‘We respect Islam and gay people’ …UK: The gay teacher transforming a Muslim school

Sharp contrast to some of those opposed to the new Ontario sex education curriculum and their fears that it undermined parent values, as well as a good example of school-parent relationships:

It took one complaint from a parent “as a Christian” to undo all Andrew Moffat’s work teaching children respect for people of different sexual orientation. A meeting of 40 parents followed with calls for an apology and the removal of books he had used in lessons.

Above all, the parents objected that he had told children he was gay. Moffat felt he could no longer continue and resigned. Far from retreating to a safe haven, however, he crossed Birmingham to take up an even greater challenge: assistant headteacher at Parkfield Community school, where 98.9% of pupils are from Muslim families.

The award-winning school is in the heart of a devout area where three inquiries have been held into the alleged “Trojan horse” plot by hardline Muslim governors to take over state schools, though Parkfield was not affected.

That was two years ago. With the backing of Hazel Pulley, the headteacher, Moffat went on to introduce a No Outsiders policy promoting diversity at the 770-pupil school, where 23 nationalities are represented. That includes welcoming people of any race, colour or religion and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

A gay teacher teaching gay rights to pupils from a faith that believes homosexuality is a sin, punishable by death in some countries? It doesn’t seem possible and yet the school’s Muslim parents appear to have accepted that children can be taught about Britain’s anti-discrimination laws without undermining their religious beliefs. Learning from his unhappy experience at his previous school, Moffat has been careful to centre the policy around the Equality Act 2010, to first gain the support of the governing body, and to keep parents fully informed, inviting them in to see the books that would be used.

Now he has published a handbook about creating an ethos where everyone is welcome, regardless of differences: No Outsiders in Our School: Teaching the Equality Act in Primary Schools.

Moffat felt he had no alternative but to leave his previous school: “I knew I was letting down any pupil who might in years to come identify as LGBT and remember what had happened to me – if you ‘come out’ you risk a backlash and having to disappear. I was worried about that but in the end I decided that leaving was right for me and the school.

“It was a very difficult time and I was quite damaged by the experience. However, it gave me the opportunity to pick myself up and start again, learning from mistakes. There was no point in going to an area where it would be an easy task. I had to go where I might meet the same challenges in order to find a different way to meet them. I was determined to make LGBT equality a reality in any community. I could not afford to get it wrong a second time.”

Pulley says she appointed Moffat because she already knew of his work, in particular on improving pupil behaviour and on diversity. “I thought his approach was admirable. We already had similar work going on at school but we needed someone to lead it and give all the staff confidence,” she says.

It is possible to teach the law against discrimination in Britain without undermining any religious faith, she says: “Everyone knows we respect Islam here. One parent asked if he could not contradict what the school said. I told him that whatever parents said in the home was their decision but it’s lovely that the children will hear both views.”

The good relationship between governors, teachers and parents has helped, she says, and the fact parents have confidence in the school’s high standards – 97% of 11-year-olds reached or exceeded the expected standard for their age in both maths and English last year.

Last week parents, collecting their children before taking them to madrasas, the religious classes, spoke of their support. The school is “shedding light” on the minds of children, said one mother. Parents’ initial response had been “How dare they? How can the government make this law?” But their anger had abated once they learned more about the approach, they said.

“If they don’t learn about gay, lesbian and transgender people in society from school they will learn it from the outside world and they could hear things like ‘that’s disgusting’. I don’t want that,” said another. “I agree,” said a third. “I’d rather my children hear it at school. When they are at home we teach them that in our culture gay is not allowed but we respect people who are different from us and hope they too will respect us and the boundaries of our religion.”

The parent of a 10-year-old admitted her views differed from her husband’s: “My husband is a strict Muslim and my son asked him about the difference between what the school says and our religion. He did not give him a good reply. My reply was that God has created us and he is the only one who can judge us. I have told my son that it wouldn’t matter if he came home to me and said he was gay, you are my son and I will love you no matter what.”

Source: ‘We respect Islam and gay people’ … The gay teacher transforming a Muslim school | Education | The Guardian

ICYMI: In Britain, School Report Cites Division Over Islam

I think the issue is not that this ‘turns’ students to or from terrorism, but the overall message it sends to students about acceptable behaviour in a multicultural and diverse society, based upon equality (see also UK: Michael Gove (Education Sec’y) accused of using ‘Trojan Horse’ row to push anti-Islam agenda):

British education inspectors investigated 21 schools after claims that Islamic fundamentalists had taken over leadership of schools in Birmingham, home to a significant Muslim population.

The inquiry found that the influence of hard-line school board governors sometimes left staffs polarized between those who favored a more Islamic approach and others who did not. In British state schools many governors are elected by parents or staff members.

Some teachers, for example, “actively discourage girls from speaking to boys,” the report said, adding that in one school “boys and girls are also taught separately in religious education and personal development lessons.”

At one school, Oldknow Academy, “governors have used the academy’s budget to subsidize a trip to Saudi Arabia for only Muslim staff and pupils,” the document said.

Among the striking details to emerge from the report was that a senior figure in one school was so scared of being seen talking to school inspectors that a meeting had to be arranged in a supermarket parking lot. Another school hired private investigators to check staff email, the report said.

Ofsted’s chief, Michael Wilshaw, described some of the findings as “deeply worrying and, in some ways, quite shocking.”

But the findings were criticized by the Muslim Council of Britain, which says it has more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local organizations, mosques, charities and schools. It argued that “extremism will not be confronted if Muslims, and their religious practices are considered as, at best, contrary to the values of this country and at worst, seen as ‘the swamp’ that feeds extremism.”

“There is scant evidence that the education system or the Muslim community are the reasons for why people turn to terrorism,” it added in a statement.

In Britain, School Report Cites Division Over Islam – NYTimes.com.