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Muslim free school threatened with closure after discrimination claims upheld by government

The government has threatened to close a Muslim free school in Derby amid accusations it has been discriminating against female staff and failing in its duty to keep its pupils safe.

The Al-Madinah Free School was forced to close last week following an Ofsted inspection, which the school claimed was dude to “health and safety” concerns.

The school has faced claims that it forced female staff to wear head scarves – or hijabs – regardless of whether they were Muslim or not. It was also alleged the school had forced girls to sit at the back of the class, and boys at the front.

In a letter to the school, schools minister Lord Nash said it must take “swift action” if it was to avoid being shut down by the Department for Education. 

It comes after two internal investigations into the school led by the department, which found it had breached a number of the conditions set out in the school’s funding agreement, including:

  • failing to ensure the safety of children at the school;
  • delivering an unacceptably poor standard of education;
  • discriminating in its policies and procedures towards female staff;
  • and failing to discharge its duties and responsibilities in respect of the governing body.

Lord Nash's letter goes on to demand the school provides evidence within the next week that it has stopped any practices that lead to women and girls being treated “less favourably” than men and boys. It also says that the school must notify all staff that they are not required to cover their hair if “contrary to their religion or beliefs”.

“I will not tolerate breaches of the commitments you gave when entering into the funding agreement,” the letter adds.

Al-Madinah was closed just hours after Ofsted’s inspectors arrived last week amid concerns that records showing whether staff were cleared to supervise children were missing or incomplete.

The school re-opened yesterday, but the letter from Lord Nash addressed to Shazia Parveen, chair of governors at the free school, has left the school's future in doubt.

Lord Nash added: “Unless swift action is taken to address these concerns in a comprehensive way I will be compelled to terminate the school's funding agreement.”

Al-Madinah's interim headteacher Stuart Wilson said via the school's website yesterday that last week's closure was down to a "short-term" health and safety issue. 

"My decision to close the school related to a short-term health and safety issue that has now been completely resolved and will not reoccur," Mr Wilson wrote. "Our closure was not the result of our Ofsted inspection team deciding to close Al-Madinah School, now or in the future."

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