Teacher who showed Prophet Muhammad cartoon allowed to return to work

26 May 2021, 20:08

Some protesters demanded that the teacher who showed the Prophet Muhammad cartoon get the sack
Some protesters demanded that the teacher who showed the Prophet Muhammad cartoon get the sack. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Batley Grammar School teacher who was suspended after showing students an image depicting the Prophet Muhammad can return to the classroom.

An independent investigation into the matter found that the member of staff did not use the image with the intention of causing offence.

However, it also recommended that staff should not use similar images in the future out of "respect" for the community as they are "not necessary... to deliver the learning outcomes on the subject of blasphemy".

The West Yorkshire school temporarily suspended the religious studies teacher, along with two others, in March after he showed pupils a cartoon that was first published in French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, which resulted in the 2015 shooting at their offices that left 12 people dead.

His lesson sparked angry protests outside the school - with some people demanding he loses his job due to the "blasphemous" image - and a nationwide row.

The teacher was forced into hiding amid the angry backlash despite his "genuine" belief that the picture had “an educational purpose and benefit”.

Read more: Teacher who showed Prophet Muhammad image 'backed by student petition'

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The incident sparked angry protests and a nationwide row
The incident sparked angry protests and a nationwide row. Picture: PA

But the Batley Multi Academy Trust said the topics covered by the lesson "could have been effectively addressed in other ways and without using the image".

It also said it recognises that the use of the image did cause "deep offence" to a number of students, parents and members of the school community, adding that it "deeply regrets the distress" caused.

The probe also confirmed that the caricature was used on more than one previous occasion.

A spokeswoman for the Batley Multi Academy Trust, which runs the school, said: "We accept the recommendations of the independent expert investigation and will put them into practice immediately.

"The investigation recommends that the issues raised can be effectively dealt with through additional management guidance and training.

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"The findings are clear, that the teaching staff involved did not use the resource with the intention of causing offence, and that the topics covered by the lesson could have been effectively addressed in other ways.

"In the light of those conclusions, the suspensions put in place while the investigation was under way will now be lifted."

A spokeswoman for the National Education Union (NEU) said: "We are very pleased that the correct decision has been reached regarding our members at Batley Grammar School.

"Our members engaged fully with the investigation, and we are delighted that the threat and worry of disciplinary action has been removed."

The NEU is also calling on the Department for Education (DfE) to step up and support teachers and schools urgently with guidance around the teaching of controversial issues as part of the RE curriculum.

Protesters gather outside Batley Grammar School amid 'Prophet Muhammad cartoon' row

Kim Leadbeater, the Labour candidate for the by-election in the Batley and Spen constituency in West Yorkshire, said: I appreciate emotions have run high but this should not have disrupted the pupils' education on top of the impact of the pandemic."

The Labour hopeful, who is the sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, added that it was "completely unacceptable that a teacher was forced into hiding and his family were put at risk".

A DfE spokesperson said: "Batley Grammar has rightly set out a plan to move forward from the events of previous weeks.

"We would encourage parents, families and the local community to recognise the findings of the independent investigation - that the teachers who used the images in question had no negative intent - and to welcome and support the trust's comprehensive plan to strengthen its oversight of the curriculum."

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the National Secular Society, welcomed the decision to lift suspensions, but added: "The trust's stated commitment to ensuring offence is not caused is a route to censorship, and sets a very poor precedent.

"The outcome of this local investigation will affect teachers' ability to do their jobs across the country. So the government should face questions over its failure to show leadership when fundamental principles were at stake."