Imagine what the private schools must be like

Zoe Williams writes on the privatization of state schools in Britain.

Many of the problems associated with free schools are related to the fact that they’re run by faith organisations. But faith schools have been around for decades without letting in the kind of injustice parents complain of now.

In Derby, a headteacher at a Muslim free school left, complaining, among other things, that girls were being asked to sit at the back of the class. Elsewhere there is talk of discrimination on the basis of caste; documented faith provision that doesn’t reflect the local demographic (a Jewish primary school in Wandsworth, a borough that only has 1,600 Jewish constituents in total)…

Girls were being asked to sit at the back of the class? Let’s take a look at that. It’s from the Derby Telegraph, about the Al-Madinah school in Derby.

A FORMER teacher at a school accused of ordering female staff to wear a hijab – an Islamic scarf – claims she quit over pressure to follow Muslim dress code.

The Derby Telegraph revealed exclusively on Friday claims that the city’s Al-Madinah School had imposed a strict dress code, made female pupils sit at the back of classes and told staff they could not take non-halal food into school or wear jewellery.

This is, remember, not a private school, it’s a state school, in the US known as a public school. (Notice also that Zoe Williams actually softened it – she said the girls were asked to sit in the back, but the linked article says they were made to sit in the back.)

The teacher wasn’t told ahead of time that she would be required to “cover her head”; that was sprung on her at an induction session just before the school opened. She reluctantly complied while in the classroom, but then was hassled for not wearing it outside the classroom. Then it got even more so.

The teacher, who does not want to be named, said she began to be “hassled” about the rest of her clothing  and, on one occasion, was sent a text from the school saying it “insisted on” a “modest dress code. Full length dress or skirt acceptable”.

She said she asked how her outfit – a business suit – was not modest. “The skirt was well below the knee and I wore thick black tights that covered my legs.”

She said she was offended   at the suggestion that she had dressed immodestly in the workplace.

The teacher said she was particularly angry after she was told to take instructions from two male teachers about what was considered “modest”. She said: “I wrote back to the head pointed out that ‘in nearly 20 years in teaching, I have always dressed in a professional manner’.

After starting at the school when it opened in September 2012, she claims it was October before the dress code was issued in a handbook to all staff, which indicated that they should only have their faces and hands uncovered when in the school.

Because every bit of the rest of them is pure genitalia. They really shouldn’t be allowed at all.

“I also objected to the school’s policy of sitting girls at the back of classrooms, to no avail. The reason given was that girls are allowed to look at boys but the boys are not allowed to look at the girls, but how can that be good for the children’s education?”

Yeah, that’s what the back of the bus has always been about – who gets to look at whom. Right.

The dress code is included:


AL-MADINAH is an Islamic Free school. Within the school we value and esteem our teachers and consider them to be strong role models for all of the students and representatives of the school with all external individuals and organisations. We wish to create an Islamic environment within the school for the sake of the students and to cater for the sensitivities of the community. Although some of the following points are not Islamically-binding upon all individuals except those who wish to adhere to the faith by choice, Al-Madinah School has adopted them as a code of dress for all teachers.

The code of dress for teachers has been adopted by the school and all teachers must adhere to it. By signing the contract of employment with Al-Madinah school all employees agree to adhere to this policy.

1. Clothing must cover the entire body, only the hands, face and feet may remain visible

2. The material must not be so thin that one can see through it.

3. The clothing must hang  loose so that the shape of the body is not apparent.

4. The design of the clothing must not display any symbols of other faiths.

5. All clothing must be full sleeved and all lower body  garments must be loose and covering to the ankles.

6. Skirts must be ankle length and must be loose and flowing.

7. Teachers should not wear overt jewellery or clothing accessories.

8. Wearing of the Niqab or Burqa during work hours is not permitted.

Allah has stated in the Quran that women must guard their modesty. “Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof.” (Quran: 24.31)

“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty that will make for greater purity for them, and God is well acquainted with all they do.”   (Quran:24.30)

“To cater for the sensitivities of the community” bollocks. One doesn’t “cater” to “sensitivities” of that kind. People are “sensitive” about Other Races, about foreigners, about immigrants, about The Lower Orders, about untouchables, about The Gayz, about The Feminist Menace, about all sorts of stupid shit. Do not cater to such phobias.




  1. S Mukherjee says

    “The design of the clothing must not display any symbols of other faiths.”

    At least they’re honest about that. Wonder what the ‘inter-faith understanding, blah blah’ crowd will say?

  2. sarah00 says

    In reply to your post title, most of the private schools I know (full disclosure, I went to a independent girls school for most of my education) may be nominally religious (mine was Anglican) but their main concern is getting people into Oxbridge (or if that’s not possible, at least redbrick universities – yes the snobbery can be pretty rampant). It’s all about getting grades and partaking in extracurricular activities to put in your personal statement. While there are legitimate problems with private education, one thing that can be said in their favour is that religious piety is pretty low down the list of concerns for many of them.

  3. says

    Yes, I’m familiar with the type; that’s exactly what my school was like, right down to the Anglicanism, and for sure the snobbery. But at least in the US, private schools are all over the map, and I think most of them aren’t like that at all – and they can be horrendous academically.

  4. rnilsson says

    Yes yes, so, cut to the chase already, mensh.

    Will anybody be actually dismembered at a UK State School? As opposed to being opposed and oppressed, I mean.

    Is (only) halal chewing gum allowed on premises? Can I buy shares in a producer of such, for profit? (In lieu of underpants!)

    What about fire hazards and exits – will girls of a female gender (although well hidden) be at the back then too?

    What if anyone should comment on the unholyness of emerging sewage wonder – will they be ex- -ed ?

    Has Dr Dawk been informed yet? Oh dear. Oh dear.

    //Garden variety Gnome, Ign.

  5. Pen says

    The free schools are a disaster in every possible way and should be banned. Half of them, even the non-religious ones, have an appalling lack of transparency with regards to what they teach. Parents seem to place their trust in them because they’re new and different and very few of them follow up on what their kids are learning in any detail.

    Also, as this post makes clear, they encourage the fragmenting of society. Kids should be educated together (by catchment area) and reasonable accommodations negotiated for religion, as they are for other special needs or talents. Separating one’s child by religion is as good as saying they can’t live in the world or be a member of this society. Of course the white parents who play along that they believe in God to get their kids into Christian schools which they imagine to be magically better are just as culpable. GCSE in hypocrisy, anyone?

  6. rnilsson says

    Pen, I beg to differ. In my view it depends entirely on the execution. Please allow me to expand.

    Myself went to a small semi-private school some 40-50 years ago and had a pretty good experience and education. Some of the pupils had special needs of some kind – some had physical or neurological issues, some had emotional-psychological issues or family problems, some were super-bright and some were simply very good at sports. To my recollection, most of us did pretty well.

    I have recently been in contact with a number of my year’s graduates, in order to inform them of the untimely passing of a popular and successful comrade, and most of those appear to have become productive members of society.

    Especially my little class had exceptional results, as proven by the national tests. On a scale 1-5 where each unit was supposed to represent 1 Sigma IIRC, we got around 4.5 average in each tested subject (5=best).

    Elite? Maybe. Select? Yes. But perhaps this was the nurturing, challenging environment many of us really needed to fulfil our potential. I know I liked it, even though I didn’t care much to compete for marks.

    The teachers were caring and highly skilled. Although the headmaster was a Dr of Theology IIRC, there was not more missioning going on than in other schools of the time. The Crafts teacher was an accomplished silver smith with a posh shop in town, for example. The Biology teacher was an old firebrand, extremely enthusiastic at the age of 80! But we had to walk to another school for those lessons, as ours had no bio lab. Also for half our Gym lessons, because the chimney stack in the attic gymnasium provided an uneven playing field for basketball: one person could form the entire defence on one side. But the teacher was the runner-up in the Nordic long jump. And there was a very warm and kind janitor/counsellor, Mrs Lindgren, who could take care of any non-scholarly disaster or heart-break most efficiently.

    I wish the school could have continued, but the building was falling apart and the authorities fell for exactly that kind of quasi-egalitarian slogans of ’68 so it closed. My class managed to emerge victorious, but the younger ones were less lucky I suppose. Out of 15 graduates were at least 4 doctorates, 1 ambassador, 1 architect and a few other civil engineers in various fields, and the rest of us rabble did rather OK also I think. Not too bad.

    For me to have been doomed to what you call “catchment area” would have felt disastrous. My parents could not afford to “vote with their feet” to buy me a place in a “better” school by buying a house in such an area. Bullying and what we call mobbing was (and probably is) rampant also in county schools; there was no other escape except to move out.

    Now, half a century later, it may well be that a number of problems occur with private schools, not least religious ones. I have an example of a criminally sloppy county school, too. (Neglected to act, even declined to inform the police, in clear breach of policy, when a pupil (whom I personally know) was harassed for years and in fact almost strangled!)

    But I still maintain that this is a question of execution and of regulation and inspection, which falls to the proper authorities. And since those are wont to neglect their duties, and the standard of teachers is also declining, maybe the lackluster results should not be altogether surprising. In other words, not only a matter of organizational charts.

    tl;dr: Generalizations are always bad, no exceptions.

    Oh dear, is that the time. G’nite all.

  7. latsot says

    I went to state schools in the UK, starting in the early 70s. My primary school was a Church of England school. This means that in assembly every morning we sang 3 or 4 hymns and had a sermon and several prayers. Once a week the local vicar came to tell us – four to nine (?) year olds – that we were sinners. He was an old-skool fire and brimstone Anglican, a breed that was already dying out, thankfully. Also once a week we had to listen to a radio broadcast on Radio 4 (by supposedly beloved veteran broadcaster Geoffrey Wheeler, remember him?). I was sent home (from primary school!) twice on religious grounds (and, er, a couple of times for other reasons, but that’s not my point). The first happened during a history lesson. The teacher contradicted herself and as a precocious shit I pointed it out. The rest of the lesson was a lecture about how everyone makes mistakes and only Jesus was perfect. Of course, I pointed out some Jesus-related contradictions. It didn’t go down well. The second incident was similar but with a different teacher. The point isn’t that I got punished for arguing against dogma, but that I was sent away so I didn’t infect anyone else.

    My parents are embarrassingly religious and presumably approved, but they’d have had no choice if they didn’t. I was brought up in a tiny village miles from anywhere else and there was only that one school. It was entirely impossible that I attend any other school, so religious indoctrination was the only way.

    My experience was more or less benign and the indoctrination didn’t take. But it took in one of my sisters. And it took in some others at that school. It wasn’t all that benign for them.

    Which brings me to my point. This was wishy-washy church of england banal god is sort of good mark and matthew only eye-rolling nonsense. And it was still pretty horrible. I don’t understand why churches were able to dominate primary school education back then.

    But I sure as shit don’t understand why such schools are being allowed to dominate wider education now, as though that’s progress. The rules that govern ordinary state schools are suspended in faith schools for reasons nobody really understands. Because faith is automatically worthy and education isn’t.

  8. rnilsson says

    If one must distill the central, core quality that distinguishes a good school from a bad one into one single word, it occurs to me that word would be RESPECT. When teachers respect, see and value each pupil as a human person, it creates a safe environment that enables all sorts of other good stuff to mesh and interact so as to let education happen and to let everyone grow to their full human potential, as it were.

    Ugh. I have spoken.

  9. latsot says


    Well sure, but teachers don’t always have the freedom to do what they want. They have very large classes, stupid directives from above and are often told what foolish goals and objectives they’re supposed to achieve, which have nothing to do with anyone learning anything.

    I think modern teachers – at least here in the UK – tend to care about being good teachers but are constrained by all kinds of procedural crap. I don’t think you can necessarily blame the teachers.

    My sister-in-law is a good teacher – she’s been rated very highly by the bodies who rate teaching – but her hands are to some extent tied. I feel sorry for her.

  10. rnilsson says

    Agreed, it’s a whole system; including pesky parents. Still, if that system can be made to propagate respect thoughout, many problems will be made redundant and leave much energy free to address more key issues instead. Such as forming kids into good, smart — well, people.

  11. Amy Clare says

    Glad you wrote about this… and yes the dress code is the other half of the ridiculous picture. The poor boyz, if they have to see the back of a girl’s head or the outline of their teacher’s body then god help them, they’ll fail all their exams and it’ll all be the fault of the female gender.

    Free schools are a bad idea imo… this whole ‘Anyone can do a school, what could possibly go wrong?!’ mentality just gives anyone with enough means license to make up their own curriculum and teach kids any crap they want, getting public money to fund their ego trip. To be fair Tony Blair had a hand in faith schools and refused to condemn schools that teach creationism, and the last Labour government introduced Academies (afaik) which are similar. So it’s not all the Tories’ fault, but they’ve got the ball and are running far and fast with it.

    It’s possible for them to be good schools of course but there’s no way of ensuring that. The whole thing’s a mess.

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