Most of us will recall attending a Madressah (Islamic School) - in fact we may well now be sending our own children to the very same schools. Most Madressahs run either five days a week after school or at the weekend, typically held in mosques. These are supplementary schools with the purpose of imparting religious knowledge and are usually run by volunteers with or without appropriate training. The majority of us will be aware of the adverse publicity both mosques and Madressahs have received over the past few years particularly in regard to child protection issues.
With this in mind the Muslims of Kirklees, West Yorkshire, in conjunction with the local social services department, launched the Madressah Project. Social Services and Community Education jointly funded the venture, the first of its kind. Shakeel Hafez, a local person with substantial knowledge of Madressahs and an appreciation of the diverse religious and cultural landscape of Kirklees, was appointed as Project Development Officer.
The objectives of this project were many-fold: the primary focus was to improve child protection policies and awareness within the Madressah network. Secondary objectives were to promote positive behaviour management of Madressah pupils, to provide training for teachers and to promote positive parenting.
As a result of this project a working document has been produced 'Safe Children Sound Learning - Guidance for Madressahs'. The aim of the document is to provide information, guidance and practical support for mosque committees and Madressah teachers to enable them to fulfil their legal responsibilities towards the children they teach. The document has been developed following extensive consultation with Madressah teachers and professional practitioners in Kirklees and beyond. The document promotes effective behaviour management of Madressah pupils; provides guidance for protection of children and young people in Madressahs; and discusses methods of ensuring health and safety of staff and pupil.
The guidance has received overwhelmingly favourable feedback, including from the Department of Education and Skills, London and the Welsh Assembly Government, Cardiff. Nadira Osmany, Service Manager for Health Partnerships in Tower Hamlets, has encapsulated her observations:
`It is visually stunning and informative. An excellent and innovative piece of work.'
Gavin Tonkin, Director of Lifelong Learning (Education) at Kirklees council was equally enthusiastic:
`I've read through the document (Safe Children Sound Learning Guidance for Madressahs). It is hugely impressive and easy to follow. Congratulations to all involved.'
Kirklees Area Child Protection Committee has agreed to integrate 'Safe Children Sound Learning - Guidance for Madressahs' in their protocols and procedures. This should enhance the credibility of the document and ensure its availability for reference to all the affiliated agencies including health, education, NSPCC, the police, and probation.
The overwhelming success of the project culminated in it being awarded the Community Care Award 2003 in the category of child protection. The judges commented:
"A very positive and practical example of work with the community and teachers to protect children and promote positive parenting.'
We are delighted that this long overdue initiative has been developed and hope to see similar developments taken up by Muslims nationally in the very near future.