Following protests at Batley Grammar School, a teacher has been suspended and there is a school investigation. The issue is around the teacher allegedly showing cartoons of Muhammad in a lesson discussing blasphemy.
As of 3 April, it is reported that a further two teachers have been suspended due to their knowledge of the content of the lesson. There has been no evidence that the teachers have done anything wrong. On the evidence thus far, they are innocent and the union should vigorously and robustly defend them.
Showing images of Muhammad is considered offensive to many Muslims but not all. There is no evidence that the teacher failed, for example, to warn students who might have wanted to look away.
There has been an increasing attempt by the right and the religious right to control what is taught in schools. We must oppose this. In particular we must defend and extend the right to discussion of issues around race, gender, sexuality and religion without interference or control from either "parents’" pressure groups or right-wing politicians.
Schools must be spaces where children and young people can experiment and define and redefine themselves without the control of their parents or the communities they come from.
School workers should not go out with the aim to offend, but it is impossible to teach effectively without the right to offend. You cannot develop children and students’ critical abilities without challenging their existing views and sometimes offending them.
Myself, on many occasions teaching Relationship and Sex Education to Year 6s, I have offended students by teaching about same-sex relationships. I think I have not only a right to do that, but a duty to the LGBT+ and potentially LGBT+ students I teach and the wider LGBT+ community.
There is a drive by the religious right to reintroduce blasphemy laws. We must strongly oppose this. All views must be open to being contested.
Blasphemy laws are always used by the powerful in organised religion to squash dissent, most often and acutely within the communities where the religion is dominant.
If we allow the religious right to control what can and can’t be said about religion the victims will predominantly be women, LGBT+ and lapsed believers in those communities. Schools and teachers should be defending and facilitating a thoroughly critical approach to all religions, beliefs and views.
The Department for Education has hypocritically responded to the Batley events saying it is "never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers", adding that schools are "free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum". However, the government is trying to ban the use in schools of resources from organisations that are anti-capitalist or promote "victim narratives" (sic) in schools.
The labour movement and in first place the school unions must defend the right to debate, discuss and even offend in schools, against attack by right wing ideologues, whether they are protesting outside schools or sitting in cabinet.