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IRAQ WAR: HEADS TOLD 'DON'T SWEEP RELIGION UNDER THE CARPET'

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Leaders of multi-ethnic and Muslim schools are warning headteachers ...
Leaders of multi-ethnic and Muslim schools are warning headteachers

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

for greater respect of different beliefs and faiths.

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

Saddam's regime.'

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

culture.

'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

diversity.'

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

current conflict.

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

school

- 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

multi-ethnic schools.

Notes

'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

users.)

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

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