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Britain’s Strictest Headteacher Responds After Muslim Pupil Sues School

A Muslim pupil from Michaela Community School, frequently named the “strictest school” in Britain, is taking legal action against her teachers in High Court after being banned from praying in the school playground during Ramadan.

The school, located in Brent, North-West London, is one of the most successful state schools in the area, attaining some of the best GCSE and A-levels in the country. 82% of attending pupils have secured a spot at Russell Group universities.

Michaela Community School is well known for the controversial views of its outspoken headmistress, Katherine Birbalsingh. Her “prayer ban” across all religions was enacted to stop a “cultural shift” and “segregation between religious groups and intimidation within the group of Muslim pupils”.

Birbalsingh responded to claims of “no-prayer” rooms, saying during a new interview with UnHeards Freddie Sayers, “When we first opened, we had 30% of our children being Muslim. We have grown that to 50% of our intake now being Muslim, and we’ve done that all the while without a prayer room”.

Previously, the school had no policies prohibiting students from praying.

She continued, “What we said before was that you could pray in the Yard because we can’t make it happen in the classrooms because of physical reasons and also not wanting to divide the children according to race and religion, but if you would pray in the yard that would be okay”.

Birbalsingh noted that she had never noticed a child praying in the Yard until last year, over a period of 6 days in March when 30 pupils were seen outside using blazers as prayer mats.

Fears of a hostile environment were at the forefront of Birbalsingh's mind, saying, “During Ramadan, some of the children fast and that’s fine. Some of the children choose not to fast and that is also fine. Some of the children are weaker and smaller or a girl is on her period”.

“Some of the more committed Muslims were intimidating the Muslims who were eating and going by the break hall food stand, and stopping them from eating or intimidating them into praying. Or we noticed one girl for instance who never wore a hijab who was suddenly wearing one, so the culture of the place changed very quickly within days from being a lovely happy place to one that was aggressive and intimidating and where Muslim children were being intimidated into doing things they did not quite want to do”.

If the student’s lawsuit is successful, it will require the school to provide a prayer room on the grounds of religious freedom.

Nadine Asbali of The Guardian wrote of the importance of prayer in Islam as a “central pillar of their faith” and “one of the first things they will be questioned about by God after we die”. The policy has also been widely criticised for being discriminatory, as it does not prohibit Christian students for praying quietly on a bench or praying in silence. It rather bans “prayer rituals”, which would mostly target Muslim prayers.

Asbali’s article further questions the portrayal of Muslims given the recent pro-Palestinian marches, which have been described as “hate marches” by Suella Braverman. She also addresses the over-policing of Muslim children in schools on a greater level than their peers, promoting a “myopic view of what it means to be British”. 

 Edited by Sydney Smith

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Tags: #students #kids #learning #education #children #teachers #parents #school #teaching #teacher #MichaelaCommunitySchool #Britainsstrictestheadteacher#schools


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