East London school protest against exclusion of student for supporting Palestine

by Martin Reynolds, Waltham Forest Socialist Party

On 21 December, around 200 people gathered outside Barclay Primary School in Leyton in protest at the school’s discrimination of an eight-year-old boy being told he cannot wear a Palestinian flag badge on his coat. I spoke to a number of parents whose children attend the school and who described what has been going on. One said: “This problem has arisen because of senior management, not the teachers. The teachers are fine.”

Another said the boy has been humiliated by school management for refusing to remove a small Palestine flag from his coat. The boy, who has had friends and family killed in Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, has not attended school since 23 November as a result of the dispute. The boy was told he cannot wear his coat in the playground and was given an adult coat to wear, which led to his peers laughing at him, and the boy feeling humiliated.

Protest outside Leyton school.
Photo: Martin Reynolds

The boy’s parents wrote a letter to the headteacher saying that the action taken by Barclay Primary had left their son feeling “distressed, hurt, humiliated, helpless, withdrawn and fearful”. They say that he has “been made to feel as though in order to be welcomed at school he needs to abandon his identity”, and that he sees the treatment “as being linked to him being Palestinian and Muslim”.

Problems started on ‘Children in Need’ day when a number of pupils wore Palestinian colours, badges and stickers to school. Later that day, at least eight families received letters from school management banning “this overt demonstration of political beliefs” and suggesting children could be being used as “political pawns” by their parents. The letter, which parents say was “threateningly worded”, also said that “inappropriate… extremist or divisive comments” made at school could lead to referral to Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism body. The boy’s parents were told that if he came to school the next day with his coat, he would not be welcome on school grounds.

I was told he had been completing his school work from home, until his class teacher was told by management that she was not to provide him with any more work, or to take in any work that he had completed.

In response to the letter to parents dated 17 November, a counter-letter signed by over 170 parents raised concerns about children’s freedom of expression, the conflation of support for Palestine with support for terrorism (“at best ignorant, at worst Islamophobic”), and the school’s “disparity of approach” in its solidarity with Ukraine following Russia’s invasion in 2022.

On 20 December, after hearing about the protest planned by parents for 21 December, Barclay Primary announced it would be closing early for Christmas.