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Schools sever ties with 'twin' institutions in bin Laden town

A project "twinning" Blackburn schools with others in the Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed has been axed over fears of bad publicity.

A planned cultural exchange visit to the Lancashire town by teachers from Abbottabad was cancelled shortly after US special forces raided bin Laden's hideout in May.

The four Blackburn schools involved - three primaries and a secondary - have now severed all ties with their twinning partners to "avoid sensitive political issues".

The move has upset the Pakistani schools, which expected at least six more months of contact. They say their pupils will suffer from unfair association with the al-Qaeda figurehead.

Local education official Zafar Abbasi said: "Abbottabad residents and students had nothing to do with Osama or any of his activity.

"Linking them with Osama is regrettable, and depriving students of the programme is even worse."

Under the three-year twinning scheme, children from eight schools in Blackburn and Abbottabad exchanged letters and poems and worked on shared cultural projects, while their teachers received professional development training.

It was part of the British Council's Connecting Classrooms programme, which links UK schools with thousands of others around the world "with the aim of developing understanding and trust between young people".

Funding in Blackburn was due to end this year but local councillors had expressed hopes the project would continue for years to come.

Five Abbottabad teachers were due to visit in mid-May with a video-conference between the schools planned shortly afterwards, but both plans were axed at short notice after bin Laden's death cast the Pakistani town into the international spotlight.

An email to the schools from Carole Grady, head of Blackburn council's ethnic minority achievement service, was leaked to the Associated Press last week.

It read: "I am sorry to say that a decision has been taken that the Blackburn cluster must distance itself from the partnership in Abbottabad in order to avoid sensitive political issues, therefore neither the video-conference nor the visit can go ahead."

About 100 British schools have ties with schools in Pakistan, and the four in Blackburn are the only ones to have severed links, a British Council spokeswoman said.

Peter Fenton, head of Daisyfield Primary School, declined to comment when contacted by The TES. The other three schools - St Thomas and St Matthew's primaries and Beardwood Humanities College - did not return our calls.

Harry Devonport, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council's director of education, said in a statement: "The British Council-funded initiative was programmed to come to an end around this time and this has now happened.

"A decision was taken in consultation with headteachers to wind down the scheme slightly earlier, and we were clear that this bears no reflection on the schools."

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