Over 30 parents at Olive School, Preston, have accused the Muslim primary school of undermining Islamic values by celebrating other faiths.
In a letter to the school spearheaded by local imam Mohammed Farook Kazi, 31 parents said the school is undermining Islamic religious beliefs in a bid to fit in with wider society.
The letter comes after an assembly was held at the school at the beginning of December during which Year 1 children performed “The Grinch” in front of a Christmas tree and a Union Jack.
One parent told 5Pillars that the assembly was a just the straw that broke the camel’s back after many similar experiences and a lack of parental consultation.
Another insider told 5Pillars: “They are putting the perception out there that they are an Islamic school and that’s why Muslim parents want to go there, but then they are celebrating Christmas. They are watering down the deen, they do not like conservative Muslims. They want us all to be ‘moderate Muslims’ like the Quilliam Foundation.”
5Pillars reached out to Olive School for a response but they have not replied. However, we have seen their response to parents in which they say that they constantly strive to fulfil their remit as a Muslim faith school while educating about other faiths in the context of a multicultural British society.
‘Failing to meet obligations to parents’
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The letter by Olive School parents states: “As part of the National Curriculum, there is no formal or legislative requirement to ‘celebrate’ other faiths in a manner that directly involves plays, festive lunches, display of religious artefacts in a manner that is non-educational. Hence, we cannot understand why our children are exposed to such things?
“This approach is not contradictory to learning about other cultures and faiths, and we wholeheartedly want our children to learn about the world we live in so there is greater tolerance and understanding. We are thus in full agreement and in favour of pluralism and tolerance, however this can very easily be achieved in ways that are educational, non-celebratory and sensitive to the character of the school. We already do this in the evening supplementary schools (Maktab) we run.
“Unfortunately and regrettably, Olive and Star seem to have a ‘different’ approach, one which undermines our religious beliefs and character, and which are totally unnecessary. I am happy to sit and discuss various other examples.
“From the experiences and interactions of myself and many other parents of this school, with other parents, your staff, ex-governors, and many others, it seems this approach of trying to ‘fit in’ is there to promote Star at a higher (national and governmental) level, to gain recognition, in order to expand (as this is the ambition of most multi academy trusts).
“This pursuit of recognition at the top level has resulted in Star failing to meet its obligations to its parents and pupils and blurring its identity and faith ethos. This quest to ‘fit in’ will never be achievable, as witnessed from scores of events and incidents up and down the country, rather the goal must be our children being proud and confident about their identity, faith, and culture.
“This desire for recognition also results in a failure of the respective school in catering for the needs of its parents and pupils, as various ‘narratives’ are drafted by non-local Star Executives in a ‘one size fits all’ manner.
“In terms of action points, we want: Our school to live up to its Muslim character, where our pupils thrive in an ethos that is wholly sensitive to their faith, beliefs, and fundamentals. Regain its independence and operate with greater autonomy, with input from local stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and where necessary, local scholars.
“Empower the governing body, so that it is able to perform its role, especially in being able to scrutiny the school’s SLT and provide leadership which is in line with parental choice. I also want to you to provide in writing the role and remit of the governors and Parent Shura.”
Olive School in Preston is run by Star Academies which runs several highly successful Muslim schools around the country.
In the past, several Star Academies schools have been criticised by Muslim parents for promoting the British army, the state of Israel and the LGBT agenda.
One of the members of Star Academies is the ex Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who was one of the main proponents of the Iraq war. Another is Michael Wilshaw, the ex head of Ofsted who was involved in the controversial Trojan Horse affair which targeted several Muslim majority schools in Birmingham. And a trustee of Star Academies is Major General David Eastman, who has deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moreover, a clear majority of members and trustees of Star Academies are non-Muslims.
Responding to the parents’ letter, Mrs P A Yusuf, Principal at Olive school, said: “We genuinely value feedback from our parents and the insight that they bring helps us to improve what we offer our children.
“At the outset of your letter, you suggest that many parents have raised concerns. Whilst we acknowledge that some of our parents may have concerns and queries about school activities from time to time, the overwhelming majority of the school’s parents are strongly supportive of our provision.
“Over the past few years, the school has invited parents to provide their views on the school. They have done so by completing surveys commissioned via an independent company. Hundreds of parents have indicated their support and affirmation of the school…
“In addition, our senior leaders make themselves available at the school gates each morning and evening. The overwhelming feedback from parents has been positive – expressing how happy their children are at school and how they love the new school building and facilities. When parents raise concerns or queries, we welcome the opportunity to address these quickly and effectively to the best of our ability.
“In your letter, you expressed concern regarding a recent assembly in which pupils enacted the fictional story of ‘The Grinch’. The dramatic performance involved children singing songs, including a Nasheed, linking the moral of the story to the teachings of Islam. The assembly received positive feedback from parents in attendance…
“You have asked that the school appreciates, understands and acknowledges that many parents wish for their child to have a faith-based education. As you will be aware, the school works tirelessly to meet the spiritual and faith needs of our children…
“You have expressed concern that there is no requirement to ‘celebrate’ other faiths. The school does not ask our children to celebrate the festivals of any faiths. The school educates children and young people about other faiths and their important rites and festivals. Education, particularly for young children, takes place in many forms. This can include traditional lessons, plays, outdoor trips, displays and artefacts. Pupils participating in such activities in an engaging activity are not ‘celebrating’ any faith nor its activities. We simply try to make learning varied and interesting for young children…
“The assertion that the school or the trust is trying to ‘fit in’ or promote the trust to a higher level is untrue and offensive. The trust has an ambition to serve as many families and communities as possible. Having learnt about the success of Olive schools, parent groups from across the country have lobbied passionately for an Olive school to be established in their area.
“We do aspire for our Muslim children to be both proud and practicing believers and to feel comfortable as active and productive citizens of Great Britain. We think this is a noble effort and one which enables thousands of our children to thrive spiritually, morally, culturally, socially and economically in our country. If you ask any of our children at the end of their time at The Olive School, each will say they are proud of their faith, their culture, and their identity as a British citizen…
“Finally, on behalf of our parents, children and hardworking staff, I am dismayed at the manner in which concerns have been raised and communicated in recent days. The unauthorised use of the images of our young children is deeply distressing, creates safeguarding challenges and has been upsetting for the children concerned, their families and their teachers. The vitriolic and slanderous comments made about our school are profoundly hurtful and disregard the sincere sacrifice that the school staff, leaders and volunteers make every day for our children. I am sure you will agree that this approach is antithetical to the teachings of our faith and completely unacceptable.”