A young faith school in Birmingham, Wisdom Academy puts British values and the Islamic faith on the same page. The headteacher stresses that they aim to teach universal humanity values, regardless of what culture they might root in.
Opened 6 years ago, Wisdom Academy was known as “the Somalian school”, as most children enrolled had a Somalian background.
When he started here, headmaster Sakhawat Ali had a cultural shock. He recalls:
“When I came in, I didn’t really understand their background, their culture, so even for myself it was a learning experience, as to how am I going to understand these children. What I did was I had a lot of meetings with parents. Through those meetings I learnt more about their background, their priorities.”
Meanwhile, pupils from different backgrounds enrolled. Wisdom Academy now has children from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, in addition to pupils from European countries. Languages such as French, German, Italian and Arabic are spoken here.
Listen to the headteacher talk about the diversity in the faith school.
An atheist teacher in a faith school
According to the headteacher, the school is open not only to students from different cultural backgrounds, but different religious or non-religious backgrounds as well.
The headteacher explains why he thinks that this is good for the pupils:
“It’s a healthy mix. I think this is good for a faith school, it’s a cultural school.”
One of the newer teachers, Michael Drury, is an atheist. He is doing eight weeks of placement here as a postgraduate. Six weeks in, he said that at first it was a shock for the students that he did not have a religion at all.
Listen to Michael Drury talk about how he gave the students a chance to learn about atheism without compromising their own beliefs.
The main challenge? Financial
Michael Drury does not seem to find teaching in an Islamic faith school challenging. He says that the lack of funding is the real challenge:
“There is really no difference between an Islamic faith school or any faith school compared to a state school. The only difference is the lack of funding. Independent schools only get a third of a budget from the state. For the rest they are entirely reliant on extra funding from parents and from organisations.”
Headteacher Sakhawat Ali confirms the financial difficulties. He stresses that the school has to meet the same objectives as a state school, but with one third of the funding. He went on to say that a state school is funded with £6000 per child per year, while an independent faith school gets £1900 per child every year.
Pupils raise money for Orphans in Need
On a regular day at school, children do not seem to feel the financial difficulties. They seem even less aware of these on a special day, such as the events organised in their school.
On Thursday January 21 they were all involved in raising money for the charity Orphans in Need. The pupils donated £1 in order to wear what they wanted for the day, instead of the school’s uniform.
The classrooms and hallways were hectic with children selling their cupcakes, bags of sweets or chocolate covered lollipops, which they made or bought.
Listen to deputy headteacher Soraya Garnier talk about how things went throughout the charity day.
Educating the parents comes with the job
Michael Drury, the young atheist teacher, points out that the only difference in what the children do here is that they pray once a day. This normally happens before lunch time.
The pupils at Wisdom Academy regularly get involved in charity events, as well as learning about different cultures and religions. Headteacher Sakhawat Ali says that the children are sometimes more open than their parents. Sometimes the teachers need to educate the parents as well.
“When we started teaching about different religions, a few parents, not many, were not happy. They came and talked to me and I told them this only helps the children understand their own community. After school, they go out and live in the community.”
Future dreams? Be a manager or journalist
The children in Wisdom Academy faith school dream to become teachers, managers or even journalists in the future.
Muhamed Adulgadir is a pupil in year 3 who joined the school this September. His favourite subject is Maths and he admits he struggles with spelling, especially Arabic hand writing.
Watch Muhamed talk about how he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a manager.
Bushra Mohamed is a year 6 student and she seems very determined about her future. She wants to become a journalist, travel the world and write about her travels. She has already made a start.
Watch Bushra talk about her favourite future career.