Robert Jenrick ‘disturbed’ to see protests outside Batley school over cartoon of Prophet Mohammed

Robert Jenrick ‘disturbed’ to see protests outside Batley school over cartoon of Prophet Mohammed

Sophia SleighFri, 26 March 2021, 8:52 am

<p>Robert Jenrick</p> (Sky News)
Robert Jenrick(Sky News)

A Cabinet minister today said he was “disturbed” to see protests outside a school where a teacher allegedly showed children a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said there had to be an “appropriate balance” between free speech and behaving in a tolerant way, after crowds gathered at Batley Grammar School to complain about the image.

It comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson intervened last night with a spokesman calling the protests “unacceptable”.

The West Yorkshire school has apologised for the “inappropriate” image which was shown during a religious studies lesson this week. Parents said it was from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

A teacher has since been suspended and is now believed to be in hiding after he was identified online.

Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “I don’t know precisely what the teacher did in the classroom. We know that the school is looking into the matter and investigating – that’s absolutely right.

“The Department for Education is liaising with the school and with the local council.

“What I can say, is that there has to be an appropriate balance. We have to ensure that there is free speech, that teachers can teach uninhibited, but that has to be done in a respectful and tolerant way.

“That’s a balance to be struck by teaching professionals and by the schools concerned.

“What I would also add is that I was disturbed to see scenes of people protesting outside the school.

“That is not right. We shouldn’t have teachers, members of the staff of schools feeling intimidated.

“The reports that a teacher may even be in hiding is very disturbing. That is not a road we want to go down in this country.

“So I would strongly urge people who are concerned about this issue not to do that.”

Videos and pictures circulating on social media showed dozens of people stood outside the school gates, partially blocking the road.

Local community leaders have said the image is “offensive” and “totally unacceptable”.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Association of Britain said: “It is well documented that Islamophobic rhetoric is on the rise and the use of pictures of Prophet Mohammed is deeply offensive to Muslims.

“We trust that the school will investigate and take the appropriate action needed.”

Head teacher Gary Kibble apologised “unequivocally” and said the member of staff had “given their most sincere apologies” and been suspended pending an investigation.

He added: “We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school.

“It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a sensitive way.”

A spokesman from the Department for Education said: “It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge. However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions, is completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”

He said schools should be free to include a range of issues in the curriculum “including where they are challenging or controversial” but that must be balanced with the need to “promote respect and tolerance” between people of different faiths and beliefs.

West Yorkshire Police previously said they were called to the protest at around 7.30am on Thursday. A police spokesman said the school road was closed for a short time, no arrests were made and no fines were issued.

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