The head of education watchdog Ofsted has confirmed that Al Khair School in Croydon took “proportionate and appropriate” action after a Sunday Times article alleged that a boy had been excluded for simply speaking to a girl.
The article triggered a snap inspection of Al Khair but Sir Michael Wilmshaw concluded that he was pleased that “a school with an Islamic ethos can effectively prepare both boys and girls to take their place in modern British society.”
In a letter to the Education Secretary yesterday Wilshaw confirmed that Ofsted had investigated the circumstances of the incidents leading up to the exclusion and established that it followed a series of lesser sanctions which proved unsuccessful in deterring the boy from behaving “in a totally inappropriate and intimidatory manner which left a female
pupil feeling exceptionally uncomfortable and vulnerable.”
Under the headline “Islamic school bans pupil for boy-girl chat,” the Sunday Times had reported that a teenage pupil had been suspended at Al Khair for breaching its “Islamic ethos” after chatting with a student of the opposite sex.
The article said: “The pupil, from Al-Khair secondary school in Croydon, south London — which has been rated “outstanding” by the education watchdog Ofsted for promoting pupils’ personal development — was sanctioned for breaching the school’s behaviour policy, which forbids all forms of communication between boys and girls.
“The parent of one pupil who was suspended after interacting with another child of the opposite sex attacked the policy of the private Islamic school as ‘nonsense,’ saying it meant students were not being prepared for life in British society.
“To me, as a Muslim parent, if my daughter or son goes to a Muslim school and she or he speaks in good manner to any boy or girl, regardless of what background, it doesn’t matter, because I believe this is not against my religion. What is this nonsense policy? I cannot understand it.”
Al Khair vehemently denied the allegations and branded the story “totally misleading.”
According to the Croydon Guardian, Aisha Chaudhry, Al-Khair headteacher, said the teenager had been suspended for “something far more serious” than “harmless communication”.
She said: “This weekend’s story was totally misleading. The school would never under any circumstances suspend a pupil simply for talking to a member of the opposite sex. This was not harmless communication, but something far more serious, which we had to act on. I am confident any school would have done the same.”
A statement posted on Al-Khair’s website said the pupil had been removed from classes because of a “serious and sensitive matter which caused considerable distress to another pupil”. The school declined to give further details, citing “confidentiality and privacy.”
Single sex education
Ofsted also looked carefully at the equalities implications of single sex education as part of their inspection and found that:
- boys and girls are taught the same curriculum by the same teachers
- teachers do not behave or dress differently for boys and girls
- boys and girls are equally ambitious, achieve as well as each other and go on to university and high status employment
- boys and girls have the same opportunities for extra curricular
activities, and attend a number of extra curricular events together
- the headteachers, both female, are seen as ambassadors for the rights and aspirations of young Muslim women
- the curriculum promotes British values and encourages boys and girls to be aspirational and productive British citizens.
However, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that he was “uncomfortable” about the school’s policy statement on ‘free mixing’ and the disjunct between this and the practice seen on the ground by his inspectors.
He said: “Therefore, I asked two senior HMI to return to this school without delay to ensure that parts one, two and three of the Independent School Standards are met. They confirmed to me this morning that the school continues to meet these standards.
“Inspectors also found that the school has removed the reference to ‘free mixing’ from their policy and, as a consequence, the school’s behaviour policy now reflects the practice inspectors found on the ground.
“I am pleased that a school with an Islamic ethos can effectively prepare both boys and girls to take their place in modern British society.”