Parents in the London borough of Brent are angry that sex segregation at a Muslim-majority school is to be scrapped against their wishes.
Over 230 people have signed a petition urging that boys and girls at the Crest Academies in Neasden continue to be taught separately.
The school was formed from two single sex schools previously known as John Kelly Girls’ and Boys’ School, which provided single-gender education for boys and girls for nearly sixty years.
The petition states: “Since its inception, education has been delivered to boys and girls in separate buildings and classrooms on the same campus. Historically, this method of delivery has always been preferred by parents from the conception of the schools, in 1958, to the present day.
“The London Borough of Brent is one of the most diverse communities in the UK with a range of cultural, religious, social needs and preferences. As a consequence, the school has strongly remained a first choice of preference for parents in Brent as it caters for single-gender education….
“Parents are highly concerned and are openly seeking to resist this draconian measure in the school’s delivery of learning and teaching.”
In 2013/14 a formal consultation was conducted and an overwhelming 80% of those responding said they support the continuation of single-sex education.
At the time Phil Hearne, the executive principal, said: “One of the issues that has concerned people… is whether girls and boys will mix. They will not: both classes and social time will continue to be single gender at all times.
“The changes we are making are all about making the Crest Academies the very best single-sex school in the area. We want Crest to be the school of choice for any parent who values girls and boys being taught separately.
“This is something that both I and the Board of Governors are extremely passionate about Crest to be the school of choice for any parent who values girls and boys being taught separately”
But now the new principal of Crest Academies, Mohsen Ojja, has gone back on that promise and has said he will not allow a “militant minority” of parents to derail his plans to abolish gender segregation, according to The Independent.
The only non-faith, segregated school in Brent, Crest Acadamies was put under special measures after failing an Ofsted inspection in February 2015 – and Mr Ojja said it was an “easy decision” to work towards better integration of the sexes.
He has announced that, starting this September, classes and common areas will be mixed, the school’s name will be changed to a singular Crest Academy, and each child will get a new school blazer for free which reflects the “rebrand”.
“The challenge has been to persuade parents that just because we have a Muslim majority now of over 90 per cent, we don’t have to be a Muslim school,” Mr Ojja told The Independent.
The principal said he had held open forums with concerned parents, and that he “totally empathised” with their concerns.
He said: “It is not about Islam, or about whether we cater for Muslims. We have a large number of Muslim kids, but they are in the British education system, and we have a duty to cater to them as best we can.
“The only way to do that is to streamline our efforts and get the best teachers working with all pupils. We had a wall of segregation, and children told me they were worried about what might happen to them if they crossed it. We don’t have that anymore.”
And Mr Ojja said that the promise to keep segregration was rendered “void” when the school’s outcomes continued to decline – and that he wouldn’t let his radical reforms be blocked by a “quite militant, quite vociferous minority of parents with particularly strong views on religion”.
Removing segregation was one of the key recommendations made by Ofsted inspectors in February, and Mr Ojja said he had the support of both students and teachers.