Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 17 January 2020

UK shuts down Islamic school after extremism fears

Inspection reports detail litany of failures at school run by controversial charity

One of the terrorists behind the 2017 attack on London Bridge worked in a classroom and raised questions about the regulation of schools. Metropolitan Police via AP
One of the terrorists behind the 2017 attack on London Bridge worked in a classroom and raised questions about the regulation of schools. Metropolitan Police via AP

The UK government has shut down a scandal-hit British Islamic school where the head was identified as a “potential risk to pupils” after more than a decade of management failures and concerns over radicalisation.

The closure came in a year when the head of Birmingham Muslim School was banned from teaching during an investigation into an alleged failure to promote “fundamental British values” of tolerance and respect.

Education officials said they closed down the school in December after “consistent failings” and a series of damning reports by inspectors that criticised the way the school was run and how pupils were taught.

The closure comes eight months after The National revealed that the wife of an extremist commander in Syria was in charge of child protection at the school attended by 83 pupils aged four to 11.

The charity that runs both the school and relief projects in Syria remains under investigation by regulators because of “serious concerns” about its ability to operate.

Problems at the now-shuttered school in Britain’s second largest city have exposed broader concerns about child protection at Islamic establishments in Britain.

The closure, only the second time officials took such action during 2019, followed scandals at other schools where extremists were found to have led classes and sought to radicalise young students.

“This case will understandably raise public concerns over extremists’ ability to involve themselves in the governance of religious schools in the UK,” said Dr Rakib Ehsan, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a thinktank that has campaigned for improved scrutiny of schools.

“The severity of the safeguarding issues in this case demonstrates that there must be more robust forms of anti-extremism regulation across religious schools – including those schools which operate in the private sector”

The most recent report for the £2,000-a-year Birmingham Muslim School from July criticised officials following the temporary ban from teaching of the head Janet Laws.

The school failed to effectively supervise the ban “to ensure that she does not breach the interim prohibition order, including promoting views that undermine fundamental British values”, according to a report by the UK schools’ inspectorate Ofsted.

The school’s policies on keeping students safe failed to reflect that the “headteacher herself has been identified [by authorities] as being a potential risk to pupils”.

Authorities declined to comment on the reasons for the ban, which was reportedly lifted before the school was finally closed and deregistered, 12 years after it was first rated as “inadequate”.

Previous reports had warned of the potential for pupils to be “exposed to extremist views through contact with older pupils or adults out of school, such as when on school trips”.

School inspectors were not taking “all reasonable steps” to protect pupils from “exposure to partisan political views,” it said.

In 2017, inspectors said that staff “lack vigilance in being alert to the risks of pupils being radicalised” but later found that the school had tightened up its policies.

The school had been subject to close scrutiny after it emerged that Ms Laws was married to a man once on a US sanctions list for allegedly funding the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

Ghunia Abdrabba later successfully appealed to have his name removed from the list in 2011, the year in which the group described by the UK as an Al Qaeda-linked “brutal terrorist organisation” was disbanded after securing its goal of the downfall of Col Muammar Qaddafi.

Mr Abdrabba was identified as the proprietor of the school in 2017 before control was transferred to the Albayan Education Foundation, where Ms Laws is a trustee. Ms Laws did not respond to requests for comment.

The National reported in April last year that the “designated safeguarding lead” at the school was married to a man named by the UK government as the leader of Kateeba Al Kawthar, a multinational group of fighters in Syria with links to Al Qaeda.

Education regulators have previously come under pressure after it emerged that a terrorist behind the 2017 London Bridge attacks was allowed to teach Quranic skills at a London school despite having no qualifications.

In a separate case, an extremist working at another school was jailed in 2018 after holding secret terrorism classes as he sought to recruit a children’s army to launch terrorist attacks in the capital.

Updated: January 17, 2020 12:20 PM

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