Government has ‘washed its hands’ of teacher who showed Mohammed pictures

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
Protesters gathered outside Batley Grammar School after it was reported that a teacher had shown students images of the Prophet Mohammed
Protesters gathered outside Batley Grammar School after it was reported that a teacher had shown students images of the Prophet Mohammed

The Government has “washed its hands” of the Batley Grammar School teacher who was suspended after showing pictures of the Prophet Mohammed in class, it has been claimed.

Ministers are not doing enough to ensure that Batley Multi Academy Trust’s investigation is “unduly influenced” by local imams, according to the National Secular Society (NSS).

Officials at the Department for Education (DfE) are also accused of failing to ensure that the probe will examine the school’s reaction to the incident and whether it was appropriate to immediately suspend the teacher.

“This is a bit of a test case for how these things are handled, that’s why it is important,” said Stephen Evans, chief executive of the NSS.

“Here we have a teacher in fear of his life, in hiding and suspended from his job – yet there is nothing to indicate the materials were not handled correctly.

“We are concerned that the Department for Education doesn’t seem interested enough given that the outcome of this will have national implications. They have washed their hands of it.”

Watch: Batley Grammar School: Is Prophet Mohammed caricature offensive or freedom of expression?

Batley Grammar School sent pupils home early for the Easter holidays and issued an apology after a group of Muslims gathered at the gates to protest. The headmaster announced that the Religious Studies teacher had been suspended while the school looked into what happened.

The 29-year-old teacher and his family went into hiding after reportedly receiving death threats in the wake of the protests.

Mr Evans said that ministers must appreciate the “broader significance” of the case, which had “already sent a damaging message on teachers’ ability to encourage critical thinking on culturally sensitive issues”.

He said that “fundamental principles are at stake”, adding that if the Government failed to show leadership, it would leave the school and trust “vulnerable to pressure from assertive religious voices”.

The academy trust that runs Batley Grammar School announced at the end of March that it would carry out an “independent” investigation into the context in which the cartoon was shown.

The trust, which runs three secondaries and two primaries in West Yorkshire, said it would appoint a panel which would make a series of recommendations about the Religious Studies curriculum.

Announcing the investigation in March, the trust said it would examine “how certain materials, which caused offence, came to be used in a Religious Studies lesson at Batley Grammar”.

Watch: Batley Grammar School parents call for calm after uproar over image of Mohammed used in lesson

But Mr Evans said that it was crucial that the investigation also scrutinised the school’s response to the crisis, which included suspending the teacher after protesters arrived at the school gates.

“We are concerned that the terms of reference seem to be a bit limited,” he said. “Any investigation should cover the conduct of the school – but it seems to be about how these materials came to be used in class.

“What we don’t want this to be is an exercise in justifying the school’s actions. That would be awful for the freedom to teach and freedom of expression.”

A spokesperson for Batley Multi Academy Trust declined to comment on whether any local imams had been appointed to the trust’s panel, but said that an independent barrister had been appointed to lead the investigation.

“The investigation is under way and the investigator will have access to relevant expertise,” they said. “The investigator has no prior connection with the Trust or any of its Trustees or employees.

“After gathering evidence, the investigator will make recommendations to the Trust to help inform its next steps, so that, where necessary, appropriate lessons for the school and the Trust can be learned and action taken.”