Major school exams across the UK have been moved to accommodate Islam and students who fast during the month of Ramadan, following new measures set in place by education authorities.
The GCSE and A-level schedule has been rearranged so that some exams in key subjects are clustered before the start of Islam’s month of fasting.
This year Ramadan is expected to fall in early June and the examination boards say they have met with Muslim groups and complied with their wishes to avoid scheduling exams in the most popular subjects during the period.
“Where possible, large-entry GCSE and GCE [A-level] subjects are timetabled prior to the commencement of Ramadan and consideration is given to whether they are timetabled in the morning or afternoon,” said the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents examination boards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Several core maths exams appear to have been shifted to earlier dates than last year, meaning candidates will have fewer days to revise. The new measures are likely to be in place for at least five years, until Ramadan no longer clashes with the exam season.
The month, which runs from June 6 to July 5 this summer, moves backward through the calendar by around 11 days a year.
Anne Longfield, the government’s children’s commissioner for England, said she applauded the move when she appeared before parliament’s education committee at a hearing on Wednesday. She added that it is “important we understand the individual children in this.”
Plenty of other groups asked just why it was that the entire British education system should be changed to accommodate just one faith with followers that make up just 4.8 per cent of the population.
“They should let things be,” Colin Hart, of the pressure group Christian Concern, told the Daily Mail. “How can you start changing the rules for everybody just to accommodate those particular pupils who are Muslims, who are in a minority?
“We don’t live in Saudi Arabia where they need to fit the exams around sharia principles. It’s wrong imposing this festival on everybody else.”
Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, said: “If there are a significant number of Muslim students that are affected and calling for a change, they should be accommodated, but only if this can be achieved with no or minimal disruption.”
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, founding secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, defended the decision as “fair and just. But this is not a special privilege and it is within the JCQ policy, which is welcomed and appreciated.”
“People often accuse Muslims of demanding special rights and provisions,” he added. “We don’t want them.
“This is of particular relevance when it comes to accommodating faith communities for their religious festivals, particularly Muslim and Jewish communities, who follow the lunar calendar.
“Religious communities need to be able to celebrate their festivities without being burdened by examinations on these special days.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that her union had been campaigning on the issue of exams during Ramadan for more than a year.
“As educators we want all children to be able to achieve their best in exams that are so crucial to their future,” she said. “We shall continue to raise awareness of best practice and how education staff can support students during Ramadan.”
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