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Back in October 2018, we published a post titled is the All Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs truly representative?

The post referred to the issue of Seva School in Coventry, a dispute subsequently covered by Schoolsweek quoting our Director Lord Singh.

Concerned parents had called on the government to intervene in a dispute related to Seva School being compelled to join Nishkam School Trust, a trust which parents said did not fit with their beliefs. Some of the parents independently echoed concerns to our Director, Lord Singh of Wimbledon. He raised it with the APPG for British Sikhs, after all what’s the point of having such a group if it doesn’t consider Sikh interests, or in this instance the concerns of Sikh parents.

As described in our previous post this is an account of what transpired:

By chance I learnt of Tuesday’s AGM and accompanied by Lord Suri, attended the AGM to try to get the Group to issue a statement of concern over the bullying attitude of the Department for Education (DfE) in giving of a 2-week ultimatum to withdraw funding and move to a closure of a Sikh school, Seva School in Coventry unless it agreed to be run by Nishkam. Nishkam is a group regarded by many Sikhs as outside mainstream Sikhism, with a spiritual Head to whom some followers owe total allegiance.

Lord Suri and I were surprised at the poor attendance at the AGM, with one MP brought in for a while to make a quorum. After Preet Gill MP asked the 5 MPs present to confirm her as Chair, I spoke about the widespread concerns of parents, governors, staff, the Council of Gurdwaras in Coventry, the Sikh Council and the Network of Sikh Organisations and others. I also mentioned that an earlier complaint made by me of racist behaviour towards the school (in which Sikh teachings were labelled extremist and negative) had been upheld in an investigation by Sir David Carter a top civil servant with the DfE, with a promise of more supportive behaviour by the minister Lord Nash. Unfortunately, the harassment has continued culminating in a 2-week ultimatum of a cessation of funding unless the school agreed to be run by Nishkam.

Preet Gill MP seemed irritated by both my presence at the meeting, and because I had raised an issue about which she had clearly not been briefed by the Sikh Federation UK, the official secretariat of the APPG. She expressed her admiration of Nishkam. However asking a mainstream Sikh school to join Nishkam with its different ethos, is like asking a Church of England school to join a group led by Jehovah’s Witnesses. She then queried my credentials in raising the widespread concerns of the Sikh community. Ignoring the need for urgent action, she said that she would have to carry out her own investigation and consult local MPs, as if their views counted for more than those of the Coventry Sikh community and two national Sikh bodies.

On 25th March 2019, Preet Gill MP sent an e-mail titled ‘APPG British Sikhs’ in which she talks of Seva School following Lord Singh’s plea on behalf of concerned parents.

She writes, ‘As agreed, I wrote to the DFE and received a full and helpful response from Damian Hinds assuring us that the school would not be closed, and they had asked an outstanding Sikh academy trust to take over.’

NOTE. The request was not for her to write to the DfE, but to contact the Sikh community in Coventry and support them to stop the DfE abusing its authority to force the school to be run by Nishkam, a controversial Sikh sect. She totally ignored Lord Singh’s request to assist the worried Sikh community in Coventry.

A statement from the Board of Trustees (Sevak Education Trust) dated 3rd July says, ‘34 parents brought a legal challenge to the decision made by the Secretary of State for Education on 21 February 2019 to appoint Nishkam Schools Trust (“Nishkam”) as the sponsor for the re-brokerage of Seva School.’

The parents were successful, and the government conceded it had failed in providing alternatives to Nishkam School Trust. They go on to say, ‘This has been an incredibly difficult time for all those associated with the school.’

We are delighted the parents have won their legal battle, but surely this issue could have been resolved amicably sooner without parents having to resort to initiating legal proceedings against the state?

In our view, there are two issues which arise from the Seva School saga. The first relates to improving religious literacy in the DfE and across government circles to get them to appreciate doctrinal differences, and importantly, what is, and is not mainstream Sikh belief.

Secondly, given Preet Gill’s response to the matter, it begs an important question – can she really claim to represent British Sikhs?

 

Preet Gill’s statement dated 25th March 2019 on the work of the APPG contains numerous inaccuracies and distortions. A few examples:

On Seva School Coventry she writes:

‘Lord Singh raised the issue of Seva School. As agreed, I wrote to the DFE and received a full and helpful response from Damian Hinds assuring us that the school would not be closed, and they had asked an outstanding Sikh academy trust to take over. I have been in contact with the regional school’s commissioner.’

The reality:

Correspondence is on record to show that she and the Sikh Federation UK (SFUK) – the APPG’s secretariat, have systematically tried to keep Sikhs in the Lords out of the APPG. Despite this, Lord Singh persuaded Lord Suri, to accompany him to a meeting of the APPG on 9th October 2018, at the request of Seva School to help them in fighting a DfE attempt to force the school to join the non-mainstream Nishkam multi-academy trust, rather than a mainstream Sikh Trust. The parent’s concerns were covered in Schools Week. The DfE were not being helpful as Preet Gill writes; they merely repeated their threat that unless Seva School joined Nishkam, considered a New Religious Movement by many Sikhs, they would close the school down. Preet Gill completely ignored the concerns of the Sikh community detailed by Lord Singh and Lord Suri.

Lord Singh and Lord Suri were made less than welcome at the meeting. In response to a query from Lord Singh as to why Sikhs from the Lords were being excluded from the APPG, Preet Gill said that a letter of invitation had been sent by Pat McFadden. Pat McFadden to his credit, openly disagreed, saying that no invitation had been sent to the Lords. Lord Singh said that the APPG office holders should include someone from the Lords. Preet Gill ignored his suggestion. In the meeting and subsequently, Lord Singh asked for minutes of the meeting be sent to him. Despite several requests, the SFUK which acts as secretariat to the APPG has not done this.

Lord Singh, Lord Suri and Baroness Verma have subsequently made their position clear. They strongly object to the extremist SFUK running an APPG which should be for ALL Sikhs in Parliament and are unwilling to be a part of the APPG while Preet Gill and SFUK are in charge. 

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