Damon L. Perry

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Failing Islamic school in Bristol launched the MCB’s “Books for Schools” project in 2010

Feb 7, 2022

 

In an Ofsted report published on January 14, 2022, Bristol’s only Islamic faith school, the Andalusia Academy Bristol, the watchdog found that the school failed to meet the standards for independent schools during a school inspection that took place in November 2021.

According to the Ofsted report, the November 2021 inspection was conducted to advise the Secretary of State for Education about the school’s suitability for continued registration as an independent school. It followed a previous Ofsted report published in June 2020, based on an inspection in February 2020, which rated the school as “inadequate” for the third time since September 2016.  

The most recent report found that the school’s curriculum planning did not pay enough attention to the needs of pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities and that the school’s policies for pupils who speak English as an additional language were “not fit for purpose”. Although some aspects of safeguarding had improved, the report stated, “safeguarding remains ineffective”.

The MCB’s “books for schools”

The Andalusia Academy Bristol hasn’t always been the subject of negative media reports. In 2010, the school launched the Muslim Council of Britain’s “books for schools” project in Bristol.

This project, originally launched in 2004,[1] involved the distribution of a resource pack for schools, consisting of “books, custom made teacher notes, pupil activities, worksheets, CDs, DVDs, videos and accompanying teaching aids”.[2] The MCB stated, “By providing children with an authentic understanding of Islam, we hope to sow seeds that will facilitate harmony and tolerance amongst Britain’s diverse communities”. The pack, according to the MCB, was designed by the MCB’s “team of educationalists”. It was publicly supported by the then education secretary, Charles Clarke. In 2006, the MCB claimed the books were being used in hundreds of British schools.

At the time of the 2010 launch, the chair of the Bristol Islamic Schools Trust that runs the Andalusia Academy, Dr Ghassan Nounu, said:

I very much welcome this joint initiative in Bristol schools. There is a great deal of ignorance about major faiths, resulting in dangerous and destructive myths. The use of the new materials will help develop understanding and encourage community cohesion throughout Bristol.

Amongst the books included in the resource pack was one that promoted Islamist ideas and values: Ghulam Sarwar’s Islam: Beliefs and Teachings.[3] This book presents Islam as a “complete system of life” that sanctions polygamy and arranged marriages,[4] prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men,[5] and discourages the “free mixing of grown-up boys and girls”.[6] The book describes “man-made” law as inferior to shari’a, which it claims is perfect, complete and applicable for all people at all times.[7]

The book furthermore bemoans the lack of an authentic Islamic state and praises the work of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami towards an “Islamic revival” that, with the attainment of such a state, will “guide the world towards justice, happiness and peace”.[8] It is difficult to see how such a book may contribute to “community cohesion” or combat “ignorance about major faiths”.

The Association of Muslim Schools

Twelve years have passed since the Andalusia Academy launched the books for schools project in Bristol. During this time, after being classified as “good” by an Ofsted inspection in 2013, the school has been characterised as “inadequate” three times and “requires improvement” once.

The Andalusia Academy Bristol is a member school of the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS), which has been an affiliate organisation of the MCB for many years.[9] The former chair of AMS, Mohamed Mukadam, has asserted that the “first and foremost” duty of Muslim parents is the transference of Islamic faith and values to their children, without which they would enter “the fire of hell”.[10]

In October 2017, the AMS attempted unsuccessfully to intervene in a court case involving Al-Hijrah School, a mixed-sex state school, which Ofsted had claimed in 2016 as unlawfully segregating boys and girls.

Ofsted had alleged in a 2016 inspection report that segregating pupils within a mixed-sex school amounted to unlawful discrimination. The school commenced proceedings for judicial review and sought to challenge this allegation. The judge ruled in favour of the school. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the then chief inspector of schools, said he was “disappointed that the court has determined that the practice of completely segregating boys and girls in this publicly funded mixed-sex school does not amount to unlawful discrimination”. Ofsted appealed and the Court of Appeal overturned the verdict. The AMS sought to intervene  after the appeal verdict – although the school did not request the AMS to intervene – but the judge did not allow it to do so.[11]

The AMS chair said that the verdict may create a conflict between AMS’s duty to ensure its member schools obey the law and its duty to ensure they “act in a way which is consistent with Islamic teachings and practices”.[12]

Issues for the DfE and Ofsted

There are several issues for the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted that this case highlights, although these are long-standing issues that have bugged our education system for years.

The first issue is that of the appropriateness of government partners. Charles Clarke’s endorsement of the MCB’s “books for schools” project pre-dated the MCB’s fall from grace in 2009 when Daud Abdullah, its deputy secretary general, signed the pro-Hamas Istanbul Declaration. But it seems no one conducted any due diligence regarding the contents of the resource pack. How many schools are still using Islam: Beliefs and Teachings? Has Ofsted considered whether this resource – written by the director of the Muslim Educational Trust (MET), a body that for years influenced local governments’ education on Islam – is appropriate for schools?

The second issue is the extent of extremist literature in schools. Occasional reports of inappropriate materials found in schools have shed some light on the extent to which problematic literature is being used or kept in schools. But has the time not come for Ofsted to conduct a thorough official inquiry into the extent to which this is a problem? Extremist or otherwise inappropriate literature in school libraries may be one thing, but the use of such literature in the classroom could be quite another.

This touches on a third issue. Ofsted has no power to investigate extremist or inappropriate literature in schools. It can only report what it finds during its school inspections. Is it not reasonable that more power should be given to Ofsted to proactively investigate extremist or inappropriate literature, seize the material it finds, and take action against offending schools, particularly if such literature is being used in classrooms?

[1] See “Books 4 schools”, MCB website, March 24, 2004, https://mcb.org.uk/press-releases/books-4-schools/; and “MCB launches educational resources for British schools”, MCB website, October 11, 2004, https://mcb.org.uk/press-releases/mcb-launches-educational-resources-for-british-schools/.

[2] MCB, “Meeting the Needs of Muslim Pupils in State Schools: Information and Guidance for Schools” (London: The Muslim Council of Britain, 2007), pp.62-3. Document available at : http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Education/documents/2007/02/20/Schoolinfoguidance.pdf. The books and other materials chosen to comprise MCB’s “self-contained resource pack” are listed here.

[3] Ghulam Sarwar, Islam: Beliefs and Teachings, 8th ed. (London: Muslim Educational Trust, 2006). Available online here: https://islamicbulletin.org/en/ebooks/kids/islam_children.pdf.

[4] Ibid., pp.157-163.

[5] Ibid., p.157.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., p.153.

[8] Ibid., p.171.

[9] The AMS was referred to as an affiliate by the MCB as early as 1998 (https://mcb.org.uk/press-releases/mcb-hosts-luncheon-meeting-with-jack-straw/) and as recent as 2018 (https://web.archive.org/web/20181005001524/https://mcb.org.uk/about/affiliates/). Sometime in 2019, the MCB removed the list of its affiliates from its website.

[10] Arif A. Jamal and Farid Panjwani, “Having Faith in Our Schools: Struggling with Definitions of Religion”, p.81, in Myriam Hunter-Henin, Law, Religious Freedoms and Education in Europe (Ashgate: Farnham, 2011).

[11] Court of Appeal judgment ([2017] EWCA Civ 1787). Available at: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/interim-executive-board-of-al-hijrah-school-for-joinder-20171107.pdf.

[12] Ibid., para.10, pp.3-4.

Damon L. Perry

Senior Research Fellow Read Full Bio

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