Pro-Palestinian protests in schools ‘being stoked on social media’

Woodford County High School, in north London, said it had removed images of the Palestinian flag from school white boards and pin boards and “at times (the flags) were inflicted on school property as graffiti”.

Jo Pomeroy, the headteacher, stressed in a letter to parents last week that schools were “apolitical organisations” and “school populations are not to be used as captive audiences for political messaging by anyone”.

Schools in the London borough of Redbridge were made aware of a plan set up by students to wear the colours of the Palestinian flag, or to draw the flag on their hands, at school last Friday, Ms Pomeroy told parents.

“Social media is a powerful but a potentially damaging tool at such times,” she wrote. “Young people are in receipt of vast amounts of unfiltered information and being called upon to involve themselves in all sorts of activities.

“Girls are responding to rallying cries on social media thus to draw attention to the issue,” she added.

A letter from Redbridge Borough Council also went out to parents adding that students may have “strong feelings” about the Israel-Palestine conflict, but if those views “lead to any other student or adult being treated unjustly, then that is not acceptable”.

The school and the council received a number of complaints over the weekend both criticising, and in support of, the letters, a council spokesman told The Telegraph.

Woodford County High is the latest in a string of secondary schools facing protests from students wishing to express their views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Earlier this week, protesters gathered outside Allerton Grange School, in Leeds, after Mike Roper, the headteacher, called the Palestinian flag a “call to arms”. He has since issued an apology.

a group of people wearing costumes: Prostesters outside Allerton Grange School after the headtacher's 'call to arms' comments© Provided by The Telegraph Prostesters outside Allerton Grange School after the headtacher's 'call to arms' comments

A petition, launched by Woodford Alumni, called for an apology from Ms Pomeroy and said it was “extremely unfair to suggest that (students) are senselessly” responding to what they saw online.

Ms Pomeroy has since apologised for any offence caused, stating “that was, of course, no part of my intention but where that has been its effect, please accept my unreserved apology”.

The council added that schools had a duty to “secure balanced treatment of political issues”, but they “also have a critical role to play in creating opportunities for students to discuss and learn about politics issues, both current and historic”.

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It also dismissed “false social media rumours” that students expressing pro-Palestinian views at Redbridge schools would face sanctions, exclusions or be referred to Prevent – the Government’s strategy to safeguard against radicalisation.

Next month a specialist organisation, Solutions Not Sides, would deliver a “non-partisan programme” with input from both Israelis and Palestinians in around 15 schools in the borough, a council spokesman confirmed.

It comes as a staff member at de Ferrers Academy, in Burton upon Trent, Staffs, is facing calls to resign after they reportedly ordered a student to wash off a Palestinian flag they had drawn on their hand.

A petition calling for the teacher to be sacked had more than 1,100 signatures by Thursday evening. It is not clear if the person who started the petition has any links to the school.

The school said that before it was able to investigate the incident, which took place last week, “many deeply unpleasant and unacceptable posts” were made on social media.

Ian McNeilly, chief executive of The de Ferrers Academy Trust, which has seven schools in the area, has called on the Department for Education to investigate the issue of in-school protests.

“We are teachers, school leaders and are also increasingly expected to be social workers, mental health practitioners and a variety of other things,” he told The Telegraph.

“We cannot be experts on everything, particularly the complexities of politics and conflicts in the Middle East.

“We could do with some help from the Department of Education in terms of quality assured teaching resources on the complexities around these issues which have been prepared and written sensitively by experts in their field.”

The Department for Education confirmed it is working to produce guidance to help schools remain impartial, while also allowing students to have positive discussions around sensitive topics.

A department spokesperson said: “Teaching needs to promote respect and tolerance between people of different political beliefs, and schools must maintain political impartiality by law. We are working on further guidance to support them in this.”

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