THURROCK COUNCIL has launched an investigation into why parents from five schools in Thurrock chose to remove children from lessons covering Islam.
Further details were revealed during a meeting on Wednesday when the issue was debated with one mother speaking out to confirm why she decided to take the drastic action.
Heather Rogers, 31, from South Ockendon confirmed she had taken the unusual step but not because she disagreed with the religion.
She said: “To me this is not about Islam, it is the fact that my kids came home and called it an ‘intensive’ study. If they said it was an intensive study on Christianity, I would have done the same.
“An intense study just sounds full-on. Maybe if it was worded better and they just said this week we would do such and such and explained it each week it would have sounded better but instead it’s an intense study.
“When I was growing up we would learn about all religions but I don’t agree with an intense study. Schools should teach about all of them equally so that children can decide to be part of a religion if they want to.”
She admitted her children did learn about other religions throughout the school year.
She removed her children twice over two years, with the lessons on Islam amounting to about two weeks of learning.
While she stressed that she did not take issue with the religion of Islam, some parents who had also removed their children at the same time told her that they had done so because they disagreed with Islam being taught in schools at all.
She said: “Unfortunately, with social media a lot of people only see part of the story and are a bit blinkered to understanding the whole religion. When they think of Islam they think of terrorism and destruction, but that is only extremists. Some parents do have the wrong impression because of all the media hype.”
“If they are pulling their children out for the sake of it being Islam then they need educating to know that although terrorists can be linked, that is extremism not the religion.”
A councillor has said that if one parent removes their child from a lesson over objections to the teaching of Islam, it is one too many.
Labour Councillor Martin Kerin made the remarks after Wednesday’s meeting and hinted that the council may take some form of action once the investigation is completed.
Mr Kerin, who is also a member of the council’s religious education advisory group, said: “We need to do this investigation to find out how many times this has happened. Even one parent doing it is one too many.
“If a child is at a school and asked to take part in a collective act of worship and they want to withdraw then they can but this is not about being asked to do that. This is learning about Islam in the same way children learn about other religions.
“We shouldn’t exclude one faith because of a certain view and think I don’t want my children to learn about that. We can’t say we’ll do a week on Judaism and then sit out a week on Islam.
“I am hoping that when the report is concluded sometime in the summer it will only be a minute number of people and we can handle it in the least intrusive way but that is in an ideal world. Once we get the information, we may not like what it says.”
Since the 1944 Education Act came into force, parents have had the right to withdraw their children from all or part of religious education lessons.
Mr Kerin said he couldn’t comment on this until after the investigation had been completed.
“I can’t pre-judge this investigation,” he said.
“I don’t know the reasons for this, I don’t know if it is just a handful of schools and I don’t know they are all in the same area and it is geographical, so I wouldn’t want to commit to a course of action until I know.
“If we don’t look into this it could be the start of a slippery slope. What will be next, will a parent want to remove their child from French or German lessons because we are leaving the European Union or from history lessons because they don’t agree with a certain part of it?”
Southend Council said they are not aware of a similar issue in the area but they will discuss Thurrock’s investigation at an upcoming meeting and consider looking into it further.
Essex County Council said no collective data is held on withdrawals as it is retained by individual schools instead.