Report heavily criticises Wood Green Academy over ‘gay Muslim’ lesson

Wood Green Academy in Wednesbury

An independent review of events at Wood Green Academy in Wednesbury last November – where pupils were disciplined following a visit to the school by “gay Muslim” activist Khakan Qureshi – has heavily criticised the academy for creating an unsafe environment for children.

The review, which was commissioned by the school itself, found that an unsafe environment had been constructed “which led to many people being upset mainly caused by the lack of sufficient planning, lack of clarity of aims, lack of preparation for the young people in relation to the topics… which was delivered to a very large group with no opportunity to reflect on the session afterwards.”

Following the RSHE lesson on November 15, Muslim parents and community members said that their children felt fearful about going back to school after their normative Islamic beliefs on LGBTQ issues were challenged by Mr Qureshi, who said it was okay to be gay and Muslim and that the Quran does not consider homosexuality to be a sin.

This led to a verbal confrontation with some children before teachers intervened describing the students’ comments as “homophobia” with one using a reference to 9/11 to explain how the UK was a “tolerant society.”

The Wood Green Academy Action Group, which represents more than 300 parents, was formed shortly afterwards and said the incident was the latest in a long line of concerns about the school.

But the school has now accepted “that errors were made in connection with the lessons on 15th November and how we dealt with the matter immediately afterwards.”

Headteacher James Topham said he recognises “that upset has been caused. On behalf of the school, once again I sincerely apologise for this.”

Sign up for regular updates straight to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated on the latest news and updates from around the Muslim world!

The damning report echoed many of the parents’ concerns saying that “there is clear evidence that there is insufficient awareness and experience to be able to deliver the teaching of controversial issues in a way that is safe for everyone,” and that “the way in which the session was planned and delivered has been extremely damaging to relationships within and beyond the school.”

The review also found that:

  • There was a lack of adequate dialogue and acknowledgment of the harms caused by the lesson.
  • Better avenues for the student voice to be heard need to be established.
  • There is a need to restore and repair relationships across the school with a strategic approach to addressing the tensions that are still there.
  • The response to the concerns raised before, during and after the session was to deal with them as behavioural issues. In relation to this issue the school has misunderstood its duties to its pupils and there is a need for an urgent review of the delivery of PSHE/RSHE.
  • Children and their families have lost faith in the school’s ability to keep their children safe.

The reviewers have recommended that there is an urgent need to repair relationships that have been damaged as a result of the session; there must be a review of the delivery of PSHE/RSHE across the school; and there must be training for governors and staff to “understand the complexities of working equitably in diverse contexts.”

They also concluded that “there is a view widely held by many staff and students that the ongoing reluctance to provide prayer facilities has led to a sense of students not being valued or listened to which contributed to the frustration expressed at this event.”

Responding to the report, Wood Green Academy headteacher James Topham said: “The report has been a difficult read for me and the school. The school has decided, nonetheless, to release the report in full… in the interests of transparency and to support and promote a meaningful discussion with its students, parents, carers and staff.

A video of the event was leaked online

“We recognise that there is much work for us to do, not least in repairing and strengthening relationships across the whole school and the wider community. I firmly believe that we are a great and tolerant school community, with fantastic students and staff who are dedicated and professional. We are wholly committed to working together as a school and to continuous improvement for the benefit of the whole school and the interests of current and future students, parents and carers.

“The school values and promotes equality of opportunity and diversity. It aims to prepare students for life in modern Britain and to develop young people’s understanding of the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. We accept that errors were made in connection with the lessons on 15th November and how we dealt with the matter immediately afterwards. We recognise that upset has been caused. On behalf of the school, once again I sincerely apologise for this.”

In remarks published in the Guardian, Khakan Qureshi said he had found the incident distressing.

“I know that they are young people, and young people do have questions, but it was the element of hostility that bothered me,” he said.

He said he had received death threats and online abuse when the clips went viral on TikTok, but had received no “formal apology from the school itself or any support” and the external report, which he was not consulted on, had made for difficult reading.

“It did lay the blame with the school and the teachers more than anything, and I’m not sure that’s helpful,” he said. “To me it’s quite worrying that the mindset of my childhood in the 70s and 80s, that you cannot be gay Muslim, continues here in the 21st century in the UK.”

Qureshi said he believed the incident showed the need for a review into the introduction of compulsory relationship, sex and health education in 2020.

Add your comments below

Previous articleUK and Israel sign deal to increase ties and ‘combat antisemitism’
Next articleBirmingham school causes outrage by inviting ‘gay Muslim’ to address pupils