Parents in Essex withdraw children from RE lessons over objections to Islam

‘These children are arguably those that most need to be taught about Islam’

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Parents in Essex are withdrawing their children from religious education lessons on Islam and stopping them from visiting mosques on school trips, a report for the council has found.

The trend has been uncovered in the area of Thurrock, a former stronghold for Ukip supporters, where a new report warns of “integration issues” within the local community.

The report, from the standing advisory council for religious education (SACRE), a body that advises on RE in schools, calls for the “nature and extent” of withdrawals to be investigated.

It says: “Parents have objected to the teaching of Islam and withdrawn children from lessons and visits to places of worship.

“The outcome [is that] those children, who arguably are those that most need to be taught about Islam, are no longer being taught about it.”

It added: “It is not clear whether or not this is a widespread issue in Thurrock, but it is clear that SACRE needs to investigate.

“Schools have a statutory duty to promote community cohesion.”

The report adds that tackling hate crime remains a priority in Thurrock – where the highest number of offences have been against Muslim victims – but still some schools have experienced “tensions”.

Thurrock had the fourth highest percentage of people who backed Brexit – with 72.3 per cent of the electorate voting to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

During the 2017 general election campaign, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage visited the constituency with the party’s then candidate Tim Aker, who is also an MEP.

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But in January last year, all 17 Ukip councillors in Thurrock resigned from the party and formed a new group, Thurrock Independents, which now provides the official opposition to the Conservative majority.

Census data from 2011 reveal that just 2 per cent of the population in Thurrock is Muslim.

SACRE is due to address Thurrock Council on Wednesday about its concerns over Islamophobic parents pulling children out of RE lessons.

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain told the Thurrock Gazette: “In an ever increasingly diverse society, it is more crucial than ever to learn about each other’s faith and cultures, and help foster better understanding between communities.

“In particular, as hostility towards Muslim communities remains widespread and more young people are brought up with inaccurate views about Muslims, we believe visits to mosques are an important way to help resolve misunderstandings.”

The report comes after teachers warned in April last year that parents were increasingly abusing the right to withdraw their children from religious education lessons due to their prejudices.

Members of the ATL section of the National Education Union (NEU) called on the government to take steps to prevent parents from selectively withdrawing youngsters from RE classes.

The Commission on Religious Education also recently called for the right of parents to withdraw their children from RE to be reviewed amid concerns about racist or Islamophobic motivations.

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