Batley teacher suspended after Muslim parents protest over ‘Prophet Muhammad cartoon shown in class’
A teacher suspended after allegedly showing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a religious education lesson is said to have accepted pupils would tell their parents about it before displaying the images.
Dozens of furious Muslim parents protested outside the historic Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire today which had to delay its opening and told pupils to stay at home amid chaotic scenes at its gates.
Headteacher Gary Kibble ‘sincerely apologised for the great offence to the community’ and a local Islamic charity claimed the suffering of Rohingya Muslims would ‘only increase if we allow this kind of behaviour’.
Parents discussing what happened have also claimed on Facebook that the teacher predicted he would face a controversial reaction to showing the image by accepting some students will ‘tell your parents about this’.
Mothers and fathers began gathering from 7.30am this morning outside the co-educational free school and could be heard chanting – with about 20 to 30 pupils also milling around at the gates, one of whom gave a speech.
By lunchtime, the crowd remained outside the school – which was founded in 1612 by a Christian, the Reverend William Lee – and police began threatening protesters with Covid fines as a road was shut in both directions.
A West Yorkshire Police officer at the gates read out a further apology from the headteacher, but this provoked more fury from those gathered, who called on the school to sack the teacher and claimed he was a ‘danger’.
It took until 2.30pm for the demonstration to be cleared by police, who made no arrests and issued no fixed penalty notices. MailOnline has asked the school a series of questions, including about what images were shown.
Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local Muslim scholar, told the crowd that the teacher had been suspended, which was later confirmed by the school, where almost three-quarters of pupils are from minority ethnic groups.
Muslims make up 41 per cent of the population in Batley, a historic market and mill town in the Kirkless region which was the constituency of Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered by a far-Right extremist in June 2016.
Today’s protest comes five months after history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on the street near his school in Paris by an Islamic extremist last October after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students.
The killing shocked the country and led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech and the integration of France’s large Muslim population. It also brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence that started with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sparked by the same cartoons in the satirical magazine in 2015 when gunmen killed 12 people.
The latest RE syllabus for Calderdale, Kirkess and Leeds, which runs from 2019 to 2024, states that pupils should be able to ‘give reasons why visual representation of God and the prophets is forbidden – haram – in Islam’ by the end of key stage two – but does not specifically state whether teachers should show any of these images.
National guidance from the Department for Education also does not specifically address cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, but says RE must be taught according to ‘either the locally agreed syllabus or in accordance with the school’s designated religion or religious denomination, or in certain cases the trust deed relating to the school.’
Alumni from the school, which serves Halal-approved food in the canteen, include Innocent Smoothies founder Richard Reed, Ginetta Cars owner Lawrence Tomlinson and prominent 18th century theologian Joseph Priestley.
Police descend on Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire today as dozens of furious Muslim parents protest outside
Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local Muslim scholar, told the crowd in Batley today that the teacher has been suspended
The protests in Batley came after a teacher allegedly showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during an RE lesson
Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble has since apologised for the ‘inappropriate’ resource amid an investigation
Mr Kibble said in a letter to parents: ‘The school would like to thank the parents who contacted us on Monday, March 22 highlighting concerns with a resource used in an RS [religious studies] lesson that day.
‘Upon investigation, it was clear that the resource used in the lesson was completely inappropriate and had the capacity to cause great offence to members of our school community for which we would like to offer a sincere and full apology.’
He added that the school had taken ‘immediate action’ to investigate what had happened, including the removal of the resource from materials and the suspension of that lesson content from the scheme of work.
Mr Kibble continued: ‘As an additional precaution, we will undertake a formal review of the RS curriculum to ensure no other resource or statement is inappropriate and take appropriate action as needed.’
He also told how the school was now investigating the matter ‘using formal processes and we are grateful for the support of the local authority’.
With parents gathering outside the school, it sent them all a text message to say: ‘Due to the disturbance outside of school, if your child has not already set off please keep them at home as school will be starting at 10am.’
Angry parents gather to protest outside Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire following the incident in an RE lesson
Batley Grammar School had to delay its opening and told pupils to stay at home amid chaotic scenes at its gates this morning
A parent speaks to a police officer outside Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire this morning after the incident
Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local Muslim scholar, speaks to the crowd gathered outside Batley Grammar School today
A spokesman for the school later added: ‘The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson. The member of staff has also given their most sincere apologies.
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‘We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school.
‘It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a sensitive way.
‘The member of staff has been suspended pending an independent formal investigation. The school is working closely with the governing board and community leaders to help resolve this situation.’
The protesters were demanding the resignation of the teacher, with organisers asking anyone attending to do so in their vehicle if possible. Officers were guarding all school entrances but the protest appeared to be peaceful.
Mohammad Salad Hussain, founder of the Batley-based Muslim charity Purpose of Life, said: ‘We as Muslims love our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) even more than our parents. I would never dream of offending anyone’s loved ones, so how can this behaviour be acceptable to any sane mind?
‘Currently we are working around the clock helping the Rohingya Muslims who have suffered again greatly with a mass fire, who initially suffered – murdered, raped, burnt alive – for purely being Muslim and this will only increase if we allow this kind of behaviour.
Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor tells the crowd outside the school in West Yorkshire today that he has been speaking to staff
Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor speaks to the crowd of parents who gathered to protest outside Batley Grammar School today
Police block the road leading to the school after parents gathered outside Batley Grammar School this morning
Parents began gathering at 7.30am outside the co-educational free school in West Yorkshire and could be heard chanting
Police positioned outside the school gates amid the demonstrations taking place at Batley Grammar School this morning
‘We at Purpose of Life charity and many Muslims do what we do purely because of our love for Allah SWT and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). This is what needs to be taught at schools.’
How the death of teacher Samuel Paty in France led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech
Five months ago, French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded on the street near his school in Paris by an Islamic extremist last October after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students.
The killing shocked the country and led to a fresh debate about freedom of speech and the integration of France’s large Muslim population. It also brought back memories of a wave of Islamist violence following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sparked by the same cartoons in the satirical magazine in 2015 when 12 people were killed.
Mr Paty was beheaded by an 18-year-old man of Chechen descent on October 16. The man was shot dead by police shortly after the attack. On March 9, a girl aged 13 admitted to telling lies about the teacher after an online hate campaign kick-started by her comments.
Mr Paty’s killing, which happened in the town of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine just outside Paris, sent shockwaves through France and reignited tensions in the country over the strict divide of church and state.
President Emmanuel Macron’s response defending the cartoons of Mohammed and Mr Paty’s actions sparked mass protests and boycotts of French goods in many Muslim-majority countries. Following Mr Macron’s comments, three people were killed in a terrorist attack at a Catholic church in Nice on October 29.
France has been hit by several major terror attacks in recent years. Its fiercely secular state was founded on the concept of laïcité, which separates state institutions – including schools – from the influence of religion.
In recent years, this policy has chafed with the reality of France’s multi-cultural population, particularly Muslims, some of whom feel they have been unfairly targeted by secularism policies including a ban on the wearing of some forms of Islamic dress in public spaces. Teachers are increasingly on the front lines of this debate.
In a video filmed by the Huddersfield Examiner, Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local prominent Muslim scholar who is director of the Peace Institute, told the crowd outside this morning: ‘What has happened in the school, we are appalled.
‘Look at what we do as a community, and you’ll understand our stance. What has happened is totally unacceptable and we have made sure that the school understands that. The school is preparing a statement.
‘So our discussion is they prepared a statement and we weren’t happy with the statement, so we said no, the statement needs to be worded in this way. Some people think I tried to stop you guys from coming.
‘I don’t know where that information is from, so that’s between whoever has spread that rumour and Allah. So that’s nothing to do with me. This is a democratic country, you can protest. It’s your right to protest.
‘Somebody called me last night and said there’s a protest for tomorrow, what should we do? I said we, as a group, have got a different stance, we want to work with the school. But if anyone wants to exercise their democratic right, you are here. So let’s move on. So what’s happening?
‘The school is going to issue an apology, issue a statement. We have asked for amendments on the statement to say that they are very apologetic and they apologise. All the resources that were used have all been pulled out.
‘The teacher has been suspended, the teacher has been suspended. Now then, you cannot sack him. You guys are professional, you know you can’t just dismiss someone like that, they have due process.
‘So he’s been suspended, OK, he’s been suspended. Now we’ve asked for an investigation, an investigation to be independent, and we have asked also that some of us get onto the investigation panel.
‘So this is what we’ve asked for. So whether they do it or not, we can’t force them, but they’re investigating. And then we’re going to work with the school to make sure in future things like this don’t happen.’
Commenting on the situation, a woman in her 30s with a child at the school said: ‘We are continuing to wait outside the school to try and speak to the headteacher, we want to hear what he has to say.
‘He needs to come out, explain what happened, apologise for it and tell us how he will make sure nothing like this ever happens again.
‘We feel like he’s hiding away and that’s not good enough, he needs to show his face. A lot of us have questions for him about how this ever happened in the first place, something clearly went very wrong.
‘This image is so offensive to us and, in my opinion, there is no way it could have been part of the curriculum. What happened is very dangerous and we need answers.’
‘I am a teacher’: People gather at the Place de la Republique in Paris to pay tribute to Samuel Paty on October 18, 2020
People hold a photo of Samuel Paty during a memorial march for him in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on October 20, 2020
Firefighters carry a victim on a stretcher at the scene after the shooting at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015
But Dr Paul Stott, associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society think tank, told MailOnline: ‘Secondary schools have a duty to introduce pupils to contentious ideas and debates, as part of a process of teaching children how, rather than what, to think.
Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble wrote to parents to confirm the issues were being investigated
‘Schools in the UK must not concede policy to angry mobs at the school gates or to so-called community leaders.
‘The school’s censorious approach appears to be the exact opposite of the approach in France, where demands to sanitise classroom discussions by Islamist campaigners were resolutely rejected by the government, following the hideous murder of teacher Samuel Paty.’
The Free Speech Union said it stands ‘in solidarity with the teacher at Batley Grammar who has been suspended at the behest of a censorious religious mob’.
Toby Young, its director general, said he is writing to the headteacher to object, copying in Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, and to the local Chief Constable asking him to make sure the teacher is ‘protected from intimidation’.
He told MailOnline: ‘Schools should be teaching children about the importance of free speech and for the headteacher to give in immediately to the demands of an outrage mob – apologising to them and suspending the teacher concerned – sets a very bad example. No one has the right not to be offended.’
Carole Pattison, cabinet member for learning at Kirkless Council, told MailOnline: ‘Batley Grammar is an academy school so the council has a very limited role in its running but we are aware of issues raised by parents this week.
‘We are pleased to see that the school has taken swift action to resolve the issues alongside the local community. They have apologised, taken immediate action on teaching materials and they are reviewing the relevant processes.’
A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said at about midday: ‘We are aware of a small demonstration at the school, which is still ongoing. Local neighbourhood officers are in attendance.’
Police cordoned off Carlinghow Hill in both directions and the 213 bus service was diverted via Batley Field Hill.
Later, the force spokesman added: ‘The demonstration has now ended. We closed the road for a short time. No arrests or FPNs (Fixed Penalty Notices) issued.’
The school, which has 990 pupils, was rated ‘good’ in its last Ofsted inspection. It used to be an all-boys school until girls were admitted into its sixth form in 1988 and it then became fully co-educational in 1996.
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