Assemblies help pupils in wake of US attacks

21st September 2001 at 01:00
But Muslim schools in London shut fearing reprisals. David McNab and Ceri Williams report.

Special assemblies and church services have been held in schools across Britain as bewildered children have struggled to come to terms with the terrorist attacks in America and fears of the aftermath.

Measures have been taken at Islamic schools to protect pupils, with the Muslim community's fear of a backlash showing little sign of abating. England's first state-funded Islamic primary schools which closed to protect the children in the wake of the attacks re-opened on Monday. The three Islamia schools in north London shut last week.

Islamia primary took several abusive phone calls and reported an attempted break-in. "We closed the school as we feared for the safety of our staff and pupils," said Zafar Ashraf, secretary of the trust which runs the school.

The vast majority of pupils returned to lessons as normal this week, but the situation remained tense at the nearby Al-Khoei Foundation schools.

Director Al Khoei Yousif said: "There is an atmosphere of fear whipped up by the media. We have had some incidents of abuse and stone throwing, mainly by kids. I fear the situation will get worse if there is a war. We do not want the children to grow up in this climate of fear."

Outside London fewer problems were reported. Zahida Hussain, head of the Al-Furqan primary in Birmingham, said: "The community has been supportive." And Dr Muhamed Mukadam, principal of Leicester Islamic Academy, said:

"Obviously there is tension out there given what has happened. But it is business as usual for us."

Teachers in schools containing large numbers of American children have been very careful about the message given out.

Jan Oldfield is head of Beck Row primary in Suffolk, opposite the giant US Mildenhall air base where 40 per cent of pupils are US service children. She said: "We wanted to keep it very low key and not stir up extra worry, particularly for those whose parents may be going away on duty. Quite a few of the children have been talking about it. One little boy asked me if we were at war. I told him we weren't."

Mildenhall school head Terry Lewis said: "The pupils certainly have strident views on it. They tend to see things in black and white." Many favoured a hard line against terrorism and wanted to know more about the Middle East.

At the Henry Beaufort school in Winchester, head Jonathan de Sausmarez held an assembly in which he appealed to his staff and students not to think of images of hijackers but instead of the people who phoned their loved ones.

At the Hermitage primary in Wapping, London, a special "peace assembly" was held. Teachers sent their best wishes and the text of the assembly to a school in Washington DC.

At the Star of the Sea Roman Catholic primary in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, children were "subdued", according to head Michael Willcock. "They probably picked up the shock and upset of their parents but I think they found it hard to understand." The tragedy was dealt with at a special mass.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has issued advice to its members on its website. "Members should maintain a strictly neutral and non-political approach when dealing with potentially sensitive questions. However, teachers should provide a firm lead in rejecting decisively the indiscriminate use of violence."

International news, 20 See TES staffroom at www.tes.co.uk

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