Chilling testimonies from over 30 London Academy of Excellence (LAE) alumni reveal the distressing experiences Muslim students faced during their time at the sixth form. After several years of complaints and concerns over structural Islamophobic incidents at LAE, to no avail, ‘former students of London Sixth Form, London Academy of Excellence (LAE), seek justice over Islamophobic treatment’.
The London Academy of Excellence is a free school situated in the London borough of Newham, which has the second highest percentage of Muslims in the UK. LAE receives direct government funding and has minimal local accountability since it is not run by the local authority. In a press statement released by organisers of the ‘LAE-Xposed’ campaign, which is run by LAE alumni, revelations of Muslims being ostracised for engaging in religious practices as well as creating a climate of fear and hostility was presented. The following testimonies were taken from the LAE-Xposed campaign press release:
Former student Mubasharah, who attended LAE from 2013-2015, recounts:
“LAE had an obvious disdain for students who chose to pray. There were multiple systems put in place to stop us from praying, from locking up classrooms, issuing warnings to handing out detentions and humiliating students who chose to pray. Over time we felt like we were criminalised; we had to appoint a lookout every time we had to pray in order to prevent getting caught, getting suspended, and our grades being impacted. It felt like praying was a crime.”
“Those who were late to class due to finding prayer space were threatened with harsher punishments including suspensions. If we were caught praying in the building, detentions were given out. It was a very hostile environment, we were made to feel like we were terrorists or extremists just because we wanted to pray. We had to choose between our religion and our studies as getting on the bad side of the teachers meant jeopardising our predicted grades.”
🚨Students were made to feel like extremists…🚨
Testimony from an ex-student
(Thread 1/4) pic.twitter.com/YCtD5Z9rS3
— LAE-XPOSED (@lae_exposed) March 18, 2022
"When are you going to Syria?"
"When are you going to become a jihadi bride?"
"Muslim girls do nothing with their lives"
Just SOME of the Islamophobic comments made by @LAEstratford staff members.
— LAE-XPOSED (@lae_exposed) March 15, 2022
🚨 Students forced to pray on the Street 🚨
— LAE-XPOSED (@lae_exposed) March 21, 2022
A teacher who previously worked at LAE recalls his personal experiences:
“LAE used to invite Prevent in two to three times a year; you don’t even get as much mental health training as this which is probably more important. They used to say really strange things such as, ‘you need to watch out for small hints on what’s going on with your students that could be a form of radicalisation, watch out for signs which may tell you your students may go abroad and join ISIS’, ‘if they carry around a Quran, report it’, ‘if they say Allahu Akbar, report it, it’s a form of radicalisation’. I was the only Muslim in a staff room full of 30-40 staff, if I voiced my opinion everyone would stare at me. I was marginalised, I just had to sit back and watch it.”
Students also attested to teachers displaying microaggressions which marginalised students such as saying, “leave your religion at home” during morning registration and parents being called “strict”, “controlling” and “backwards”. They argue the behaviours displayed were explicitly in contradiction to the Department for Education’s advice to school leaders and staff’s responsibility to fulfil the Public Sector Equality Duty. The press statement expresses: ‘Specifically, they state that one of the ways to advance ‘equality of opportunity’ is to meet the needs of people who have a particular characteristic, for example: “enabling Muslim pupils to pray at prescribed times.” Department for Education, “Equality Act 2010: Advice for Schools,” GOV.UK, June 28, 2018,’.
Prayer Banned and Criminalised
Further distressing testimonies express how students were forced to pray in bathrooms, hide under the stairs, in small alleyways, in the dark, or even pray in the rain for fear of being discriminated against academically. Furthermore, students’ efforts to work with the senior leadership team proposing to use the school hall as a prayer room were continuously rejected for reasons the students felt did not make sense and were inconsistent with other activities teachers allowed in the hall.
A current student at LAE who remains anonymous speaks of their current struggles to obtain a prayer space:
“A group of students (including anonymised student) went on to use a room within LAE, without seeking permission due to this rejection, which they continued to use until they were ‘caught’ by a member of the senior leadership. After their prayer, he told them that this space is primarily used for educational purposes. He also told them to either ‘go outside and pray’ or to ‘go to Westfield and pray’”.
“Half the number of classrooms are available during lunchtime, however, this access is denied for prayer….Multiple clubs/societies and interventions run throughout the week and room access is given for these clubs to run.”
Taking a Stand Against Structural Islamophobia in Our Institutions
On the 15th of March LAE-Xposed launched a Twitter storm which received overwhelming support from over 80 organisations, individuals as well as students.
We are the borough with one of the biggest and most diverse Muslim populations in the UK and maybe Europe.
Yet we still live under the strong grip of #Islamophobia in our institutions and people that hold power.
— Newham Muslims (@NewhamMuslims) March 15, 2022
Hearing from students the Islamophobia they faced by their school @laestratford we demand justice for them! @ofstednews @educationgovuk@nadhimzahawi @lynbrownmp @stephenctimms @rokhsanafiaz@CllrSarahRuiz @BrightonCollege@lae_exposed#JusticeForLAEAlumni pic.twitter.com/t1WfP7zJXb
— Mansoor Adayfi منصور الضيفي (@MansoorAdayfi) March 15, 2022
Our caseworkers have shared that the stories coming out from @LAEstratford alumni; this has been one of the most traumatic and painful cases to date.@CllrSarahRuiz @rokhsanafiaz @nadhimzahawi @stephenctimms @lynbrownmp @BrightonCollege @Ofstednews #JusticeforLAEAlumni
— FOSIS (@fosischannel) March 15, 2022
Muslim prayer has been banned at LAE since 2015. Students have been working hard to gain back the space that was taken by SLT. @LAEStratford must respond to complaints #JusticeforLAEAlumni @Ofstednews @lynbrownmp @stephenctimms @rokhsanafiaz @CllrSarahRuiz @BrightonCollege
— তাসনিম (@mindintheskies) March 15, 2022
They seek to hold those responsible to account and demand the following from LAE:
- • A reversal of the decision made by the LAE governing body in 2015 regarding the removal of the onsite prayer facilities that allowed communal prayers;
- • Appropriate remedies to discriminatory policies and processes within the Sixth Form;
- • Action to be taken against staff found in the investigation to have been Islamophobic and have failed in their duty of care towards LAE pupils;
- • A full and unreserved apology to LAE pupils and alumni, concerned individuals and the wider Muslim community;
- • A commitment to address institutional Islamophobia and to build an inclusive environment for Muslim students at LAE, in line with the Equalities Act 2010.
We commend the students of LAE for their courage to recall traumatic experiences and their determination to end the structural Islamophobia which has impacted students for years. We pray for the success of this campaign and hope it sends a message to other institutions who follow similar discriminatory practices which deny students their right to practice their faith.
Continue following the campaign on social media:
Maira Khan is a UCL Psychology graduate who also holds a postgraduate degree in Health Psychology. She has been involved in many community-based projects, volunteering with Lighthouse Advocacy and is currently the Campaigns Coordinator for Islam21c. Maira aspires to become a researcher and intends to make a contribution to the field of international relations by shedding light on international complicity towards injustices globally.