and on the BBC:
The wording of some of these headlines, as in the swimming pool cover-up one, suggests this is something being 'forced' on people to 'appease' the whims of Muslims.
Here's how the Star reports it:
Headteachers have been told to stop sex education lessons during Ramadan to avoid offending Muslims.
Council bosses are also set to enforce strict rules to ban swimming lessons and even exams during the Muslim holy month.
Now it is worth skipping straight to the end of the Express' article to show how accurate all this is:
Labour councillor Ruth Rosenau, said: “It is just asking schools to be more aware. We are not trying to impose any rules.”
A council spokesman yesterday stressed it was up to individual headteachers whether or not to implement the guidance.
Ah. And this comes just a few paragraphs after the Express calls it a 'diktat'.
So Stoke-on-Trent Council issue some guidance which schools can implement or completely ignore, and this is turned into headlines about what schools are being 'forced' to do because of them Muslims.
(It is reminiscent of the 'England shirts banned from pubs' headlines which sprung up before the World Cup, a deliberate misreporting of some police guidance which landlords could listen to, or not.)
But once it's clear that schools do not have to abide by this guidance, the outrage inherent in these articles looks as hollow as usual.
The council document is actually made up of extracts from a 2007 Muslim Council of Britain report Towards Greater Understanding: Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools.
The elements of the guidance the media has picked up on - about exams, swimming and sex education - are all listed in the MCB's booklet as 'features of good practice'.
But neither they nor the council in Stoke-on-Trent are demanding they all be adopted. Phrases such as 'appropriate consideration' and 'try to avoid being scheduled' are evident; phrases such as 'we demand' are not.
For example, on swimming:
In general, participation in swimming is an acceptable activity whilst fasting.
However, for many pupils this activity may prove to be an issue, as the potential for swallowing water is very high. Some pupils or parents consider the risk too great and may wish to avoid swimming whilst fasting. Others may take the view that as swallowing water is unintentional it does not break the fast.
Schools with a significant number of Muslim pupils should try to avoid scheduling swimming lessons during Ramadan to remove unnecessary barriers to full participation.
And on exams:
It is inevitable that certain statutory and internal school examinations may fall during Ramadan. Schools should give appropriate consideration when scheduling internal examinations, since the combination of preparing for exams and fasting may prove challenging for some pupils.
Several of the headlines refer to 'avoiding insulting/offending Muslims'. It is a nasty little phrase that's become all too popular with stories such as this.
But are these suggestions about 'avoiding offending Muslims', or about schools being sensitive to the religious beliefs and wellbeing of their pupils? As 5CC says, why is it the latter is so often reported as the former by the tabloids, and blown out of all proportion?
And they're blown out of proportion for a reason. The tabloids know this 'special treatment for minorities' narrative goes down very well with their readers - never mind that most of it is highly exaggerated if not outright lies.
Yet believe it or not, some of this reporting is actually a very slight improvement on media coverage three years ago when the MCB report first came out. The Express claimed the MCB wanted to:
Ban un-Islamic schools
and had drawn up proposals that were disgracefully labelled as:
calls for all children to be taught in Taliban-style conditions
If this blog had existed then, that article would almost certainly have been mentioned...
UPDATE: 5CC did exist in 2007 and did blog about the Express' article. He called it 'bullshit'.
(Hat-tips to 5CC, Liberal Conspiracy and readers Chris and Midge)