Moving exams in Ramadan “sensible and inclusive” says Farron

Tim Farron has reacted to the needless controversy surrounding the decision by exam boards to move certain popular exams so that they take place before Ramadan with a perfectly sensible, liberal statement:

The idea that this is an attack on British values is ridiculous and depressing. Rather than seeking to divide people by their faith, we should see this sensible move as an opportunity for inclusion and understanding.

 This is a simple rescheduling of some school exams, recognising that a number of students will be observing Ramadan. As a person of faith myself I think it is entirely reasonable and decent to consider such things when planning exam dates.

Nobody will be inconvenienced by the move. For me, it’s about exercising a basic human value of courtesy and consideration to others. Anyone who objects should be made to actually try and survive more than a few hours of fasting in the northern hemisphere in the height of Summer. I am in awe of anyone who can manage it because I certainly wouldn’t last a whole day, I’m sure. I thoroughly admire the discipline of those who observe the annual fast. It’s an important part of the Muslim year and anything that can be done to minimise the effect on school kids by moving their exams forward by a few days is surely to be welcomed.  Bear in mind that exams are typically held in stuffy halls, not the best environment if you are forgoing water until the sun goes down.

I hope that the Scottish Qualifications Authority takes note when the issue becomes relevant in a few years’ time. Scottish exams take place about a month to six weeks earlier than in England.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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13 Comments

  • Fun how it’s been impossible over the decades to move exams to take account of hay fever suffers, but some people are seemingly prepared to bend over backwards in case they might cause some imagined offence.

    As for “fasting in the northern hemisphere in the height of Summer”, it isn’t actually that difficult, just needs a little discipline and practise – the body soon adapts; now doing the same in north africa or the middle east in the height of summer…

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Jan '16 - 9:53am

    Bearing in mind, Roland, that there are more hours of daylight in this country than in North Africa, my point stands.

    And your Hay Fever point is simply a straw man. The Ramadan issue is something we can do something about and it’s right that we should.

  • Denis Loretto 8th Jan '16 - 10:26am

    This thread is carrying on a serious misconception on this issue – fuelled by the usual suspects in the press. Look at the latest Guardian story –

    http://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jan/07/summer-exams-wont-be-fitted-around-ramadan-confirm-boards

  • Many of the IGCSE and international A level exams actually fall smack in the middle of Ramadan, which causes many more Muslims problems than in England alone.

  • Roland, try fasting during daylight hours in Aberdeen, or Edinburgh for that matter. Sunrise at around 3.30 – 4am, sunset at around 11.30pm. Nothing to pass your lips for 20 hours.

  • @Caron – FYI, the last time Ramadan fell in July was 1980 and the next time is sometime after 2032… So not really an issue to get excited about, particularly as Denis notes, this really is a non-issue, just caused by a highly misleading statement with clear ‘PC’ appeasement content made by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, that implied the changes would be more substantial than the adjustments the JCQ normally make each year to the exam timetable.

    As for fasting, I stand by my comments, but then I did fast for a day a week during my 20’s and 30’s, and as I said it does take discipline and practise – hence I’m not without appreciation of the ideas that people have about fasting, particularly when you’re doing it every day for a month… The main issue isn’t actually the length of day, but temperature and energy you expand, because it is the lack of fluids which causes the greatest problems, hence why fasting in a hot country can be more testing.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jan '16 - 2:04pm

    I don’t mind helping students with Ramadan, but the details need to be discussed properly. I didn’t know even water was forbidden during Ramadan, it must be hard.

  • This all seems like a fuss over nothing if, as claimed, the changes are minimal. Of course it’s reasonable to accommodate fasting children so long as it isn’t inconveniencing others. It will be interesting to see, however, what happens next year and the year after, when Ramadan will more or less fall entirely within the main exam season.

    However, as a latent “militant atheist”, this bit from Caron makes me wince :-

    “Anyone who objects should be made to actually try and survive more than a few hours of fasting in the northern hemisphere in the height of Summer. I am in awe of anyone who can manage it because I certainly wouldn’t last a whole day, I’m sure. I thoroughly admire the discipline of those who observe the annual fast.”

    As liberals (small l in my case) we should all of course fully tolerate any religious festival so long as it isn’t harming anybody else. Basic golden rule stuff. But I don’t think it’s beholden on us to “admire” a tradition that can result in the deaths of the old, weak and poor – most notably recently during the Pakistan heat wave last year :-

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/uk-heatwave-pakistan-death-toll-rises-as-clerics-urge-followers-to-abstain-from-ramadan-fasting-10360322.html

    Most of the victims were poor manual workers who were not allowed to drink during long working days outside in 40 degrees (it is illegal to eat or drink in public during Ramadan). I’m afraid that Ramadan, like any other religious practise that can cause this kind of harm, just makes me feel more sad than inspired.

  • It is wrong to have children fast. Have the guts everyone to say that. Why do you not think that Caron?

  • John Critchley 9th Jan '16 - 9:23am

    This is no reason to change exam dates. Children do not have to fast during Ramadam. They are exempt. It would apply to only adults.

  • @John Critchley
    I checked out this question last night. In fact most Islamic scholars (if the top search results on Google are at all representative) demand fasting from the onset of puberty at the very latest. Even younger children can be “encouraged” to fast if the parents think they are physically up to it.

    Interestingly, there are some scientists who claim that short-term fasting actually makes the brain work BETTER :-

    http://humansarefree.com/2013/12/fasting-supercharges-your-brain-here-is.html

    So perhaps the exam boards are not taking an evidence-based approach here?

  • John Critchley 9th Jan '16 - 2:54pm

    There was a comment by a muslim reader to a piece in one of the papers today saying that this measure wasn’t necessary as far as it affected children. To be honest I may be confused, there possibly/probably being a difference between theory and practice, but my understanding has been that it’s not necessary. I would have to defer to Muslims on this, but I may still question why it is necessary when the rest of life goes on during Ramadam.

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