Batley teacher suspended after showing Charlie Hebdo image can return

Investigation finds teacher ‘genuinely believed’ Prophet Muhammad picture had educational purpose

A teacher who ignited protests at a school in West Yorkshire after using a controversial image of the prophet Muhammad in class has been cleared of causing deliberate offence and told he can have his job back.

The teacher was suspended in March for showing pupils a drawing taken from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a religious studies classes at Batley grammar school, provoking complaints from parents and protests outside the school’s gates.

An independent external investigation, launched by the school’s governing trustees, found the teacher had shown the image on more than one occasion, but had not intended to cause offence.

A spokesperson for the Batley multi academy trust said it accepted the recommendations from the investigation and aimed to put them into practice immediately.

The trust said these included establishing a structured approach to quality assurance of individual teacher planning, and more rigorous monitoring of teaching aids. It pledged never to use images of the prophet in any future lessons.

The spokesperson said: “The findings are clear, that the teaching staff involved did not use the resource with the intention of causing offence, and that the topics covered by the lesson could have been effectively addressed in other ways.

“In the light of those conclusions, the suspensions put in place while the investigation was under way will now be lifted.

“The trust deeply regrets the distress caused by the use of this resource, and we would like to thank all of the trust’s stakeholders for their contributions and support during what has been a difficult period.”

The investigation concluded that the teacher “genuinely believed that using the image had an educational purpose and benefit”, to start a discussion about the meaning of blasphemy.

The teacher and his family are reported to have been in hiding since the end of March, because of threats, and it is thought unlikely that he will return to work at the school. The trust declined to comment.

Batley and Spen, the constituency where the school and many parents are based, faces a byelection to replace Tracy Brabin as MP after her election as West Yorkshire mayor.

Kim Leadbeater, Labour’s candidate and the sister of former Batley MP Jo Cox, who was murdered by a far right terrorist in 2016, said: “I am pleased that measures will be put in place to ensure that the offence caused does not happen again – and I welcome what the school has said about that – but it is completely unacceptable that a teacher was forced into hiding and his family were put at risk.

“The report makes clear that while mistakes were made, this was not done out of any malice or ill-intent. Staff should now be supported to get on with the important job of helping all their pupils get the best education possible.”

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, stepped into the controversy in March, with the Department for Education issuing a statement saying: “It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge.

“However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”

On Wednesday, a spokesperson from the DfE said: “Batley grammar has rightly set out a plan to move forward from the events of previous weeks. We would encourage parents, families and the local community to recognise the findings of the independent investigation – that the teachers who used the images in question had no negative intent – and to welcome and support the trust’s comprehensive plan to strengthen its oversight of the curriculum.”

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