Move over Christmas and Easter, it’s time for Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak’s birthday. Curiously, schools have not been told to close for Jewish holidays. It’s good to know that English school councils understand the priorities of education.
From The Telegraph U.K.
Row over school closures for Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holidays
Two councils have instructed all schools under their control to shut for the annual celebrations of Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak’s Birthday, in addition to the Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter.
Published: 9:45PM BST 17 Oct 2009
The directive, by Waltham Forest and Newham councils, in east London, even affects schools where very few pupils are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.
After concerns were raised, a review of the policy has been launched in Waltham Forest, with some criticising the closures as inappropriate, unnecessary and “political”.
Headteachers have argued that they should be given discretion in deciding which days to mark, as happens in big multi-ethnic cities including Manchester, Birmingham and Bradford.
Whereas one in six Waltham Forest residents is Muslim, according to the last census, Hindus make up only 1.8 per cent of the borough’s population, and Sikhs only 0.6 per cent. Jews outnumber Sikhs in the borough, according to the census, yet schools have not been told to close for any Jewish holidays.
“However, the school does promote and celebrate these events allowing the very small number of staff or pupils to have religious absence days if they request.”
She added that schools should be allowed to decide whether or not to allow religious holidays based on their own circumstances.
Rachel MacFarlane, head of Walthamstow School for Girls, told the review: “We remain frustrated by the requirement on all schools, regardless of the religious profile of the staff and student populations, to close for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh festivals.”
Craig Byron, Heathcote School coaching coordinator, called the closure decision ‘political’, saying: “If you compare the holidays to 20 years ago, all the changes are to do with political decisions, not what is best for the staff and students in gaining a rest.”
The council has said that the policy is intended to “raise awareness of different faiths and cultures within the school community, which in turn supports cohesion for the wider community”.
Councillor Liaquat Ali, Waltham Forest council’s cabinet member for children, said: “I am aware of the concerns that have been raised and have asked that a review is carried out to identify exactly what holidays Waltham Forest’s children, parents and teachers feel are most appropriate to celebrate during term time.”
Parents and teaching unions have joined in the criticism of the Waltham Forest policy, which affects all community primary and secondary schools in the borough, although not Church of England or Catholic schools.
Danny Kent, 34, a financial broker from Dagenham, whose six-year-old daughter Mia goes to Woodford Green primary school, said that it could prove impractical.
“For parents, time off is a nightmare at times and it is another day you have got to take off work,” he said. “I’m self-employed so it doesn’t bother me, but it will cause some people an amount of grief.”
Jilly Darr-Sikander, 37, a Muslim from Walthamstow whose son Sami, six, also goes to the school, said that the school should remain open and warned that closing it could stir up ill feeling towards minority groups.
“If you celebrate Eid or Divali or anything else, you should take your children out of school, but I think they all want a day off.”
However, some families support the closures. Carole Vincent, a former Big Brother contestant whose seven-year-old granddaughter Lucia attends the school, said: “We should have those days off because we have Christmas and Easter off. We have our Christian holidays, but if we want to be multicultural, which I believe we do on the whole, we should have those other days.
“It gives an opportunity, when Divali or Eid is coming up, for children to be taught about these different faiths.”
Ian Moyes, Waltham Forest secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, and the borough’s Teachers Joint Committee have joined calls for the council to drop the enforced holy days.
In Newham, the other borough to close its schools for the three festivals, the population is 24 per cent Muslim, seven per cent Hindu and three per cent Sikh, the 2001 census found.