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2 Oct, 2013 16:02

UK Islamic school shut down after accusations of strict religious practices

UK Islamic school shut down after accusations of strict religious practices

A school in central England has been closed following controversy over its harsh Islamic line and a subsequent assessment by Government inspectors. It has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks for its treatment of female students and teachers.

A spokesperson for Ofsted, the schools watchdog, told RT: “We can confirm that Ofsted is currently undertaking a two-day inspection of the Al-Madinah School in Derby.” The BBC has reported that it ‘understands’ findings were “so damning” that the head was forced to immediately shut it down.

The school had previously caused a media sensation in the UK after it was alleged that it enforced segregation by gender, meaning girls were forced to sit at the back of the classrooms. It also reportedly forced female members of staff – including non-Muslims- to wear the hijab. 

The acting headmaster of Al-Madinah in Derby was prompted to shut the school without delay as the Ofsted assessment was underway, posting a message on the school’s website:

“Owing to a health and safety issues, I have taken the decision to close the school to primary and secondary pupils until I am confident that all children are safe on site,” said acting Principal Dr. Stuart Wilson.

“As parents, you will be informed directly, and on the website, when you are able to send your children back to school. I expect this to be in the very near future.”

Parents have been gathering outside the school demanding answers.

“Yesterday, I received a one-line letter telling me the school would be closed but not giving any reasons,” Ali Mohammed, who has a six year old daughter at the school, told the Derby Telegraph. “I've come down here to ask some questions. I want to know what is going on and, if there are health and safety issues, then I'm very concerned,” he said.

The school, which opened in September 2012, had already been placed under investigation by the Education Funding Agency; as a free school, Al Madinah is eligible for public, central government-funding from the agency, while also being required to enter its pupils for standardized public examinations, for example GCSEs – a nationwide exam taken at the age of 16.

Al-Madinah was already on the Department of Education’s radar prior to the Ofsted investigation. “The Department for Education said it discussed the school with Ofsted before we undertook the inspection,” a spokesperson for the watchdog told RT.

Teachers have recently been coming forward over the harsh restrictions placed on their attire whilst tutoring in the classroom. Female teachers have faced particularly harsh victimization, with one recently quitting amidst a row over her dress.

A male colleague looked her up and down and told her that she had failed to observe ‘common decency,’ according to Britain’s Daily Mail.

“If I had known that it was compulsory for non-Muslim women staff [to cover up] before I started the job, I would never have accepted the post,” the anonymous teacher said. 

Sue Arguile, of the National Union of Teachers, said that “Free schools set their own rules – but forcing people to agree to contractual changes could breach employment law.”

The Education Funding Agency has also been investigating alleged financial irregularities, according to the BBC.

The wearing of the hijab has been an ongoing source of controversy in the UK, with even Cameron voicing his support for a ban on wearing full veils in UK schools. “In a school, it’s very difficult to teach unless you can look at your pupils in the eye,” UK Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.

The niqab face veil is currently banned in France and Belgium, and debate was sparked last month following the dropping of a ban at the West-Midlands based Birmingham Metropolitan College amid protests.