Sunday, March 22, 2009

British 'Islamophobe' head-teacher wins claim against Muslim-loving County Council

A campaign by two Muslim governors to give Islam a greater presence in a state school played a key part in forcing a successful head from her job, the High Court found yesterday. Erica Connor, 57, the former head teacher of the New Monument primary school in Woking, Surrey, was forced to leave the school because of stress after she was accused of Islamophobia.

The High Court ruled yesterday that Surrey County Council had failed in its duty to protect her and to intervene when the actions of the governors created problems in the school’s governing body, and awarded her 400,000 pounds damages.

The court was told that over two years, two governors campaigned to make the school more Islamic and that their behaviour had torn apart the school’s governing board. Paul Martin, a Muslim convert, tried to stir up disaffection in the community against the school and Mumtaz Saleem was verbally abusive in school meetings, it was said in court.

Although during the first five years that Mrs Connor was in charge of the school there had been good relations with the local Muslim community and improved results, the judge, John Leighton-Williams, QC, said that the situation had changed when the two men were elected as governors in 2003. He said that the school’s governing body had become dysfunctional as a result of the behaviour of the two, and that the authority’s failure to act had led to low morale and stress among staff. The council had shown excessive tolerance for the two governors and had lost sight of the adverse effects of such conduct on the school.

Judge Leighton-Williams said that the men had an agenda to increase the role of the Muslim religion in the school and that this, combined with the authority’s failure to protect Mrs Connor, had led her to suffer serious depression. “Mr Martin’s and Mr Saleem’s conduct had the effect of tearing apart the governing body, and together with the poor response by the defendants, had as their effect two years of anxiety and low morale for the school staff, stress leading to early retirement for some staff and disruption in the local community with little, if anything, positive to show for it.”

Mrs Connor told the court that she had suffered serious depression after a string of vituperative complaints against her by members of the school’s governing body, and that the council had left her as a helpless scapegoat after failing to defend her. She was forced to quit her job suffering from depression and with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Ill health forced her to take early retirement.

Mrs Connor said after the ruling: “The last five years have been a long haul, at great personal cost to myself and my family, so I am thrilled that justice has prevailed. I was subjected to dreadful pressures from a small group of individuals, unrepresentative of the local community, without the support I would have expected from Surrey County Council.”


British school subjects 'should be ranked by difficulty'

School subjects should be ranked according to difficulty to help pupils and academics determine the merits of a particular set of A levels, a leading education expert has said.

All subjects are not equal and Government exam agencies should introduce league tables reflecting this, Professor Peter Tymms, director of the Centre for Education and Monitoring at Durham University, said today. He also called for university subject tables to recognise the fact that the same degrees from different universities are not of equal quality. “It is not reasonable to expect that the difficulty of subjects are made equal by exam bodies.

“An A in physics is not the same as an A in theatre studies. A first from Cambridge is not the same as a first from another university. We need to look at league tables of subject difficulty,” Professor Tymms told a meeting of exam regulators and education policy makers.

His comments are a barb to the supporters of standardisation of exam grades which critics say is dumbing down the more academic subjects.

Fears that people will be offended if told they took soft or easy A levels have prevented the Government from admitting that some subjects are harder than others, Professor Tymms added. “There is no debate that some subjects are graded more harshly than others. There is a real problem with making subjects similar difficulty. “If you shifted them all to be the same then everyone doing further maths would get an A* and everyone doing theatre studies would fail. We need to look at the relative difficulty of subjects.”

A spokesman for the Department for Schools said: “We simply don't recognise the labels ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ A-levels. All subjects are rigorously measured against each other to maintain standards.” “The new independent regulator, Ofqual, has been set up precisely to maintain rigorous standards and control the exam and qualifications system tightly.”

The league table - which Ofqual could administer - would be based on a points system with each subject awarded points according to its relative difficulty, Professor Tymms said. University tutors and employers would use the information to help them choose between candidates with similar grades in different subjects.

A spokeswoman from Ofqual said the debate about standardisation of exams was important. "All subjects have to meet strict criteria in order to be accredited. Ofqual has led the way in looking at comparability across subjects and developing ways in which to do this.”

Professor Tymms added: “We know that [degrees] are not the same. From subject to subject and university to university they are different.”

Pam Tatlow, chief executive of million+, a university think-tank representing former polytechnics, said: “Such a league table would be fiendishly difficult to apply with any degree of reliability, is unlikely to add value to the university application process and is very likely to mislead both students and employers.”

One source close to the Government said such a league table would not be useful because no-one is under the impression that a degree from Cambridge is the same as a degree from elsewhere.


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