not to tip-toe around issues of religious and racial identity as they
could end up increasing tensions among staff and pupils. Instead they
say schools must regard the Iraq war as an opportunity to campaign
The advice is spelt out in a report produced by the National College
for School Leadership and is based on the outcomes of an NCSL seminar
to examine the effects of the Iraq war in schools. The round-table
discussion involved around 20 heads, representing a range of faiths,
who lead schools with high numbers of minority ethnic pupils.
'There was an emerging consensus that debate needed to focus on how
schools promote respect for people whose beliefs are different from
their own. This is not just a question of tolerance, nor of teaching
basic precepts through religious education, but a much wider issue of
empathy, respect and valuing diversity,' the report says.
Entitled 'School Leadership and the war with Iraq: themes and
strategies' the paper goes on to say that 'lack of knowledge about
different beliefs seemed almost to be worn as a badge of honour by
some teachers in our schools.'
It reveals that some Muslim pupils are suffering from a strong sense
of dislocation and confused identity: 'A Muslim head spoke of
children, born in Britain, who asked 'Why are we here, what are we
doing in this country? Others commented that many Muslim children do
not have a strong sense of place in Britain' it says.
The report also refers to a climate of fear among staff and pupils
which has developed in some schools as a result of the war.
It explains: 'Some children are frightened of being tormented -
Muslims fear being labelled as fundamentalists or terrorists, other
pupils fear anti-American sentiment will turn to anti- British. Some
children fear for their relatives' safety and some fe ar for their own
safety in case of an attack on this country. Other pupils are angry
and hardened against any cultures or faiths they associate with
With so many raw emotions being unleashed the report says there is
even greater need for openness and understanding in schools, and it
stresses the important role school leaders have in creating this
'There is understandable anxiety about opening up feelings and
dialogue. To do so in a positive way, as a learning experience for
pupils, is a key leadership challenge. This is not an issue to fudge,
though easy to avoid. The challenge is about seizing the opportunity
and opening up understanding in sustainable and manageable ways.'
And school staff are advised not to reveal prejudices of any sort:
'At these times teachers and leaders at all levels have to gauge the
emotional impact of their words carefully and to model understanding
of a range of beliefs and values. This may involve tension, in
holding personal belief in check, to acknowledge and respect
Other themes which the report picks up on are the effect of the media
on pupils - it stresses 'Images of young men committing violent acts
need to be discussed and placed in context if they are not to
influence children's behaviour' - and the importance of school
leaders' role as community leaders during times of conflict.
The report also includes practical guidance and strategies to help
school leaders deal with the challenges they are facing during the
Short term advice includes:
- running staff workshops to explore staff feelings and experiences
of the war and to agree ways of responding to the situation in
- holding an open forum to promote discussion among pupils by
involving community leaders, especially religious leaders
- starting a book of testimonies and inviting children, staff and the
wider community to write a page about what it feels like to be a
Muslim, Hindu or Christian today
Suggestions for longer term improvements include putting in place
systems for pupils to share feelings; developing emotional
intelligence skills among staff; carrying out pupil profiling which
takes account of race, culture and beliefs; and setting up visits to
schools with a high proportion of pupils of other faiths.
The report also makes recommendations for action at a national level
such as reviewing how staff are prepared for inclusion and diversity
and providing more development opportunities for leaders of faith and
'School leadership and the war with Iraq - themes and strategies' is
available on NCSL's web site: www.ncsl.org.uk
NCSL is also inviting school leaders to share their thoughts and
ideas about how the war is affecting schools via a discussion forum
within its online community Talk2learn (this is a confidential online
forum for school leaders which can only be accessed by registered
Interviews with NCSL's chief executive Heather Du Quesnay can be
arranged on request.
The Leading Edge seminar on which the report is based took place at
the National College for School Leadership in Nottingham on 2 April.
The National College for School Leadership was launched in November
2000 and is delivering training programmes, seminars and other
leadership development activities regionally around the country and
through NCSL's online arm www.ncsl.org.uk. The college's physical
centre, a £28m Learning and Conference centre in Nottingham,
was officially opened by the prime minister in October 2002.
The college aims to:
- provide a single national focus for school leadership development,
research and innovation
- be a driving force for world class leadership in our schools and
the wider community
- provide support to and be a major resource for school leader s
- stimulate national and international debate on leadership issues