One day left: Muslim free school has 24-hours to satisfy concerns

A Muslim free school which reportedly demanded that all female teachers wear the hijab has just a day left to prove it has changed its structures before triggering a government intervention.

Al-Madinah school in Derby said this morning it would support female teachers who did not want to wear the head covering but it is not clear if it has dealt with other complaints raised by schools minister John Nash.

"Unless these problems are addressed promptly and in full I will terminate the funding agreement," Nash wrote in a letter to the school.

"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; and 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."

The school has until tomorrow to:

  • Provide Nash with a full list of all staff employed by the Trust, along with the date of their employment, their qualifications and training and comprehensive evidence that CRB / DBS checks have been completed and written references taken up for every employee.
  • Provide Nash with 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.
  • Provide Nash with written confirmation that you are in compliance with equality legislation for any proposed practices and procedures where girls and boys are separated and / or treated differently.
  • Notify all staff that they are not required to cover their hair if contrary to their religion or beliefs (the text of the notification to be provided to me for approval before sending to staff).
  • Write to all the parents of pupils of the school confirming the notification given to staff and provide Nash with a copy of the letter to parents.
  • Communicate the change publicly, including on the school's website.
  • Provide Nash with written confirmation that at the first possible opportunity all guidance (staff handbook, school prospectus) will be updated to reflect the change.

The school had its 200 pupils sent home recently after Ofsted inspectors raised concerns about the vetting of female staff.

Ofsted has not given specific reasons for its concerns, but last week a Christian teacher said she was forced to wear the hijab and an ankle-length skirt when working at the school and that she was forced out when she refused.

There are also allegations that female students have been forced to sit at the back of the classroom.

"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," parent-governor Abdullah Shahjan told BBC Radio Derby.

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

But on the broader demands of the Nash letter, he added: "We would have appreciated some consultation. We have never received any complaints from our staff."

The school has been criticised by the British Humanist Association after its prospectus to parents said "sensitive, inaccurate and potentially blasphemous material will be censored or removed completely".

It added: "If and when teachers are required by the curriculum to convey teachings that are totally against Islam (Darwinism, for example), the director of Islamic Studies will brief the relevant teachers and advise accordingly."

Derby North MP Chris Williamson said the establishment, which is just a year old, was an example of the dangers of free schools.

"The free schools programme is an extremely flawed project because these schools are a law unto themselves," the Labour MP said.

"Al-Madinah is one manifestation of the difficulties which result from this."

Meanwhile, a cross party group of secular politicians and campaigners have made a major push to reform Scotland's education system, which forces councils to appoint three religious representatives to council education committees.

The rule gives religious figures the balance of power in nearly two-thirds of education committees, even though the recent census shows nearly than half of all Scots profess no religious belief.

"To afford a particular section of society a privileged position within the decision making process based solely on their particular and personal religious beliefs is profoundly and inherently undemocratic, unfair and discriminatory," said Colin Emerson, Edinburgh Secular Society vice-chair.

The groups petition to repeal the law is also backed by the National Secular Society, Humanist Society Scotland, University of Edinburgh Humanist Society, Green MSP Patrick Harvie and SNP councillor Sandy Howat.

Glasgow MSP Harvie said: "I'm particularly concerned at the involvement of people who would promote utterly unscientific notions like creationism, pushing this absurd ideology at children is the very opposite of education."

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: "The somewhat hysterical language used by the secularist groups suggests aggression to cover for a weak argument.

"The contribution of religious representatives in being independent, rooted in communities and often with a great deal of experience in education, is greatly valued by councils across the country.

"And this attack on their personal integrity by the secularists is extraordinary and really quite sad."