorship, even where the expression of their views may shock, disturb or offend the deeply held beliefs of others.
This is not, however, an absolute right. It carries with it duties and responsibilities, and can be “subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties”. Article 10 goes on to specify the limited circumstances in which the right to free speech can be legitimately curtailed. These include the protection of health or morals and for the protection of the rights and reputation of others.
The statement from the Batley parents and community partnership further adds: “We are fully invested in dialogue and legitimate engagement. Any and all threats against the school and staff involved undermine our efforts and are completely contrary to our values as concerned parents, citizens and Muslims. We call for claim in order to allow fruitful dialogue and space for a transparent investigation to take place.”
In a statement the Imam of a Leeds mosque and government spokesperson Qari Asim said: “Protests outside of Batley Grammar School have caused alarm in communities. As an Imam, I sympathise with the parents and pupils because sadly, this is not the first time we have seen offensive images of Prophet Muhammad being used. Muslims love the Prophet more than themselves and so we must be mindful and sensitive to the deep pain and hurt it causes to the Muslim community worldwide.
Like all communities, regardless of faith, Muslim’s respect freedom of speech but to safeguard pupils, educational practitioners have a responsibility to exercise better judgement for sensitive classroom content.”
In a statement, Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen said: “Those who seek to fan the flames of this incident will only provoke hate and division in our community and I would encourage all involved to work together and calm the situation,” adding: “Conversations between the school, parents and local community must proceed in a dignified and respectful manner.”
Ms. Brabin went on to say: “No teacher should be facing intimidation or threats, there is no excuse for that. The focus must be on the welfare and education of the children at this school.”
Head teacher of Batley Grammar School Gary Kibble said: “The school is working closely with the governing board and community leaders to help resolve this situation.”
In a statement he said: “The school unequivocally apologies for the use of a totally inappropriate resource. The member of staff concerned has also given their most sincere apologies.”
Batley parents and community partnership have welcomed the apology and said:
“With the support of the headteacher of Batley Grammar School and other ogranisations, we are working to achieve an amicable resolution. The school has actioned suspensions of staff pending investigation.
“Initial progress has been made. The school has apologised for the incident, has removed the Islamophobic caricature of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from all school materials, and has announced a formal review of the religious studies curriculum to remove any other grossly inappropriate resources.”
You can watch the full statement from the Batley Parents and Community Partnership here: