Britain Changing School Exam Schedules For Ramadan – Because Islam Trumps All Concerns And Practicalities

If Muslim pupils at British schools are doing badly in their exams because they are starving hungry all day during Ramadan, should we:

a) Move the exams for hundreds of thousands of other pupils earlier in the year before Ramadan starts, or move them from the afternoon to the mornings when the children are less hungry, or;

b) Give the children something to eat?

So which of these solutions do you think our esteemed education establishment decided to opt for? Go on, you’ll never guess.

Of course they chose the first option because, in 21st century Britain, the requirement to be sensitive to multi-cultural needs and, in particular, the needs of Islam, trumps all other concerns of practicality or common sense.

The Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has confirmed that talks are being held around “delaying the exam timetable” to lessen the impact on taking tests for the one in 12 pupils in English and Welsh schools who are now Muslim.

So, the exams boards have adapted the exam timetable for a number of GCSE and A level exams this summer to take into account the effects of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours.

Core exams such as English and Maths will be held before the “holy month” begins in early June and other popular exams moved from the afternoon to the morning, when Muslim students will not be so affected by their lack of sustenance.

Similar measures are likely to be in place for the next five years, until Ramadan (which moves forward about 11 days every year) no longer clashes with the exam season.

This is the solution offered by the powers-that-be in our educational establishment and it is, of course, backed by many of the teaching unions anxious to prove their devotion to inclusivity to all and sundry.

This solution is, however, utterly wrong-headed and misguided and, indeed, goes against all expert advice on the nutritional needs of growing children and their ability to learn on an empty stomach.

There are many things that can affect how a child does in their school exams. Illness, parental divorce, a family death, or bullying, for instance. All of those things are outside of their control but, by and large, they just have to get on with their exams and hope to do their best.

Then there are the girls who have period pain on the day of a crucial examination, and what about the huge number of pupils who suffer through exams, sneezing, eyes streaming and nose running thanks to hay fever?

Yet no one seems to be remotely concerned about those pupils, all of whom can suffer lower grades than they deserve through no fault or choice of their own.

Instead the educational powers-that-be have decided that they DO care about pupils whose parents have CHOSEN to impair their ability to achieve well in their exams by refusing to allow them to eat and drink during daylight hours.

Because, make no mistake about it, the decision to fast during the holy month of Ramadan is a choice.

Yes, Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and all Muslims expected to fast between sunrise and sundown during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. However, there is no requirement for every adult to fast, with pregnant or breastfeeding women exempt as well as the elderly, the unwell and those on arduous journeys or working as an airline pilot or a surgeon.

And, crucially, under Islamic law, children are not required to fast during Ramadan at all. The issue is when the parents deem their child to have reached maturity, with some believing that puberty is the threshold, even as young as nine, while others believe it to be 18.

Fundamentally, though, the decision for a Muslim parent to allow their child to go to school hungry is entirely their own. Indeed, I imagine many sensible Muslim parents already know this and let their children eat and drink as normal during Ramadan.

Just because people believe something is sanctioned by a religious text doesn’t make it right.

Imagine if a non-Muslim parent chose to send their child to school every day for a month, and especially on the days of crucial exams, without any breakfast and a requirement that they do not eat lunch, snack or take so much as a sip of water.

Do you honestly think that teachers wouldn’t be on the phone to social services that very day? Of course they would.

Yet because the fasting is religiously based, then everyone is required to nod and accommodate it, rather than point out the actual truth: requiring your child not to eat or drink from sunrise to sundown is not something we should condone or accommodate.

There are many countries in the world that follow the teachings of Islam as a matter of state policy. Britain is not one of them and neither should it seek to become one. Our laws and customs, public holidays, school terms and exam dates are not centred around the needs of Sharia but based on our history and culture as a country based on a Christian heritage.

Everyone in Britain is free to follow their faith or none as they choose. If Muslim parents choose to harm their children’s education by sending them to school hungry during Ramadan, then that is their choice and they – and their children – must live with the consequences of that decision.

Instead of changing exam dates for every child in the country because a minority of Muslim pupils are being denied food by their parents, there is a far, far simpler solution readily to hand: give those pupils something to eat.

You can follow Julia Hartley-Brewer on Twitter at @JuliaHB1


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