Joanna Rossiter Joanna Rossiter

Batley Grammar and the dilemma for trainee teachers

People gather outside the gates of Batley Grammar School (Getty images)

Should a teacher show a picture of the prophet Mohammed in the classroom? In the wake of the ugly scenes recently at Batley Grammar school when one teacher did just that, there are few questions more relevant to the work of a teacher right now.

But when one trainee student at Manchester Metropolitan university contacted his course leader to ask whether they would support someone who did show such an image in class, the response was not the one he expected.

The university’s reaction was telling: it did not initially respond to the trainee’s email request for advice. Instead it contacted him a month later saying he must attend a disconcertingly named ‘fitness to practise cause for concern meeting’.

Don’t go into teaching if you care about free speech. That seems to be the takeaway message for trainee teachers at Manchester Metropolitan University

Don’t go into teaching if you care about free speech. That seems to be the takeaway message for trainee teachers at Manchester Metropolitan university.

The trainee’s assertion that he ‘would not hesitate to use drawings of any religious figure’ in the classroom was certainly bold. But it was a hypothetical scenario that he was using to start a discussion. The idea that a trainee can be disciplined for an action they have not yet committed is not just absurd. It goes against the very fundamentals of education and training, where open debate should be encouraged, not shut down. After all, surely a teaching training course is precisely the place where these sorts of discussions should take place?

Manchester Metropolitan university’s response may be cowardly, but it still pales in comparison to the ongoing silence from the government in relation to the Batley Grammar school incident. The Department of Education seems to be doing everything in its power to distance itself from the case, and its profound and worrying implications for the teaching profession.

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