An independent report commissioned after an incident in November last year at Wood Green Academy, a school in the West Midlands, has found that the school failed to “teach controversial issues in a way that is safe for everyone” after a guest speaker, Khakan Qureshi, was invited to speak on “diversity in the face of adversity” and was later challenged by students on his views about homosexuality and Islam. The session appeared to descend into chaos as videos posted on social media showed. Students could be heard saying Qureshi was “offending people” and “advocating the wrong thing” when he said there wasn’t anything in the Qur’an that said homosexuality was a sin.
The incident led to parents forming the Wood Green Academy Action Group, which said that pupils were fearful about returning to school. An independent report, sent to parents last month, concluded that there is “clear evidence there is insufficient awareness and experience to be able to deliver the teaching of controversial issues in a way that is safe for everyone.” The report also found that the session had been “extremely damaging to relationships within and beyond the school”.
The Wood Green Academy Action Group, which says it represents more than 300 parents, has collected complaints from pupils and parents, including a pupil being harassed for wearing a long skirt and headscarf, the school refusing to create a designated prayer room, mothers being denied entry to the school while wearing a veil, and teachers failing to intervene in bullying. The group has sought the advice of a legal team and is pushing the Department for Education (DfE) to launch another review.
Qureshi, founder of the Birmingham Asian LGBT group, said although the clips posted on social media showed only a snippet of his two hours in the classroom, which also included some reasonable debate with pupils, he had found the incident distressing. He received death threats and online abuse when the clips went viral on TikTok.
The incident at Wood Green Academy highlights the need for teaching tolerance and acceptance for all, including those in the LGBT community and those of different faiths. Qureshi said he believed the incident showed the need for a review into the introduction of compulsory relationship, sex, and health education in 2020. The school said it had received just under 30 complaints from parents, and that pupils were not permitted to record staff.
In response to the incident, the school apologized and initiated an external and independent investigation. It has since implemented an action plan that includes wide-ranging high-quality training for staff, improving student voice, widening parent surveys, holding inter-faith assemblies, and increasing the number of student-led events. The school has also commissioned a separate and whole school safeguarding review. However, the Wood Green Academy Action Group says that it still feels like nothing is happening and that it wants real accountability.