Governors quit in faith row

16th December 2005 at 00:00
'Super leaders' to replace team at Surrey primary after falling-out about Muslim values, reports Nick Hilborne.

The governors of a Surrey primary have resigned in a row over the role of Muslim values in secular state schools.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, has given approval for a team of "super governors" to be drafted into New Monument primary in Woking.

The governors quit because they could not agree about the running of the school, where 90 per cent of the pupils are Muslim and which is just a few streets away from the Shah Jahan mosque, the oldest in Britain.

The headteacher and deputy head are on long-term sick leave, and the school's performance in the league tables, published earlier this month, has plummeted.

The percentage of children achieving level 4 or above in maths slumped from 65 per cent to 38 per cent, in English from 76 per cent to 59 per cent and in science from 88 per cent to 52 per cent.

Ms Kelly gave Surrey county council approval to replace the governors with an interim executive board last month.

Alison Millard, a governor for 19 years, said the board had clashed over how much the school should conform to Muslim values.

"Some governors thought the school was not really Muslim at all, apart from celebrating Eid once a year. Others wanted it to operate in a way that was much more in line with Muslim values.

"Our impression was that they wanted to turn it into a kind of Muslim faith school within the state system. I'm amazed we lasted as long as we did. Our views were irreconcilable."

Mrs Millard accused the county council of failing to support staff at the school, who she said had taken a "vow of silence".

The primary school is being run two days a week by Sue Tresilian, head of neighbouring Sythwood primary, where 45 per cent of children are Muslim.

Consultants have been drafted in to help.

Anna Wright, Surrey's director of schools, said the governors of New Monument agreed to disband in the summer after differences over school ethos and values.

She said two of the three members of the interim executive board were recommended by the Shah Jahan mosque.

"Governing bodies are autonomous, and we intervene only when we think things are breaking down," she said. "It is a big decision, but some might say we should have acted earlier."

Ms Wright admitted that New Monument had not achieved its league-table targets, but said there had been a transformation since the start of this term in the work of the school. She praised staff for their dedication and commitment.

Mrs Tresilian said: "Morale has really picked up this term, and things are now going well."

She said the school's end-of-term performance would be called "Moving On".

Headteachers, Muslim leaders and officials from the county council last week held the first in a series of meetings in an attempt to improve the education of Muslim children in the Woking area.

Mrs Tresilian represented New Monument and Sythwood primaries at the meeting with leaders of the Shah Jahan mosque at Bishop David Brown secondary school. She was joined by headteachers from Bishop David Brown, Woking high, Broadmere primary, Goldsworth primary and Maybury infants.

John Ambrose, a local education officer, said Surrey had agreed to draw up guidelines with Muslim leaders to ensure religious values were respected and to boost achievement.


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