Halifax primary may fight block over hardline Islam fear

MP Linda Riordan raised concerns about the proposed school
MP Linda Riordan raised concerns about the proposed school
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A CONTROVERSIAL free school allegedly linked to hardline Islamic views may challenge the Government’s decision to block its plans to open in September.

A statement from Northern Lights Educational Trust said “all possible options” were being considered after the Department for Education (DfE) withdrew approval for a primary free school in the Park ward area of Halifax.

The DfE launched an investigation after Calderdale Council and Halifax MP Linda Riordan raised fears about community cohesion. Schools Minister Lord Nash told Ms Riordan concerns around “inclusiveness” formed one of the reasons behind the decision.

Northern Lights said it was “devastated for the pupils, parents and staff who will suffer as a result.”

The Trust said the DfE had made it clear no examples of extremism had been found. Its statement added the proposed school had “always been committed to offering a fully inclusive provision for all, independent of social, religious and cultural heritage.

“The Free School was oversubscribed, had successfully completed all major milestones and had received applications from parents from diverse ethnic backgrounds with a potential percentage intake from other faith communities that would be greater than or equivalent to other local schools. We are currently considering all possible options that are available to us.”

Concerns about the proposed school initially stemmed from Northern Lights’ links with a “community partner” called the Sunniyy School and a controversial leaflet sent to parents in November.

Calderdale Council wrote to the DfE about the contents of the leaflet but also raised wider fears about damage to community relations from the promotion of a hardline religious ethos, including a rise in Muslim pupils withdrawn from mainstream activities.

The Sunniyy School leaflet promoted a meeting of parents by stating: “If it was said to us ‘If you do not attend this meeting your child will die’ I am certain we would all make sure that we attend the meeting.” It added: “There have been several incidents recently where children in various settings have been forced to do things against Islam.”

The Sunniyy School denied the leaflet and meeting were connected to rallying parental support for Northern Lights and apologised for any “unintended offence”.

Northern Lights has previously stated the leaflet was not “issued, endorsed or supported” by them.

But a letter from David Whalley, the council’s head of learning, sent to the DfE in March, said: “A number of schools in the area of Park Ward have contacted the local authority voicing their concerns about pressure being applied to families to enrol children at the proposed school and raising other community cohesion concerns.”

After raising the contents of the leaflet, Mr Whalley’s letter went on: “The local authority is also concerned that the rise in issues being reported regarding uniform for Muslim pupils, Muslim pupils participating in musical activities in school, Muslim pupils participating in curriculum activities related to Christmas etc have increased and schools have alleged that parents are being influenced by views espoused by the Sunniyy School.

“The local authority is led to believe that there are close links between the Sunniyy School and the proposed free school and therefore the potential risk of a negative impact on community relations within the area is high.”

Northern Lights said it was independent of the Sunniyy School and denied the allegations in the letter.