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Parents' anger after school bans pupils from watching the eclipse for 'cultural and religious' reasons but the headteacher refuses to say what they are

    Pupils at North Primary School in London banned from watching eclipse
    Parents accused the school of going 'back to the dark ages' with decision
    Interim head teacher Ivor Johnstone cited 'religious and cultural concerns'
    But he was unable to elaborate because of 'confidentiality', one parent said
    Ealing Council confirmed it was investigating claims made by parents

By Jenny Awford and Thomas Burrows for MailOnline

Published: 14:57, 20 March 2015 | Updated: 20:28, 20 March 2015

Pupils at a primary school were banned from watching today's once-in-a-generation eclipse because of 'religious and cultural reasons', it has emerged.  Parents of children at North Primary School in Southall, London, said they were 'outraged' by the decision and claimed it showed a triumph of 'religious superstition' over scientific education.  Phil Belman, whose seven-year-old daughter goes to the school, met with interim headteacher Ivor Johnstone who said he was unable to elaborate on the decision because of 'confidentiality'.  'It's just going back to the dark ages really. My child went in having spent an hour preparing and making up her pinhole camera,' said Mr Bellman.  'This is an issue about scientific matters versus religious superstition. I am outraged is it going to be Darwin next? We will be like mid America.  I asked the headteacher to elaborate which religions and which cultures? But he said it had to be confidential. He referred us to the formal complaints procedure.  What is the head's future after all of this? I consider this totally unacceptable. I think he should be considering his position.'

Many parents voiced their concerns at the fact they had not been informed of the 'last-minute' decision by the school.  Khairoe Islam, whose son goes to the school, said: 'I'm Muslim myself and in my religion it doesn't say we can't watch it.  I don't know anything about it but if they say it's because of religion maybe they could have spoken to those people who had a problem and let the other kids enjoy it.  It shouldn't be spoiled for the rest of the school.'

Harpreet Kaur, whose siblings go to the primary school, said: 'The school didn't say anything to us.  They told the children it was for religious and cultural reasons and they were told they couldn't see it outside.  I don't think it was made very clear, even to the teachers. A friend of mine who is a teacher at the school said she didn't understand it.  I think it was quite a last-minute decision.  It's a shame because even though it was cloudy there is still the excitement of going outside and having a look.  There's quite a large Muslim community in the school and someone said it has something to do with that.  I did some reading up on it but couldn't find anything. Maybe it's some obscure reason.'

Mr Johnstone admitted pupils had been prevented from watching the first solar eclipse of this century after 'religious and cultural concerns associated with observing one directly' were raised.  It is not yet clear exactly what these concerns are, but Christian ministers have raised fears that this eclipse could signal the end of the world, or a judgement from God.  Some Hindu scriptures say that an eclipse makes believers impure.  And fundamentalists believe that they need to bathe immediately after an eclipse and chant the name of God to overcome the forces of darkness.  Headteacher Ivor Johnstone said he was unable to elaborate on the decision because of 'confidentiality'.


North Primary School, situated in the Mount Pleasant ward of Southall in Ealing, was rated 'outstanding' in its last Ofsted report in March 2013.  But this rating was largely attributed to the 'exceptional' then head teacher Rebecca Hastings, who left her post last Summer.  The report said: 'The headteacher provides outstanding leadership based on a clear vision for the school.  She has taken staff, at all levels, with her on the road to excellence and this is a tribute to her personal dedication and care for others.  Because she has been able to communicate her vision for the school so well, staff are very well motivated and work exceptionally hard and successfully to make the vision a reality.'

After she left, she was replaced by 'interim headteacher' Ivor Johnstone.  The headteacher said: 'The school made this decision when we became aware of religious and cultural concerns associated with observing an eclipse directly.  Although we are sorry for any disappointment, pupils were still able to watch the eclipse on screens in classrooms. However, the overcast conditions in West London today meant they would not have been able to see it live in any case.'

Mohammed Babar, whose five-year-old daughter Zahra is a pupil at the school, said: 'There is no cultural reason that I am aware of. If that's what they said then it would surprise me.'

Ealing Council confirmed the pupils were not allowed out of their classrooms but said they were able to see the eclipse on TV screens.

A spokesman said the council was currently investigating the claims and asked the school for further clarification about why the children were prevented from watching the eclipse.

North Primary, which is not a faith school, describes itself online as 'multicultural with a welcoming ethos'.  In the summer of July 2014, complaints made by a number of teachers led to an investigation by governors of the school.  Sometimes known as Little India, Southall is a diverse community in west London with a large Hindi population.  The school has 407 pupils on roll and around 97 per cent speak English as an additional language.  A substantial minority of them are refugees and there are a few pupils from traveller families.  The news from Southall comes after it emerged that school children across the country were forced to watch the eclipse on TV due to safety fears.  The decision by head teachers angered parents, who wanted their children to experience the rare celestial event without sitting in front of a screen.  Oldway primary school in Paignton, Devon, is one of the schools which came under fire for keeping children inside.  Head teacher Jane Smythe said she had 700 children to look after and she 'could not guarantee that they would not look at the sun'. 

Isabel Stevenson, a mother-of-four from Glasgow, added: 'So not happy about secondary school my kids go to doing NOTHING for solar eclipse tomorrow! Livid and furious. I'm on a mission today.'

North Primary School, which is non-denominational, is rated as outstanding by Ofsted.  Its cultural policy states: 'We are committed to an inclusive ethos based on the respect for and positive acknowledgement of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity.  We strive to prepare all pupils for living in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and multi-ethnic society and are committed to promoting race equality in all dimensions of the school's life and community.'