michaela school pupil prayer ban

‘captain of her soul’: why pupil ttt’s courage matters

Despite seeming to ‘lose’ the case against Michaela School, pupil TTT showed courage; she was certainly the ‘captain of her soul’ that the poetry decorating the school’s halls celebrate – not the ‘ruffian on the stairs’ depicted in the media.

The High Court case that upheld the prayer ban at Michaela Community School joins a depressing list of cases where the concerns of Muslim parents about their children’s schooling are ‘ritually’ condemned and misreported in the mainstream media.

Other examples include the Trojan Horse affair, and the Birmingham parent protests about teaching of LGBT issues.

The script is familiar: ‘hardline Muslims’ are accused of threatening ‘integration’ and undermining successful headteachers. The government is called upon to support those headteachers and introduce measures to prevent similar episodes happening again.

In the Michaela case, the claimant, pupil TTT, accused the school of being in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, discriminatory in the light of the Equalities Act 2010, and in breach of the Public Sector Equalities Duty.

The case was always going to be difficult due to the unwillingness of courts to uphold ‘collective rights’ against the right of an individual herself – but her action to lodge the case should be commended for courage, not condemned.

Two incidents of exclusion due to praying

With regard to the first exclusion – occasioned by her challenge to a teacher who had interrupted her prayers – the judge decided that the rigid hierarchy perpetuated at Michaela School was a serious breach of the school code, particularly that a teacher’s instruction could not be questioned.

The second occasion was different. The judge felt that the school had failed to deal with the pupil’s concerns properly in an investigation it had undertaken and that some of its claims were seriously misleading.

This included an exchange between TTT and another pupil who had been involved in praying in the playground. The latter had pressed her to tell her about what had happened in interviews with the school.

Pupil TTT responded, ‘if I told you I would have to kill you’. The judge, but not the Mail, recognised that this had been a joking exchange. Pupil TTT’s complaint against the school was upheld.

The judge also observed that it was after being further excluded that Pupil TTT decided to bring the case against the school, despite the concerns of her mother.

Michaela School’s very own ‘captain of her soul’

Michaela School is fond of Victorian jingoistic, exhortatory poetry, which it requires students to learn. It displays lines from them on large banners around the school. One is a phrase from William Earnest Henley’s ‘Invictus’, ‘Captain of my Soul’.

It cannot be ignored that despite seeming to ‘lose’ the case, pupil TTT was a brave soul, certainly she was captain of her soul.

She was not the ‘ruffian on the stairs’ depicted by the school and in the media.

Kemi Badenoch has commented that ‘the Equality Act is a shield, not a sword and teachers must not be threatened into submission’. There seems to be no shield protecting Muslims in England and their rights to religious expression, even when they are children.

There is a solution. Michaela school could do what many other schools have done and adopt UNICEF’s Rights Respecting School programme for assemblies. This is based upon the rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

One primary school pupil describes a Rights Respecting School as ‘a place where we can all feel confident with ourselves and it encourages us to use our voice. It has helped me build my confidence. It has helped me raise awareness of injustice in the world’.

Isn’t that what we should want for all our children?

Read more on this…

Bindman’s: Key takeaways from the Michaela School judgement

Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash