Published: September 30, 2011
by PETER GRUNER
ADVICE warning schools against taking part in a Palestinian literature festival brought further embarrassment for the Town Hall this week.
Labour council leader Councillor Catherine West refused to condemn the official who gave the “guidance”, while at the same time supporting the festival being held in Tottenham this weekend.
However, her stance appears in direct conflict with Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, who denounced the official last week for deterring schools from taking part in the event.
It also emerged that Education Secretary Michael Gove had written to schools urging them not to take part.
Cllr West, in a letter to the Tribune, writes: “Local authority letters asking schools to abide by the law and present a balance in the way this sensitive topic is taught appear prosaic but in fact are important, as there is sadly no consensus yet on this crucial but highly-contested subject.”
Former children’s laureate Michael Rosen is among those involved in the festival, organised by Haringey Justice for Palestine group.
Mr Rosen accused Islington Council of “draconian” behaviour by not discussing its concerns about the festival with organisers before issuing the advice.
Supporters of the festival argue that similar guidance was not given to schools when Israeli and other events have taken place.
The advice came from the council’s corporate director of children’s services, Eleanor Schooling, who warned that the “political” nature of the event might contravene the 1996 Education Act.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has repeatedly voiced its concerns. “Schools should be among the safest, most inclusive places in society where children are not exposed to imbalanced, inflammatory or extremist views,” it said.
“By inviting the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to address their children, schools were risking such views entering the classroom. The Board of Deputies felt compelled to raise our concerns at the highest level with the schools, local authorities and the Department for Education.”