Al-Madinah Muslim free school changes headscarf rule

Al-Madinah School The Muslim Al-Madinah free school opened in September 2012

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A Muslim free school in Derby has said it will support female staff who do not want to wear head coverings.

It follows a letter warning the Al-Madinah School it faced closure unless discrimination against female staff and pupils stopped.

Education Minister Lord Nash laid out 17 issues for the school to consider, which included an end to "unacceptable" teaching standards.

The letter said if steps were not taken by Tuesday, funding would be pulled.

Parent-governor Abdullah Shahjan told BBC Radio Derby: "We are amending policies to make sure we support staff, who if for their cultural, ethical, or faith do not wish to cover their hair."

Another governor Fasal Hussain said: "We are very open, very flexible."

However, with regard to Lord Nash's letter and female staff wearing head scarves he added: "We would have appreciated some consultation.

"We have never received any complaints from our staff."

Single-gender school

One of the other concerns raised in the letter was that women and girls were being treated less favourably than men and boys.

Head of Islamic studies, Mohammad Burhaan, said: "We are an Islamic school and if we were to discriminate against women in any way we wouldn't be faithful to our faith.

"If you look at the tradition of Islam, it has a very rich history and heritage of female scholarship - both religious and in the field of science, languages and mathematics - we are very proud of that heritage.

"If we were going to discriminate we would have applied to be a single-gender school from the outset."

He said the chair of governors was female, most staff were female and most pupils were female.

"I think actions speak louder than words and we can't give a bolder statement to our dedication to equality of gender than that," he said.

Religion or beliefs

Free Schools

  • State funded
  • Funded on a per-pupil basis
  • Answerable to Department of Education
  • 174 in England
  • Can be set up by anyone, once a business plan and demand is demonstrated

During an earlier interview on Newsnight, Mr Burhaan said head scarves were the code of dress adopted by the school.

"If you look at an air hostess, for example, a female wears a different code of dress.

"We are not saying they are discriminated against, that's a choice made by the business," he said then.

The government had told the school to write to all female members of staff telling them they did not have to wear a hijab if it was in conflict with their religion or beliefs.

Management structure

In the letter outlining concerns, Lord Nash wrote: "The trust has manifestly breached the conditions of its funding agreement by:

  • Failing to ensure the safety of children at the school
  • Delivering an unacceptably poor standard of education
  • Discriminating in its policies and procedures towards female staff
  • Failing to discharge its duties and responsibilities in respect of the governing body

"I will not tolerate breaches of the commitments you gave when entering into the funding agreement."

He urged the school's trust to take five "urgent steps" by 15 October, including providing written confirmation that "you have ceased any practices and procedures that have as their reason, cause or effect that women and girls are treated less favourably than men and boys".

The school has been given a deadline of 22 October to address nine further action points and must provide a plan setting out a clear management structure by the start of November.

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