Exclusive: Student reprimanded after backing teacher who showed picture of Mohammed

·3 min read
 Batley Grammar school
Batley Grammar school

A teacher trainee was summoned to a fitness to practise meeting after saying he “would not hesitate” to use drawings of the Prophet Mohammed in class.

The student, who is due to complete his Postgraduate Certificate in Education course this summer, has accused staff at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) of reacting in a “ludicrous” manner.

He contacted his course leader last month following his concern at what was happening at Batley Grammar School in west Yorkshire, where a religious studies teacher was suspended after showing a picture of Mohammed during a lesson.

The Batley teacher was later forced to go into hiding after crowds of Muslim parents gathered at the school gates calling for him to be sacked.

In an email to his course leader at MMU on April 1, the student teacher said: “I have been watching the scenes and response to what happened at Batley Grammar school recently and I am extremely concerned about the cowardly response from the unions and other bodies connected to teaching.

“I would like to know whether or not MMU is prepared to stand up for any student who finds themselves in a similar position.”

He went on to argue that the protest was a “clear attempt to enforce a de facto blasphemy law on teachers and schools”, adding that the teacher in Batley had been “thrown under a bus”.

“I would not hesitate to use drawings of any religious figure, including Mohammed, and I certainly will not bow to any pressure from protests, and I would like to think that my university will stand with me,” he said.

The trainee teacher did not receive a reply from his course leader, and instead was contacted one month later by the head of the teacher education department who said he must attend a “fitness to practise cause for concern meeting”.

He was told that this meeting may result in him being referred to a full Fitness to Practise Panel following his comments about his willingness to show a picture of Mohammed in class.

That could be a breach of the Teachers’ Standards which include upholding “public trust in the profession”, his head of department said.

When he asked for an explanation as to why his remarks had triggered the intervention, he was told that the concern “specifically relates to the Prophet Mohammed” due to the “particular sensitivities relating to drawings of him that do not exist for many other religious figures”.

The student teacher told The Telegraph: “It is ludicrous and humiliating. Depending how they view it they could kick me off the course. Or they might say that they will fail me this time round and I have to try again.”

Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, which is supporting the trainee teacher, said: “It beggars belief that this trainee teacher could have his fitness to practice called into question because he defended the teacher at Batley Grammar School".

The university's decision to summon the trainee to a fitness to practise meeting “seriously threatens his career prospects”, said Mr Young.

A MMU spokesman said that the university “has always supported and championed freedom of speech” and that debating and sharing views was encouraged.

They added: “However, there is a difference between the expectations on students within an academic environment on a university campus and the expectations once our students move into a professional practice environment, such as a primary school.

“In this instance, it was thought best to have an initial discussion with the student about the potential impact in a primary school environment of the suggestion that he would be happy to share imagery which would be upsetting to people of a particular faith.

“We believe the discussion with the student was positive and constructive and we await further feedback from him before deciding whether any further steps are required.”