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Robert Jenrick 'troubled' teacher has 'gone into hiding' over cartoon of Prophet Muhammad
26 March 2021, 08:44 | Updated: 26 March 2021, 09:07
Robert Jenrick has told LBC that he is "deeply troubled" by reports a teacher is "under police protection" after allegedly showing an "inappropriate" cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to students.
On Thursday, Batley Grammar School apologised and suspended a teacher pending an investigation following the angry protest over an "inappropriate" cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad that was shown in a class.
The school at the centre of a row has moved to online learning overnight, LBC has learnt.
Dozens of pupils and parents and a local religious scholar gathered outside the West Yorkshire school on Thursday morning after it emerged the picture had been used as part of a religious studies lesson.
Speaking with Nick Ferrari, the Housing Secretary said it is "unacceptable" for teachers to feel threatened and intimidated whilst doing their jobs.
"This is a country based on free speech, and teachers should be able to tackle difficult and controversial issues in the classroom and issues shouldn't be censored," he explained.
"And secondly, and most importantly, it is absolutely unacceptable for teachers and staff in our schools to be threatened or intimidated.
"We need to make sure that there is tolerance and respect.
"I was troubled by the scenes I saw outside of the school gates. We don't want those who work in our schools, parents or children feeling intimidated when they are coming in just because a difficult issue has been tackled in the classroom."
The demonstration outside the school gates delayed lessons until 10am, with a text sent out to parents apologising for the incident.
The group were filmed chanting "Allahu Akbar" - "God is Great" - and "get the headteacher".
Nick then asked the Secretary his opinion on reports that the teacher is now "under police protection", to which he replied that he was "very troubled to hear that."
"That is reminiscent of the scenes we saw in France", he said, referencing the horrific killing of history teacher Samuel Paty in Paris last year after he showed a class a cartoon of Prophet Muhammad.
"We don't want to go down that route, of course a teacher should not have to go into hiding in this country because of something they may have done or said in the classroom," Mr Jenrick said.
"We need an atmosphere of respect and tolerance and we need to be sure our teachers are comfortable to tackle complex and difficult issues.
"So I would strongly urge those people who have taken to the streets to dial this down and work with the school in a productive and sensible way."
In a statement, Headteacher Gary Kibble said: "The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson.
"The member of staff has also given their most sincere apologies."
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."
He added: "It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a sensitive way."
A spokesperson for the school later added: "The member of staff has been suspended pending an independent formal investigation.
"The school is working closely with the governing board and community leaders to help resolve this situation."
Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor, a local prominent Muslim scholar who has been speaking with the school, told protesters: "What has happened in the school, we are appalled.
"Look at what we do as a community, and you'll understand our stance. What has happened is totally unacceptable and we have made sure that the school understands that."