Britain's 'strictest headteacher' HITS BACK after Muslim pupil sues school over prayer ban

Britain's 'strictest headteacher' HITS BACK after Muslim pupil sues school over prayer ban

Katharine Birbalsingh speaks to GB News about punishments in schools

GB News
Georgina Cutler

By Georgina Cutler


Published: 17/01/2024

- 12:57

Updated: 17/01/2024

- 13:35

The London school isaccused of introducing the 'discriminatory' policy

A headteacher, who has been dubbed Britain's strictest, has slammed a court case after a Muslim pupil brought forward legal action amid a "prayer ban".

Michaela Community School in Brent has been accused of introducing the "discriminatory" policy which has "fundamentally changed" how the student - who cannot be named - feels "about being a Muslim in this country".


Legal action was brought against the school after the student claimed the “banning [of] prayer rituals” breached her right to freedom of religion.

According to the school, the rule was first introduced in March last year by its founder and headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh - a former Government social mobility tsar.

Katharine BirbalsinghA school in London is facing legal action brought forward by a Muslim pupil after a 'prayer ban' was enforcedGetty

But Birbalsingh has hit back, saying her school would "never separate children according to race and religion".

Writing on social media, she said: "We have a large number of Muslim pupils. Their positive experiences have helped grow the number of Muslim students at the school by 50%. My own grandmother was Muslim.

"But the Governing Body had to take the decision to stop prayer rituals when some people started them, against a backdrop of events including violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment of our teachers.

"Our decision restored calm and order to the school. We have always been clear to parents and pupils when they apply to Michaela that because of our restrictive building combined with our strict ethos that does not allow children to wander around the school unsupervised, we cannot have a prayer room."

The hearing on Tuesday hear that the ban was "like somebody saying they don’t feel like I properly belong here".

The school is opposing the legal challenge and has argued that due to past harassment, proceedings should be held in private.

But, it was ruled that the hearing will be held in public and the school as well as the headteacher can be named.

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Sarah Hannett KC, representing the student, told the court that the policy had the "practical effect of only preventing Muslims from praying because their prayer by nature has a ritualised nature rather than being internal".

According to the barrister, it was "a ban uniquely on Muslim prayer", stopping pupils from praying "at a time as required by Islam."

Hannett added that it "wouldn’t prevent a Christian child sitting quietly in the corner of the playground from praying".

But Birbalsingh slammed the claims as she explained that Jehovah's Witness, Christian and Hindu families have all raised objections to the school, but believes "we all make our sacrifices so that we can live in harmony".

Pupils at the school, where around half of the roughly 700 students are Muslim, resorted to praying in the school’s “wet” and “dirty” yard last March, the lawyer told the court.

Students were reportedly using blazers to kneel as they were not permitted to bring in prayer mats.

Jason Coppel KC, for the school trust argued that reporting of the case could "give rise to a real and immediate risk of harm to the headmistress, other members of the school staff (and) potentially pupils at the school."

The school has been targeted with "threats of violence", abuse and "false" allegations of Islamophobia, the court heard.

A stock image of school children in a classroom

The school has been targeted with 'threats of violence', abuse and 'false' allegations of Islamophobia, the court heard (stock image)

PA

Birbalsingh added: "Multiculturalism can only succeed when we understand that every group must all make sacrifices for the sake of the whole. We allow our children freedoms of all sorts, as long as those freedoms do not threaten the happiness and success of the whole school community."

The school says it hired a security guard two days before the end of term after the emergency services were called following claims of bombs being placed inside.

Coppel added that staff were left “fearing for their lives”, after glass bottles were thrown over the school railings and a brick was launched through a window.

He said that Birbalsingh was worried coverage of the hearing would cause a “serious risk” of “physical danger to our school community”.

Justice Linden noted the school had received “disgraceful” abuse but concluded: "I do not accept that the evidence, in this case, establishes a risk to the lives or safety of members of the school staff or the school community that would justify holding the hearing in private."

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