Schools

DfE snubs Braverman pledge for new blasphemy guidance

The under-fire home secretary had promised new advice amid row over damaged Quran school pupil suspensions

The under-fire home secretary had promised new advice amid row over damaged Quran school pupil suspensions

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The Department for Education will not publish new guidance on blasphemy in schools, despite the home secretary pledging to do so earlier this week.

Suella Braverman had said she would work with the DfE “to issue new guidance” after four children at a Wakefield school were suspended when a copy of the Quran was damaged.

Police recorded a hate incident, but said no crimes were committed. 

The boy who reportedly brought the Islamic text in has “high functioning” autism and received “death threats” over the incident, according to the BBC

Nick Gibb, schools minister, intervened last week saying the threats were “totally unacceptable”. 

Update: The Home Office has since U-turned on guidance, read story here

In a column for The Times, Braverman said the education sector and police have “a duty” to prioritise the physical safety of children “over the hurt feelings of adults”, adding schools “do not have to answer to self-appointed community activists”. 

Braverman, who co-founded Michaela Community School in west London, said she would “work with” the DfE “to issue new guidance spelling this out”.

However, the DfE told Schools Week they “do not plan to issue additional guidance on managing blasphemy related incidents”.

They said there is a range of existing guidance – such as on behaviour, exclusions and the political impartiality – to help schools make decisions on how to meet “the needs of their pupils and to manage and resolve concerns and complaints”.

Braverman's comment proposing new blasphemy guidance
Bravermans comments

When asked for clarity, the Home Office pointed us back to the DfE’s comment and did not provide further information.

Tudor Griffiths, head of Kettlethorpe High School, said about the incident on February 23 that the book remained “fully intact and that our initial enquiries indicate there was no malicious intent by those involved”. 

“However, we have made it very clear that their actions did not treat the Quran with the respect it should have, so those involved have been suspended and we will be working with them to ensure they understand why their actions were unacceptable.” 

The school met with local Muslim community leaders, local councillors and police to show the “immediate steps we have taken to reinforce the values and behaviour we expect from every member of this school community to ensure that all religions are respected”. 

West Yorkshire Police said they also received a malicious communications offence over threats being made to a child. The suspect, also a child, was given “words of advice” by an officer.

Gibb wrote to the headteacher and council to “offer” his support. 

He said there is no blasphemy law and “schools should be promoting fundamental British values of the respect for rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”. 

Humanists UK has urged DfE to issue guidance to schools “making clear that ‘blasphemy’ shouldn’t be censored when explored in a lesson in a sensitive way or in normal interactions between pupils”.

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