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Review calls for statutory guidance on school blasphemy rows

Ministers should issue statutory guidance on managing blasphemy-related incidents in schools and other forms of harassment and intimidation, a government-commissioned review has urged.

Lord Walney’s report, published Wednesday, says the guidance should include “commitments to upholding teachers’ freedom of expression”. Those involved in such incidents should not be automatically suspended or have their identities exposed, it added.

The guidance should make clear “schools are not required to engage with local community groups or religious institutions in managing blasphemy related incidents or other tensions”.

The wide-ranging report urges government to “put liberal first principles… at the heart of how it confronts extreme protest”.

It comes after the Khan review into social cohesion condemned “intimidatory protests outside schools” and called for buffer zones to stop them.

‘Intimidatory’ protests condemned

Walney concludes there is “evidence of aggressive protests targeting schools”.

He details how opposition to a lessons from the No Outsiders programme, designed to teach pupils about groups protected under the Equalities Act 2010, sparked “abusive and intimidating protests” outside schools in Birmingham in 2019.

“Not only were the anti-LGBT protests intimidatory and, at times, homophobic, but they should also be seen as a continuation of long-standing agitation by local Islamists,” Walney said.

Seven primary schools suspended the lessons before a High Court judge ruled in favour of keeping an exclusion zone banning such rallies outside Anderton Park school.

Walney flagged two “stand out” incidents of anti-blasphemy rallies at secondary schools.

One saw protests erupt outside Batley Grammar School, in Kirklees, in March 2021 after a religious studies teacher showed pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson.

He was driven into hiding in fear for his life.

Batley Multi Academy Trust suspended him and apologised but an independent probe cleared him of wrongdoing. 

Pupil received ‘multiple death threats’

Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield “faced angry allegations online that a copy of the Quran had been damaged on school premises” in February 2023.

The report states the “boy in question, who has high-functioning autism, received multiple death threats” amid inaccurate claims the book was burnt or destroyed.

Walney said the “so-called blasphemy rows … and the implicit threat of violence associated with such allegations exercised a form of veto over what is taught in British classrooms and inappropriately involved religious institutions into internal school issues”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly has said he will “carefully consider” the recommendations.

Dame Sara Khan

In March, the Khan review called on government to collect and publish figures on the scale of harassment experienced by schools and teachers, legislate for a 150-metre buffer zone to prevent protests outside schools and establish a cohesion and conflict unit to support schools.

Government is due to publish its response to the Khan review “before Parliament rises for the summer break”.

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