This report from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) sets out to build on what it sees as the “cherished tradition of fostering an inclusive ethos” in British schools by offering information and guidance as a “useful reference point for schools, governors and teachers.”
It is clear from Aiming High (DfES 2003) and the RAISE Report Achievement of British Pakistani Learners (Insted 2004) that pupils achieve better where their cultural and religious identity is recognised and affirmed. The problem for many teachers and student teachers/trainees has been the absence of reliable information and guidance. The MCB addresses this with a highly professional report that draws on a broad spectrum of Muslim opinion and the expertise of head teachers and advisors.
Following an opening section on the high priority Islam affords to knowledge and education, the report turns to the worrying underachievement of many of the 400,000, mainly British born, Muslim pupils. Its response, in line with Aiming High and the RAISE Report, is to argue for an education that honours the multiple identities of Muslim pupils – their faith, their culture and their Britishness – and to provide information on topics relevant to school life.
Five key areas are examined – Dress, Diet, Prayer, Fasting and Festivals. These are related to underlying principles of Islamic thought, and followed by practical guidance on a range of topics: from school uniforms and swimwear, to halal meals and parents evenings during Ramadan. Each section closes with a useful checklist to assist good practice (acknowledged as already in place in some schools).
Specific curriculum areas are also covered:
- PE including, Swimming and Dance
- RE and Collective Worship
- Sex and Relationship Education (SRE)
- Expressive Arts including Music, Drama and Graphic Art
The most extensive comment are reserved for PE, SRE and the Expressive Arts. It is in these subjects that different assumptions in ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ societies about sexual modesty and gender relations are most likely to give rise to discomfort and offence. Discussion based on all these subject guides will be important in raising student teacher/trainee understanding and subsequent effectiveness with their Muslim pupils.
Finally, there is further useful comment on school libraries and educational visits, and appendices offering INSET, teaching resources and a list of recommended Islamic websites.
The Muslim Council of Britain knows that it does not speak for all British Muslims. There are notes in the text referring to differing views. However, its authority and commitment to “mutual respect and to understanding the beliefs and values of others” (p.15) makes the report something of a common benchmark which schools can use with confidence to meet better the needs of their Muslim pupils.