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Outcry as UK school threatens children over Gaza solidarity

Outcry after UK school takes measures against children for supporting Gaza
4 min read
22 December, 2023
Parents have since kickstarted a protest at Barclay Primary School in east London after students began wearing stickers and badges in solidarity with Palestine

A London school has faced a backlash over its alleged handing of children showing solidarity with Palestine

During a non-uniform day to raise funds for BBC's Children in Need appeal, East London’s Barclay Primary School issued a letter warning some parents that their children were at risk of being referred to the UK government's controversial Prevent counter-terrorism programme

The letter, dated 17 November, sent to eight families warned that displays of the Palestinian flag or wearing "badges, jewellery and stickers" were "overt demonstrations of political beliefs" that could be "deemed offensive". 

The letter also suggested that the children could be used by their parents as “political pawns” and accused parents of comments made on social media and on WhatsApp groups. 

"These should not be brought into school or acted out in parent WhatsApp groups that can easily be misconstrued as offensive or divisive and in some cases a form of extremism," the letter said. 

"Inappropriate comments made at school or demonstrated at school, including extremist or divisive comments, can and will lead to formal meetings with the school, referrals to the PREVENT Team or the Hate Crime Team in Waltham Forest." 

One of the families to receive the letter was of an 8-year-old British-Palestinian child who wore a Palestinian flag stitched on the side of their jacket. 

One parent of the child said that he had not attended school since 23 November, as he has friends and family who were killed in Israel’s war on Gaza

In an interview with Novara Media, Shahid Achhala said that staff members at Barclay Primary banned his son from playing outside or eating lunch with his year group. He was also allegedly instructed to wear a “ridiculously oversized coat” that was perceived as a joke by his classmates. 

Acchala said that his son was told that he would not be accepted on school grounds if he wore his own coat. Despite enduring such challenges, he told the media outlet that his child is “adamant that he wants to keep the flag on because it represents who he is”. 

Following the school’s remarks, a formal letter of complaint backed by several parents was sent in response on 20 November.  

The letter addressed "distinct concerns" over how “Palestine solidarity and political engagement is being handled” by Barclay Primary. 

This included alleged incidents of anti-Palestinian discrimination since 7 October, including the exclusion of students for wearing badges reading ‘Free Palestine’.  The school has strongly denied this claim.

The letter also claimed there was a double standard, with a vastly different approach between the current crisis in Gaza and the school’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

The letter attached a quote from a previous letter dated 2 March 2022 which discussed the Ukraine war.

"I don’t know how you’re feeling at the moment but everything in life seems slightly trivial when you compare what’s happening in Ukraine," the letter read. 

"The Children’s School Council will be meeting next week to plan our own fundraising event to raise money for global charity organisations directly involved in the Ukrainian conflict."

Parents and pro-Palestine campaigners rallied outside Barclay Primary School on Thursday. Video footage also circulated across social media that saw dozens of people carrying Palestinian flags and banners with calls by some parents for the head to be sacked.

Prior to Thursday's protest, Barclay Primary announced it would be closing early for Christmas upon hearing about the planned parent-led protest and said "false" claims by parents could put teachers at risk.

In a press statement on its website, the school has denied any wrongdoing and said that it "will be taking all necessary steps to resolve this [issue] correctly".   

Aaron Wright, former headteacher of the school, allegedly wrote to parents of students at Barclay and other primary schools run by the Lion Academy Trust in 2015 to prevent students from fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. 

This prompted criticism from the Muslim Association of Britain.