April 15, 2008
Teacher accuses Islamic school of racism
Alexandra Frean, Education Editor
A former teacher at an Islamic school, who alleged that it taught an offensive and racist view of non-Muslims, has been awarded £70,000 by an employment tribunal after winning his case for unfair dismissal.
Colin Cook told the tribunal in Watford that pupils were taught from Arabic books that likened Jews and Christians to “monkeys” and “pigs” at The King Fahad Academy, which is funded and run by the Saudi Arabian Government.
The tribunal ruled that Mr Cook, a British Muslim, was unfairly dismissed from his £36,000-a-year post at the school in Acton, West London, in December 2006 after blowing the whistle on systematic cheating at a GCSE exam.
The panel found that the school created a “smokescreen” to try to justify his dismissal after 18 years’ unblemished service.
It awarded Mr Cook £58,800 in compensation for loss of earnings and £10,500 for injury to feelings. But it rejected his claim that the school discriminated against him on racial grounds.
Mr Cook told the hearing that after leaving the school another member of staff gave him extracts from an Arabic textbook, which encouraged students to believe that all religions other than Islam were worthless.
The books referred to “the repugnant characteristics of the Jews”. Another passage said: “Those whom God has cursed and with whom he is angry, he has turned into monkeys and pigs. They worship Satan.”
Mr Cook alleged that the books were spreading race hatred. “They should not be brought into this country and they should not be used in this country,” he said.
The school denied ever teaching any form of racial hatred and insisted that the offending passages in the books were “misinterpreted” and were never used in class. But it later got rid of the books.
The school was established in 1985, with the aim of providing a high-quality education acceptable to the Saudi and British authorities for the children of Saudi diplomats and other Muslim families in London.
Some of the children of the jailed extremist clerics Abu Hamza al-Masri and Abu Qatada are pupils at the school, which charges fees of up to £1,500 per year for day students.
Mr Cook alleged that in June 2006 staff wrongly allowed pupils to refer to heavily annotated course books during an English language GCSE exam.
The tribunal was told that when he suggested that the school might be trying to cover up his allegations, a senior colleague told him: “This is not England. It is Saudi Arabia.”
Mr Cook then took his complaints direct to the Edexcel exam board.
Mr Cook of Feltham, West London, taught English as a second language at the school. Giving evidence to the tribunal, he said that some pupils “talked as if they did not live in London at all”.
When he queried how Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada could be paying school fees when they were said to be on benefits, he was told to mind his own business.
He also claimed the school was seen as an extension of the Saudi Embassy rather than part of Britain, with Saudi teachers even enjoying diplomatic immunity.
Mr Cook’s solicitor, Lawrence Davies, said: “Safeguards under English law were thrown out of the window when Mr Cook was sacked.
“This school must learn that it is not the Saudi way or the highway. The tribunal has upheld justice and protected the whistle-blower.”
The tribunal panel was not required to rule on Mr Cook’s allegations about the school’s curriculum. But in its judgment, it said it had considered Mr Cook to be a “truthful witness”.
As he was a respected teacher, with an 18-year unblemished record, it ruled that the impact of his dismissal had been “nothing short of life-changing” for Mr Cook. He had received a “harsh punishment for doing what he thought was the right thing to do”, it concluded.
Mr Cook said last night: “I have been accused by people at the school and outside the school of lies and distortion. The school inferred that I had endangered pupils with my allegations.
“The evidence speaks otherwise. I told the truth all along. Islam teaches peace and honesty. Hopefully, my accusers will now realise that I acted justly and for the good of the school.”
No one at the school was available to comment.