School banned prayer against backdrop of 'violence and intimidation', headteacher claims

A school decided to introduce a "prayer ban" for pupils against a "backdrop of events including violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment" of teachers, its founder has said.

Michaela Community School in Brent, north London, which was previously dubbed Britain's strictest, is facing a legal challenge from a Muslim student who claims its approach to prayer is discriminatory and "uniquely" affects her faith.

The pupil, who cannot be named for legal reasons, alleges the school's stance is "the kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society", a judge was told.

Amid the ongoing hearing in London the school's headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, shared a statement on social media saying it was defending its "culture and ethos" and decisions to "maintain a successful and stable learning environment where children of all races and religion can thrive".

Posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ms Birbalsingh said the school had taken the decision "to stop prayer rituals when some pupils started them, against a backdrop of events including violence, intimidation and appalling racial harassment of our teachers".

She continued: "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."

Ms Birbalsingh said the school was a "happy and respectful secular school where every race, faith and group understands self-sacrifice for the betterment of the whole".

Jason Coppel KC, representing the school trust, said the school was targeted with "threats of violence", abuse, "false" allegations of Islamophobia, and a "bomb hoax".

Glass bottles were hurled over the school railings and a brick thrown through one teacher's window, leaving staff "fearing for their lives", Mr Coppel said, adding the situation had since "calmed".

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The hearing before Mr Justice Linden continues and was due to conclude on Wednesday - with a ruling expected at a later date.