Last night I had a waking nightmare.
In it Kirsty Wark was asking surreal-sounding questions of a media fall guy from the Muslim Council of Britain. “The idea that a woman should ever obey her husband is wrong” Blustered Kirsy making me pity her husband/partner/co-habitee/orther. The MCB fall guy, on air for a few precious minutes to give, I suppose, an alternative view, splutters ‘but, but, but…”
I click the remote but I don’t wake up from this nonsense. It continues.
These are from todays Daily Mail online readers and Ukippers touting for votes in May:
‘I hope these people will be charged and jailed for this. This must be stood on hard’.
‘This is nothing less than an attempt to undermine the British state and impose an authoritarian regime which is totally alien to our way of life. I hope the people concerned feel the full weight of the law, and are never allowed to hold any public position ever again’.
The story they want Muslim teachers ‘stood on hard’ for is the Trojan Horse debacle. The Mail summarizes for readers like this:
‘Allegations include the segregation of students and a sex education ban”
“One institution even accused of praising extremist preacher in assembly.’
This is where the disconnect, which threatens to bring far longer term consequences than the sad end to educational careers, comes into play.
Muslims like myself, read the headlines above, with one of two responses;
‘Not again’ – i.e. not more harassment of successful members of our community
‘So what’ – as boys and girls being segregated has long been a staple in Western Education – Eton, Harrow, etc.
If the general public had access to the information this community has on the supposedly terrible Islamic extremists in the schools mentioned in recent ‘scandals,’ their reaction would surely be the same. Sadly England is, with the help of certain papers, lazy news channels and over willing right wing government bodies, in danger of becoming, what it was in the last Tory tenure: a nation of separate and unwilling communities, with little understanding of one another.
We already have separate yet parallel news narratives.
Reading the headlines above gives non Muslims a terrifying sense that this country is being overwhelmed by an extremist cult. However, the millions of Muslim tax payers in this country present in every tier of society, just want the same as every parent. For their kids to get a decent, safe education, make a living and not to go off the rails in one way or another. Muslim communities are amongst the poorest in the country. So when schools emerge, after years of hard work by dedicated staff, offering children in deprived areas the chance for exam results which are not only better than the regional, but the national average – these parents should be allowed to feel glad.
How galling, how depressing to see teachers careers destroyed by anonymous letters faking ‘plots’ and ‘overthrows’ of the very schools they have dedicated themselves to turning around. To see schools brought to their knees by harassment from the media and their leaking cohorts in government office.
In 2012, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector, gave Park View, Birmingham a gushing review.
According to the Guardian’s report of Wilshaw’s visit, the chief inspector heaped praise on the school, saying: “I’ve been in to lots and lots of schools in my time. You can sense a good school as soon as you walk in.” Adding “All schools should be like this and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be.”
Was the man insane at the time of writing that report? Had there been a ‘radical’ takeover in 24 months since? And since the disgruntled former staff making the claims had been at the school years earlier, how could the inspectors have missed something so glaring as extremist views in the staffroom and segregation in classrooms?
Let’s linger over the segregation question for a moment.
The reason that thousands of Muslim parents like me shrug our shoulders when the spectre of segregation is raised is because – it works well in good schools. There I said it. Cue outrage, hate mail, Tweets from Ukippers telling me to ‘go home’ to Saudi Arabia (I’m actually from North London but, oh well).
At Park View school, we hear that classes have featured girls seated at the back of a classroom, with boys at the front. At other times, girls have sat around the sides of the class with boys in the middle. During breaks tables are sometimes shared between the sexes with boys on one side and girls on the other.
Ask yourself the question – is this really so bad? I know we live in an age where it is thought the height of female aspiration to be surrounded by males at every given moment or else remain forever ‘excluded.’ However the arguments for single sex education are well debated down the decades. No need to re hash them here.
The point being most thoroughly ignored by the press is that teenage girls and boys are not a great or a safe mix. Both my daughters asked very clearly NOT to go to a co-ed secondary school. And the figures back up their common sense choice.
A survey of children and young people’s experiences of sexual bullying was carried out by the charity Young Voice in 2008. The survey revealed that of the 273 young people aged 11-19 who responded to the questionnaire, 28 had been forced to do something sexual and 31 had seen it happen to someone else. Of the 273 respondents, 40 had experienced unwanted touching.
DCSF figures from 2009 showed that in school year 2007/8 there were 3,450 fixed period exclusions and 120 expulsions from schools in England due to sexual misconduct.
Such incidents entail: groping and using sexually insulting language.
Girls most often experience sexual harassment. Those who have been sexually harassed suffer poor body image, loss of self esteem, anger, isolation and mistrust of the opposite sex.
On top of all this, sexual bullying and harassment affects studying and learning as well as a pupil’s self esteem.
Sexual harassment in the classroom rarely makes the headlines but it is in our schools.
There is an increasingly disturbing trend systematically disadvantaging our young girls and women. And it isn’t anything to do with Park View School or the Trojan Horse Plot. It is the thoroughly overlooked yet increasingly present spectre of sexual bullying. Harassment which unlike separating girls and boys to different places in the classroom and teaching them mutual respect – leaves girls feeling unable to participate in class and leads to them attaining lower grades.
Just a few months ago, the excellent Tauheedul School in Blackburn, which won an accolade for being the Best school in Britain, received jeers in the mainstream press as its girl pupils dress modestly. Tauheedul is a huge success in school league tables, with 82% of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs at grade C or above in 2007, compared to the national average of 46.7%. It’s girls go in greater numbers than the national average to university. How did the Mail and The Times cover this Muslim success story: by talking about the type of stationary girls used which apparently is encouraged NOT to contain sexual or pop music imagery. Oh the humanity!
Ofsted comes out of all this as utterly discredited. A politicized tool of an increasingly xenophobic government. A government using its educational amoury to divde, threaten, manipulate and traumatize an entire faith community.
One of the inspectors who jack-booted his way into a Muslim school on the faked and discredited ‘Trojan Horse List’ is alleged to have told one of the schools it would be downgraded because it failed to teach “anti-terrorism”.
The Park View trust says “We won’t comment on the Ofsted reports (which are not final and still confidential) other than to say we do not recognise the accounts we have seen in the media as accurate or reasonable descriptions of our schools,”
Meanwhile, non Muslim schools have their own shameful statistics. One in three 16-18 year old girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school in the UK and 71% of 16-18 year olds say they have heard sexual name calling towards girls at school daily or a few times per week.
Whilst genuine questions remain unanswered such as ‘who leaked the Ofsted report from the DofE and when will they be sacked?’ Or ‘how can pupils of faith remain in state education at all in the current climate?’ I really don’t want Kirsty Wark to waste my TV watching time ranting about women never having to be nice to their husbands.
Or to watch, between my hands, yet another fall guy from the MCB epically fail on behalf of the Muslim communities increasingly, under-attack, under protected, teaching community.<a