Monday 12 July 2010

Council doesn't 'force' schools to do anything about Ramadan

So soon after the 'Muslims force pool cover-up' story that wasn't quite true, a similar story surfaces in the Mail:




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)


  1. This is such a pointless issue. Ramadam ends at the start of the school year in September; which schools take children for swimming lessons or make them sit exams in September, especially in the first week of the year?

  2. When I was a kid I had a friend called Ian who was a Jehovah's Witness. This meant his parents could not allow him to attend morning assembly as it may have included an element of Christian teaching, it usually did. I don't remember this being a huge issue in the gutters then though it seems to me that it is the same non-iss...sorry front page news at heart as this stor oops... pile of useless rubbish. Could it be that newspaper owners are simply racist tossers all too willing to feed the bigotry of their readers who, by dint of many intrinsic and extrinsic forces are now pre-disposed to be frightened of everything?

  3. 'special treatment for minorities' - I'm not sure I agree that journalists follow this trope simply because they think it boosts readership. Elizabeth Poole discusses how these kind of anti-Muslim narratives come to perpetuate themselves in: Reporting Islam: Media Representations of British Muslims (London: I B Tauris, 2002)

  4. One thing that I did notice is that the BBC news article was the top story for most of the day yesterday. I have a feeling that many parts of Britain are turning into an ignorant country that does not care about others. Anything that is remotely negative towards ethnic minorities, especially Muslims are written in a libelous fashion. When it is shown that it is completely false, they spend many months waiting and then if they want, they will apologise in a two sentence statement hidden away. I wish there was more that can be done about the newspapers and news media. I was hoping that with Aljazeera coming onto Freeview, there will be more people who are more aware of the world around them.

  5. Meanwhile the PCC continues to be as useful as the old chocolate teapot with the panel of editors and other self-interested parties bleating on about the need for self-regulation and complaining about any imposition of restrictions (sorry "creeping privacy laws") that would hamper the diet of endless nonsense. Time for the PCC to be scrapped and replaced with a body that could enforce like-for-like clarifications and apologies within days not months and for repeat offenders suspend publication, hit them with large financial penalties and force groveling apologies for writing such rubbish.

  6. The saddest thing about this is the way the BBC (as with the "blacked-out swimming pool" story is now no better than the trashy tabloids in reporting these stories. Could this be the result of the staff-cuts in the BBC newsrooms, forcing the remaining journalist to just cut and past, and not do any background checks before publishing the story?

  7. It's funny, cos most of the time the tabloids seem to argue against sex education, but if there's any suggestion of someone else recommending not to do it they're up in arms.
    'Don't you tell me not to do something I don't want to do'.

    And also, apart from the fact most people ignore it, schools could also adapt things for Lent, seeing as how tabloids bang on about 'This is a Christian country, you know.'
    There could be articles about 'Our Christian children are being forced to eat pudding with school dinners and bake cakes in cookery classes during Lent by godless schools'.

    'I am a Mail reader, I have no capacity for rational joined up thought, I am just at the mercy of my angry knee jerk emotional responses to any issue.'

  8. jon davies - i thought that! most of the time the tabloids are telling schools to do away with sex ed all together.

  9. When it is shown that it is completely false, they spend many months waiting and then if they want, they will apologise in a two sentence statement hidden away. I wish there was more that can be done about the blog.


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