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I am a big advocate of the state education sector in Britain. I hate Michael Gove, the Conservative Education Minister, with a passion. He is trying to deregulate and effectively privatise the education system. I will joining my brothers and sisters on strike on the 17th October. I will be explaining why the strike is important over the coming week.

But in the meantime, here is one reason why deregulation in the education system such that anyone can set up a school, no matter how indoctrinating that school and the resulting curricula can be (even if they supposedly adhere to certain guidelines and rules).

The first article is form the British Humanist Association, which I blogged about last week:

Concerns raised about gender and religious discrimination at Derby Muslim Free School

The Derby Telegraph has reported that Al-Madinah School, a Muslim Free School that opened in Derby in September 2012, is forcing all female members of staff to wear a hijab (whether Muslim or not), and is requiring girls to sit at the back of classrooms. The Sunday Times is further reporting that reading fairy tales, singing and stringed instruments are banned due to being ‘forbidden in Islam’, and the school’s (non-Muslim) head and deputy head were bullied into resignation by the governing body due to the latter being belittled and sidelined as a result of her lack of faith – leading to both lodging official complaints of bullying with the Department for Education (DfE). The school is already being investigated by the DfE due to potential financial mismanagement. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which has advocated for robust and detailed scrutiny of Free School applications by religious groups, has expressed alarm at the news.

The school also reportedly devotes several hours to prayers, with one staff member anonymously saying that ‘They have three prayers every day, an hour of Koranic studies and an hour of Islamic studies as well as Arabic. They are not following the national curriculum, there isn’t enough time.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Religious dress codes that apply to all employees regardless of their beliefs and gender-based segregation in the classroom are almost certainly unlawful. To see them in a state school – an institution that should embody the highest principles of openness and equality is shameful. The fact that these practices occur are a symptom of the continuing failure of government to regulate effectively the practice of state schools with a religious character.’

In July plans to open a Muslim Free School in Halifax were abandoned following concerns about extremism.

And the second article is from The Guardian which is reporting on the OFSTED inspection which has resulted from the coverage of this school:

Muslim free school shut during Ofsted inspection expected to get lowest rating

A Muslim free school that closed its doors just hours after Ofsted began an inspection is expected to be judged inadequate, it has been reported.

Al-Madinah school in Derby, which has faced accusations of introducing strict religious practices, is likely to be given the lowest rating in all areas,according to BBC News.

The school has announced it will reopen to pupils on Monday.

The interim principal, Stuart Wilson, took the decision to close the school on Tuesday on health and safety grounds after inspectors shared their initial findings with him.

In a statement on al-Madinah school’s website on Friday, Wilson said the “urgent” health and safety issues had been fully addressed and the school would open as normal next week.

“While it was regrettable that the school had to close at all, the wellbeing of our pupils will always be our first concern,” Wilson wrote.

“Unsurprisingly, there has been a number of rumours circulating. While unfortunate, my decision to close the school related to a short-term health and safety issue that has now been completely resolved and will not reoccur.

“Our closure was not the result of our Ofsted inspection team deciding to close al-Madinah school, now or in the future.

“The full findings of the inspection team will be published by Ofsted, in accordance with the time-scales laid down by them for all schools, which will be in the next few weeks.”

Wilson concluded by assuring parents the school would always have their “children’s best interests at heart”.

While Ofsted’s report has not been finalised, preliminary findings have given the school the lowest rating, the BBC reported.

Al-Madinah, which is one of the government’s flagship free schools, opened in September last year.

On its website, it describes a “strong Muslim ethos” with shorter holidays and longer school days “to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success”.

It adds: “At the centre of our school is a community of pupils, able to enjoy learning in a caring Islamic environment which promotes a culture of high expectations and outstanding performance.”

Recently there have been reports that female teachers at the school were forced to wear hijabs even if they were not Muslim.

Other reports claimed that female pupils were made to sit at the back of the classroom and males at the front.

Wilson told the BBC he had not received any complaints from colleagues over the school’s dress code and denied that pupils had been split up.

Ofsted declined to comment on the reports.

A spokesman said: “Inspectors are engaged in writing up the inspection report, which will be subject to the normal assurance checks before final publication in due course.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We were already investigating this school before allegations became public. We discussed the problems with Ofsted and it launched an immediate inspection.

“We are waiting for Ofsted’s final report and considering all legal options.”

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...