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School assemblies row – what the BBC didn’t tell you

I’m with Neil D on the idea of keeping religion out of school assemblies. Absolutely. However, the BBC’s report on the Julia Robinson case seems to offer a rather selective account of the controversy.

The Sheffield Telegraph tells a somewhat different story:

A Sheffield headteacher has resigned in a row over her plans to scrap separate assemblies for Muslim pupils.

Julia Robinson moved to stop the assemblies at Meersbrook Bank Primary on Derbyshire Lane soon after taking up her post last February.

In their place she wanted to hold assemblies for all the pupils, which would encompass all faiths – which is common practice in most schools.

After taking advice from the local authority, Ms Robinson set up a working party to look at alternatives – but their work was stopped after a number of parents complained about the plans.

“The headteacher inherited the separate assemblies when she started the job and she took careful advice from the authority on what to do about them,” said a school insider.

“But when she tried to stop them, feeling they did nothing to promote inclusiveness, she was accused of being a racist.”

No mention of the allegations of ‘racism’ in the BBC report, and no mention of the fact that Robinson felt separate assemblies for children from Muslim families were a problem because they failed to promote inclusiveness.

The BBC report states:

A Sheffield head teacher has resigned after parents complained about her plans to scrap separate assemblies for Muslim pupils.

Julia Robinson had wanted to hold one assembly for pupils of all faiths at Meersbrook Bank Primary School.

But this wasn’t to be a ‘Christian’ assembly. Rather, the Sheffield Telegraph reports that Robinson wanted ‘assemblies for all the pupils, which would encompass all faiths‘.

So, the important question that arises is this: was Robinson trying to stop separate Muslim assemblies in order to comply rigidly with the 1944 Education Act, or was she trying to integrate all the pupils into one ‘melting pot’ type assembly? The BBC report seems to suggest the former, the local news report suggests the latter.

It seems likely to me that the parents who complained took issue with the idea of their children being involved in any kind of assembly that was not entirely Islamically oriented, which would explain the allegations of ‘racism’ they threw at Robinson. ‘Racism’ is a word that has been greatly abused by a particular group of people seeking special status for their religious beliefs – i.e. Islamists – and crying wolf in this way trivialises the very real problem of racism. Does Robinson sound like a ‘racist’ or does she sound like a well meaning liberal who wanted to promote multiculturalism?

It is interesting to see that the BBC report ignores the ‘racism’ claims, minimalises references to Robinson seeking to promote inclusiveness, and finishes by yet again citing the views of the Muslim Council of Britain, a group hardly known for its commitment to inclusiveness or for its moderation.

UPDATE:

Thanks to Garth in the comments who points us to the Times report on the issue, where we read:

A teacher at the school said that Mrs Robinson took careful advice from the local education authority. “She wanted to hold assemblies for all the pupils, which would include all faiths. That is what happens in most schools but some parents wanted things to stay as they were. When she tried to stop them, feeling they did nothing to promote inclusiveness, she was accused of being racist.”

Mrs Robinson was “absent through ill health” for most of last year. She had been due to resume her duties this term, but some parents are understood to have objected to the local authority about her return.

A teacher said: “She was under a lot of pressure. The plan was for her to come back but again some of the parents put a stop to that. Many of us here just feel this is all very wrong. Julia was doing the right thing and went through all the right routes. There’s no other school we know that has separate assemblies like these.

“The buzzword from the authority at the moment is all about community cohesion but there is little cohesion at this school. The staff are very upset at what has happened.”

A mother with three children at the school said that Mrs Robinson was “a marvellous head and loved by the children”. “What she was doing was quite right. The children sit together in class so why shouldn’t they share a school assembly?” she said.