Row over schools shut for Muslim, Sikh, Hindu days

A London council which shuts its schools on Muslim, Sikh and Hindu holy days is rethinking its calendar.

One head teacher told officials conducting a review into the closures she was “frustrated” by the enforced holidays.

Waltham Forest Council in East London closes its state schools on Eid-Ul-Fitr, Diwali and Guru Nanak’s Birthday, which are celebrated by the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths respectively.

Controversy has surrounded the closures as Jewish residents make up more of the population than Sikhs, according to the last census, yet schools are not closed on Jewish holy days.

One in six Waltham Forest residents is Muslim, while Hindus make up only 1.8 per cent of the borough’s population.

Head teachers at two Walthamstow schools, which are in the Waltham Forest borough, criticised the closures.

Lynette Parvez, head of Kelmscott School told officials conducting the review: “For a school such as Kelmscott where the vast majority of pupils are either Christian or Muslim, there is no need to take additional time out for Diwali or Guru Nanak.

“However, the school does promote and celebrate these events allowing the very small number of staff or pupils to have religious absence days if they request.”

Rachel MacFarlane, head of Walthamstow School for Girls, told the review: “We remain frustrated by the requirement on all schools, regardless of the religious profile of the staff and student populations, to close for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh festivals.”

Councillor Liaquat Ali, Waltham Forest Council’s cabinet member for children, accepted the need for a review.

He said: “I am aware of the concerns that have been raised and have asked that a review is carried out to identify exactly what holidays Waltham Forest’s children, parents and teachers feel are most appropriate to celebrate during term time.”

The closures affect all community primary and secondary schools in the borough, but not Church of England or Catholic schools.

One other London council, Newham, which also plans to close its schools this year on Muslim and Hindu holy days, made no comment to newspapers.

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