Complaints from Muslim parents have forced a headteacher to resign – all because she tried to scrap separate faith assemblies.
Julia Robinson hoped to have one assembly that would be inclusive of all religions. She sought advice from the local authority, and set up a working party to examine the issue.
But parents of pupils at Meersbrook Bank Primary in Sheffield swiftly lodged complaints. They accused Mrs Robinson of ‘racism’, and as a result, she was demoted for the better part of last year.
Mrs Robinson was due to return to her former role this year. But once again, parents complained and finally Mrs Robinson resigned. The school’s chair of governors, Sarah Browton, also resigned, in protest.
One staff member, speaking anonymously, stated: ‘The head teacher inherited the separate assemblies when she started the job and she took careful advice from the authority on what to do about them.
‘But when she tried to stop them, feeling they did nothing to promote inclusiveness, she was accused of being a racist.
‘She wanted to hold assemblies for all the pupils, which would include all faiths. That is what happens in most schools but some parents wanted things to stay as they were.
‘Mrs Robinson was under a lot of pressure and wasn’t at school for some time. The plan was for her to come back but again some of the parents put a stop to that.
‘Many of us here just feel this is all very wrong. Everyone was told that we had to heal and we had to move on. There’s now an interim head in place and that situation could drag on for some time to come.’
And staff at the school are angry that Mrs Robinson has had to resign from her job
‘The feeling is that Julia was doing the right thing and went through all the right routes as to what she was trying to do.
‘The aim was for inclusion there’s no other school we know that has separate assemblies like these.
‘The buzzword from the authority at the moment is all about community cohesion but there is little cohesion at this school. The staff are very upset at what has happened.’
One Muslim woman with a younger sister at the school said the Muslim families did not object when Mrs Robinson stopped their weekly assembly and replaced it with a non-secular gathering.
The dispute started when hymns were introduced.
Fiyza Awan, 19, said:’We didn’t put any pressure on her to go, we want continuity at the school because that can only be good for the pupils, it was her decision to leave.
‘Before Mrs Robinson took over we had a separate assembly on Tuesdays because that was 20 minutes of hymn singing and that was not appropriate for Muslims.
‘There are about 35 Muslim children at the school and they went into a room and discussed things to do with Islam. The assemblies on the other days are much shorter and when a hymn was sung the Muslim children went outside for a few minutes.
‘When Mrs Robinson took over she said she wanted one assembly for all the students.
‘We didn’t have a problem with that but we wanted a non-secular assembly where no hymns, Christian or Muslim were sung and topics involving all the children could be discussed.
‘But after a while hymns were introduced again and we objected to that. We told Mrs Robinson we wanted our children withdrawn from assembly and for our children to have a separate assembly again.
‘We contacted the school governors and the education authority because we felt we were being marginalised and again said we wanted the old style of assemblies brought back.’
A Sheffield Council spokeswoman said: ‘We can confirm that the head teacher of Meersbrook Bank Primary School has tendered her resignation for her post which has been accepted.
‘Parents have been made aware of the matter and temporary arrangements are in place until a new head teacher is appointed.’
Acting chair of governors Rob Stephens added: ‘We would like to thank her for her work at the school, and wish her well for the future.
‘Mrs Pamela Smith has been appointed as the lead teacher.’
After taking over at Meersbrook Mrs Robinson outlined her plans for the future for the 115 year old school on its website.
On it she said : ‘We have launched the new school year by reviewing and rewriting our school vision and aims. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our community and our family feel.’
So let’s clarify: all we hear about in the UK is ‘multiculturalism’, yet when this teacher tried to embody this idea, she was demoted, and then subsequently felt so disliked and pressured by parents that she ended up resigning.