By Elham Asaad Buaras
A Derby-based Muslim free school has been damned by Ofsted inspectors as “dysfunctional” and rated inadequate in every category.
The report, published on October 17, concludes that teachers at Al-Madinah school are inexperienced and have not been provided with proper training and that the school requires special measures.
The school, which said it accepted the report and would use it to move forward, has however been vindicated of practising equality between male and female students.
It was also claimed girls were made to sit at the back of the classroom and boys at the front.
Speaking anonymously a staff member told the media the school was “like being in Pakistan”.
She said: “Girls are treated very separately from boys, the girls sit at the back of the classroom. Boys go and eat first at lunchtime and then the girls are allowed to go. It is like being in any school in Pakistan. That is why it was founded, that is the idea.”
However, Ofsted said its inspectors “saw no evidence during the inspection of boys and girls being treated unequally.”
Inspectors also ruled that the girls were not made to sit in the back of the class: “In class, younger pupils work well together in mixed-gender groups much of the time. Older pupils are seated with boys on one side of the class and girls on the other. Due to limited canteen space, boys and girls have their lunches separately, taking it in turns to eat first.”
There have also been media reports that non-Muslim female teachers at the school were forced to cover their hair.
Addressing those allegations in a letter to parents, Interim Principal, Dr Stuart Wilson, wrote on September 24, “There has been a suggestion that female members of staff are unhappy to wear a headscarf. In all our adverts, and whenever we interview candidates, we draw their attention to our dress code, which we have based on our interpretation of modesty within our unique Free School environment. To date, the school has not received a single concern from colleagues about this issue.”
Although the inspection report does not address allegations that female teachers were obliged to cover the hair, the issue was brought up by Lord John Nash in a letter to the school.
Lord Nash, the Minister with responsibility for free schools and academies, ordered the school to put its house in order or face the withdrawal of its funding. In particular, he wanted assurances that it no longer adopted discriminatory practices towards its staff – of insisting all female staff wore headscarves regardless of their religion.
In a letter to the staff, Chair of Al-Madinah Education Trust, Shazia Parveen, apologised for the now defunct policy that required female staff to cover their hair.
Parveen said the policy, which was in place “in keeping with our ethos as a faith based school” was not intended to treat female staff “less favourably” than their male counterparts or “ impacting on the right to freedom of religious and cultural expression. The Trust and the Governing Body would like to make it clear that this was never the intention and would like to apologise for any situation where staff felt discriminated against on cultural, religious or gender grounds.”