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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 14:07 GMT
Schools advised on Muslim pupils
Muslim pupil and teacher
The MCB says there over 400,000 Muslim pupils in school education
Schools in Britain should allow girls to wear the headscarf in all lessons, including PE, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has recommended.

Its guidance aims to ensure state schools meet Muslim pupils' needs.

The 72-page document covers such topics as sex education, Ramadan and halal meals. It says schools should respect the decision of boys to grow a beard.

But head teachers warned that meeting any list of "demands" would pose major practical difficulties for schools.

The MCB estimates there are over 400,000 Muslim pupils.

I just worry that if the list of demands - if it is a list of demands - is too much, that it will simply create a backlash
Mick Brookes, National Association of Head Teachers

It says schools have an important part to play in fostering social cohesion.

"Schools can play a vital role in facilitating the positive integration of Muslim pupils within the wider community and thereby preventing or at least beginning the process of tackling some of the problems of marginalisation."

Communal changing and showering

In its examples of good practice, the MCB says the concept of "haya" or modesty must be respected by teachers and school staff.

"In principle the dress for both boys and girls should be modest and neither tight-fitting nor transparent and not accentuate the body shape."

Schools should allow girls to wear full-length skirts and boys and girls should be able to wear tracksuits in PE lessons.

Most dance activities ... are not consistent with the Islamic requirement for modesty
MCB guidance

The guidance criticises the "vast majority" of primary schools for asking boys and girls to change in mixed groups.

"Muslim children are likely to exhibit resistance to this sort of compromising and immodest exposure, but are often pressurised to conform to institutional norms which do not take account of their own or their parents' beliefs and values," it says.

Communal showering involves "profound indignity".

Muslim pupils should be allowed to sit out dance lessons, which are on the national curriculum for PE.

"Muslims consider that most dance activities, as practised in the curriculum, are not consistent with the Islamic requirements for modesty as they may involve sexual connotations and messages."

Headscarves for girls should be allowed, but the MCB guidelines stop short of endorsing the niqab or full-face veil.

No exams and swimming in Ramadan

Schools are urged to be particularly aware of the needs of Muslim pupils during Ramadan, the month of fasting.

Muslim pupils
Many pupils fast in Ramadan

They should avoid scheduling exams during Ramadan and should refrain from sex education, as Muslims should avoid sexual thoughts and discourse at this time.

Swimming lessons may also be problematic for some Muslim pupils, as there is a risk of swallowing water which they may believe breaks the fast.


MCB secretary general Muhammad Abdul Bari said: "Many of our schools have a cherished tradition of fostering an inclusive ethos which values and addresses the differences and needs of the communities they serve.

"We are convinced that with a reasonable degree of mutual understanding and goodwill, even more progress can be made."

But the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Mick Brookes, said: "Schools are trying to create societies within their walls which are tolerant and celebratory.

"I just worry that if the list of demands - if it is a list of demands - is too much, that it will simply create a backlash.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "This is not official guidance and is not endorsed by the government, nor does it have any binding power whatsoever on schools as some hysterical headlines claim today.

"The Department for Education and Skills has no involvement with the document produced by the MCB."

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