Is banning prayers in school discriminatory?

Michaela Secondary School and Sixth Form lead by Katherine Birbalsingh is openly secular. It is also the BEST school in the country. It has ranked number 1 for Progress 8 in the last two years. It gets better GCSE results than many private schools despite having 25% of its pupils on Free School Meals.

For eight years they had no prayers in school, and provided no prayer rooms for pupils, making this clear to the students and parents before they chose the school.

Now, one of the school’s pupils is suing the school on the basis that the prayer ban is discriminatory. Birbalsingh is fighting back against this and wants to maintain the prayer ban for the benefit of everyone else.

Historical Context to the prayer ban

When they opened in 2014 30% of the school population was Muslim, which the school has since grown to 50%.

Birbalsingh points out that it is not possible for the school to have prayer rooms and maintain its strict ethos of silent corridors and staff attending ‘family lunches’ where children eat together in assigned groups of six.

This is because they don’t have enough space to provide prayer rooms for 350 Muslim pupils, so would have to open up many of the classrooms instead, which would mean removing bags and books and other pupils carrying all of their stuff with them. It would have knock on effects, probably meaning corridors would not be silent.

Because of the lack of prayer rooms pupils were allowed to pray outside, but somehow word spread outside the school that were no prayer rooms and an online petition was created to encourage the school to get indoor prayer rooms (which wouldn’t work).

The petition escalated into threats against school staff from outside.

During Ramadan recently this started to have a knock on effect with some of the Muslim pupils, with some of them applying peer pressure on less devout pupils who didn’t fast during Ramadan to do so.

As a result of all of the above Birbalsingh banned all prayer because it had become a divisive issue. The school had previously been a happy place where everyone got along regardless of religion or ethnicity.

The prayer ban is entirely in line with pupils of most faiths making sacrifices so all students can get along. Some Christian parents, for example, don’t like Sunday revision sessions but they put up with it for the benefit of the collective.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is clearly relevant to both the sociology of religion and education.

You use this to criticise postmodern ideas about education. It seems that a good old functionalist ethos of schooling where the community comes first works to get the best results!

The school has succeeded so far because all individuals make certain sacrifices for the benefit of the whole.

Now we have one pupil hell-bent on changing everything so they can get their way.

It seems to me that there is no case of discrimination here, just one upset individual who needs to learn to sacrifice like everyone else. If they get their way, everyone else is going to suffer.

Of course if you think that people CHOOSE their religion, and their way of practicing it, then it’s impossible for this to be discriminatory.

This is a very interesting case of individual rights versus the collective good. It’s a good example of how individualism has gone too far in our postmodern age, maybe…?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from ReviseSociology

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading