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Mystery over closed Muslim school

Parents were demanding answers today after a Muslim free school facing accusations of introducing strict religious practices was forced to close on health and safety grounds.

Al-Madinah School in Derby shut its doors to pupils just hours after Ofsted arrived at the school yesterday to conduct an inspection.

Ofsted said the school's principal Stuart Wilson took the decision after inspectors shared their initial findings with him.

In a statement on the school's website, Mr Wilson said that Al-Madinah would be closing due to a health and safety issue.

It is understood that the move was linked to concerns about safeguarding pupils.

An Ofsted spokesman said: "We can confirm that Ofsted is currently undertaking a two-day inspection of the Al-Madinah School in Derby.

"As a result of findings that our inspectors have shared with the principal during the first day of the inspection, we understand that he wrote to parents informing them that the school would be closed the following day.

"The inspection of the school is continuing as planned.

"We have also informed the Department for Education and the local authority of our initial findings.

"As the inspection is in progress, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time."

Al-Madinah, which is one of the Government's flagship free schools, opened in September last year.

On its website, it describes "a strong Muslim ethos" with shorter holidays and longer school days "to maximise opportunities for pupil achievement and success".

It adds: "At the centre of our school is a community of pupils, able to enjoy learning in a caring Islamic environment which promotes a culture of high expectations and outstanding performance."

Recently, t here have been reports in the media that female teachers at the school were forced to wear hijabs even if they were not Muslim.

Other reports claimed that female pupils were made to sit at the back of the classroom and males at the front.

Today, the glass doors leading into the school on Nelson Street were locked but the lights were on.

Signs on the door said the school was having an Ofsted inspection.

A spokesman for the school, who did not want to be named, said the school was closed today.

When asked when it would reopen, he said: "We don't know."

He declined to comment further.

Parents arrived at the secondary sector of the school after receiving a one-line letter advising them of the closure yesterday afternoon when they went to collect their children.

The primary sector of the school on Friar Gate in the city was also closed for an Ofsted inspection.

A 39-year-old woman who arrived with her two sons, aged 11 and seven, said they had been told they could come in to ask any questions after receiving the letter.

She said: "We've been told the school has been temporarily closed for health and safety reasons. They haven't told us what they are.

"They said the school should be open to children again by Monday."

She said she had been pleased with the school and its education before the closure.

"I'm very happy with the education. My concerns are about the closure of the school. They said there had been a few issues but not enough to close the school."

The mother said she had been told by one teacher at the school that girls were made to sit at one side of the room and boys the other.

"It is not a problem," she said.

She said, as far as she was aware, it was "not compulsory" for staff to wear the hijab.

In his statement on the school's website, Mr Wilson, who is acting principal said: "Owing to a health and safety issue, I have taken the decision to close the school to primary and secondary pupils until I am confident that all children are safe on site.

"As parents, you will be informed directly, and on the website, when you are able to send your children back to school. I expect this to be in the very near future.

"We have your children's best interests at heart."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We were already investigating this school before allegations became public.

"We discussed the problems with Ofsted and it launched an immediate inspection. We are waiting for Ofsted's final report and considering all legal options."

Mohammed Ali, whose six-year-old daughter attends the school, said parents needed answers about what was happening.

The 35-year-old father said: "It has been one month that my child has been attending this school and just yesterday they give us a one-line letter from the principal saying they are going to shut the school without any reasons. We need answers.

"We've been really pleased with our six-year-old daughter's education so far. I'm really happy with the school. But we want to know what is actually going on.

"We've been reading the reports in the local newspaper and I'm not happy because there are other issues reported in there. As a parent we are really concerned."

He said he had asked Ofsted about the investigation and they said they could not tell him how long the school would be closed.

"I asked them to explain why but they said they didn't have an answer. They said it was a safety issue. When I asked for more information she said it was confidential.

"It's about the future of our children so we need to know. We want answers, we want to know what is going on and what the problems are."

Another parent who arrived at the school with his wife said they had been told it would reopen within a week.

Shabid Bhatti said: "We don't really know what's going on. We're going inside to look at what's happening now but obviously with the teaching side of things we're really happy."

His wife Kanwal said: "I'm really happy with the school the last year. I'd definitely send my child to this school. It's a shame they had to close even if it's for a day or however long."

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