On one of the mass marches for Palestine in London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Parents, carers and pupils in east London are in revolt over a school’s threats to refer those who show support for Palestine to the government’s anti-terrorist Prevent programme or the police.

The management of Barclay Primary School in Leyton has caused uproar among sections of the people whose children attend the school. 

“I feel there is Islamophobia, there is a different way of treating Muslims to how they treat others,” one parent told Socialist Worker.

In one of the most shocking examples, parents say the school took action against an eight year old student, whose mother is from Gaza.

His parent told the BBC Asian Network, “He’s been off school for a while after refusing the school’s request to remove a Palestinian badge on his coat. That was him remembering his dead relatives, his dead friends who he’d speak to on FaceTime in Gaza. 

“It was showing empathy with his dead relatives. He hasn’t made any political comments but we were told we were breaching school policy and it was not allowed. He was not allowed to have playtime. He was not allowed to have lunch with his year group.”

A protest was set for Thursday this week. But at the last moment, the academy trust which administers the school sent out a letter claiming that because of “the unwarranted escalation of direct threats against staff and the school today based on misrepresentations, falsehoods and malicious fabrications the Lion Academy Trust will be closing the Barclay Primary School to all parents and pupils for the Christmas break.”

The parent said, “This issue isn’t going away. They can shut the school now, but we will want to secure justice in January. We want to be able to show our support for Palestine.

“And, by the way, It’s typical they closed for Christmas at the last minute without giving proper notice.”

The issue has been bubbling for weeks. Around 50 parents held a meeting to talk about the school’s attitude.

On 17 November the school wrote to parents and carers saying “It has come to my attention that as part of Children In Need day that your child came to school dressed in either Palestinian colours, or wearing badges and stickers. 

It said “this overt demonstration of political beliefs” could be offensive to “some members of the school community”.

It went on to claim the school is “deliberately apolitical”. It then threatened “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.”

Parents and carers replied with a joint response that contrasted the approach to Palestine with the way the school dealt with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

It said, “We have found it particularly difficult to read your letter compatibly with your letter in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the latter, you state, ‘“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 and to its people. 

“‘There’s no escaping the fact that the events of the last few days have utterly transformed world politics.’”

The parent’s response makes more general comments about how schools across Britain have acted. It says, “Displays of solidarity with Palestinians, for example vocally reaffirming the right of Palestinians to resist the occupying power through armed resistance (United Nations Resolution 37/43) are readily perceived as support for Hamas or other proscribed groups.”

The school did not back off. In a letter seen by Socialist Worker from 18 December, Aaron Wright, the school’s executive headteacher, denounced what he called “false and malicious allegations” being made on social media platforms. The letter said, “We are working to address this with the police. the Department for Education. Ofsted and local safeguarding structures to tackle the disinformation being produced. 

“Sadly, it seems that there is a tiny minority of carers/parents who have elected to work against the school. The full range of measures to get this resolved are being deployed and we will take all steps necessary to address this.”

Then came Wednesday’s letter which denies all the parents’ accusations. Parents said they would continue with their protest. 

Join the protest Thursday 21 December, 8:30am, Barclay Primary School, Canterbury Road, Leyton, London E10 6EJ

In another example of action over Palestine, management at Bury College in Greater Manchester wrote to all students, parents and carers to threaten demonstrators.

It says, “You may be aware that there was a protest outside the College at both Millenium and Woodbury Centres on Tuesday 12 December, following which we received a number of complaints. Whilst we will defend your right to peaceful, lawful protest, elements of the protest were unacceptable, intimidatory and threatening. Please be aware that the College Code of Conduct will be applied in these situations.”

It adds that “information (including images) about students taking part in these protests” may be shared with the police.”

A student at Bury College told Socialist Worker, “The college is denying us our voice. It fundraised for Ukraine, but we speak out about Palestine and are criticised and threatened. We have the right to speak out, and the protests on 12 December were not intimidating.”

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