National Secular Society’s response

Mr Gary Kibble, headteacher
Batley Grammar School
Carlinghow Hill,
Batley
West Yorkshire, WF17 0AD
Cc Batley Grammar School Local Governing Body
Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE, Secretary of State for Education
26 March 2021
Dear Mr Kibble,
We are writing in response to the school’s actions following protests regarding the
use of a cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
We hope, first and foremost, that the school’s first priority is the safety and wellbeing
of the staff member in question, in addition to the safety of other staff and pupils.
The situation has disturbing echoes of the killing of Samuel Paty, the history teacher
murdered by a Muslim fanatic who objected to his use of cartoons from Charlie
Hebdo in a class about freedom of expression.
We were disappointed at the school’s immediate response, which included the
suspension of the teacher; an unequivocal apology for using a “totally inappropriate”
resource; and withdrawing teaching on the associated subject. We are further
concerned by claims that this statement was in part written by a representative of
one of the groups protesting.
The protesters are clearly seeking to attempt to impose a blasphemy taboo which
will restrict the freedom to teach. Their bullying tactics appear to have succeeded.
The school’s initial response was to acquiesce to religious demands. This was unfair
to the teacher in question and will further fuel a climate of censorship brought on by
demands to accommodate unreasonable, reactionary religious views.
By issuing an immediate apology rather than defending the principle of free
expression, one of the most precious pillars of our liberal democratic society, the
school is siding with religious fundamentalists.
Teachers should have a reasonable degree of freedom to explore sensitive subjects
and enable students to think critically. Education should open minds rather than
close them. Those responsible for our children’s education must therefore place a
high value on the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which is applicable to
ideas that may shock and offend as well as those which are received favourably.
Your actions have sent the opposite message to students. This incident is also likely
to undermine teachers’ freedom to do their jobs, on any number of sensitive
subjects, both within your school gates and beyond.
It is patronising to assume that all British Muslims will take offence at the use of a
cartoon. We urge you to keep in mind that the protesters who shout loudest are not
representative of all Muslims.
We understand that your school wants to promote cohesion and inclusivity. But this
cannot be achieved by pandering to religious groups who wish to dictate what can
and cannot be taught within the school.
We ask for an explanation of the rationale behind your decisions on this issue. And
as investigations are carried out into the matter, we urge you to uphold the vital
principle of free speech and not submit to the unreasonable demands of those who
seek to impose blasphemy taboos on society as a whole.
We look forward to your response.
We are considering this an open letter.
Yours sincerely,
Stephen Evans
Chief executive, National Secular Society

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