Goodmayes’ Al-Noor Primary School: ‘It is about making our pupils fantastic citizens’

Al Noor primary school students in the classroom

Al Noor primary school students in the classroom - Credit: Archant

Walking through the make-shift rugby pitches set up by Al-Noor Primary School, the words echo round Goodmayes Park: “You can’t pass the ball forwards – only backwards in this game,” encourages one Muslim teacher to her group of school girls.

Al Noor primary school head Someera Butt and trustee Sadiq Kothia with students in the play ground

Al Noor primary school head Someera Butt and trustee Sadiq Kothia with students in the play ground - Credit: Archant

Just days before I am invited to visit the independent Al-Noor Primary School, Ofsted’s chief inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, called for schools across the country “to promote the beliefs and values that underpin British society”.

His words come in the wake of news as many as 12 schools may have fallen under the influence of Islamic extremists and now face investigation in Tower Hamlets.

If any sight was to represent modern-day British society, this was it: scores of Muslim schoolchildren braving the now crisp Autumnal weather to play tag rugby before class starts at 9am.

Someera Butt, Al-Noor’s headteacher, is watching the children from the sidelines. She says it is important in a child’s development all facets of their character are enhanced – not just their faith.

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“As well as the spiritual side of things, we need to develop the social, moral, emotional and cultural aspects of their character,” she says.

“It is about making our pupils fantastic citizens because that is what Islam requires.

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“Our religion does not require us to only be concerned about our own comfort, it requires us to be concerned about the comfort of our neighbours, the welfare of society and it requires us to make a difference.”

Talking to Someera, she reiterates why she has been happy to stay at the successful primary school for the last decade after taking on the headteacher role.

“I believe schools have the potential to reach so far into society – you are dealing with generations which are going to be tomorrow’s society,” she explains.

“So it is important they become the people that society wants and needs – to make Britain and Redbridge greater. It is a labour of love, not a vocation.”

Al-Noor Primary School, in Green Lane, Goodmayes, is applying to enter the state sector and faces a public consultation in a matter of weeks.

Sadiq Kothia, an Al-Noor trustee, reveals the independent school is striving to join the “Redbridge school family”.

When I put to him the possibility of non-Muslim pupils coming to Al-Noor, if it is accepted into the state sector, Sadiq said the school would “welcome” that situation.

“We have no problem with people of other faiths coming to Al-Noor – we look forward to it,” he says.

“Legally, we would have to provide provisions for non-Muslim children and we welcome that.”

Sadiq admits the school has not received an application for a non-Muslim pupil since Al-Noor opened in 2002.

Walking through the school’s corridors, signs adorn the walls encouraging the 175 pupils to remember the key values which pillar society, or any school for that matter - humility, modesty and honesty to name just a few.

“As a school there is a lot of emphasis on community cohesion,” Someera says. “There is a lot of about British values, which are more or less shared by all peoples and faiths.

“In this country you have so many opportunities which allow people to lead fulfilled lives.

“Britain is a pretty happy place to be because people are free.”

It is easy to see why Al-Noor has been placed on a six year inspection cycle by the Department for Education – a far cry from the snap inspections which an under performing school might face.

The core values listed on the walls are at the heart of what Al-Noor stands for.

The school follows the national curriculum along with various Islamic subjects - Qur’an reading and pronunciation, Arabic and the religions practices. There is a separate assessment for Arabic alongside the national SATS examination.

It is unlikely the success which Al-Noor has enjoyed will diminish.

“Schools, like ours, have come about because parents have chosen them,” says Someera.

“By the grace of God we have been successful because parents share the school’s values closely and support what we teach at home.

“We want to make a difference for families, their children and tomorrow’s society.”

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