It isn’t racist to criticise halal meat

Why was a GCSE student disqualified for criticising an Islamic practice?

Gareth Sturdy


A GCSE student was disqualified for making ‘obscene racial comments’ in a religious-studies exam. Abigail Ward, a strict vegetarian, criticised ‘halal’ meat as ‘absolutely disgusting’ because of the butchery involved in its preparation.

The decision by OCR, the exam board, to disqualify Miss Ward has been overturned, but only after her school, Gildredge House in Eastbourne, lodged an appeal. OCR has admitted its mistake and has issued an apology. But this is far more than a silly-season story about an exam marking cock-up. It raises important questions about the extent to which the role of the education system has changed, from encouraging intellectual inquiry to cultivating conformism.

The incident puts an immediate question mark over the calibre of the people responsible for marking exams. For several years, the number of GCSE candidates has been increasing, while the number of markers has fallen. This has raised serious doubts about the quality of marking more broadly.

But this case isn’t just about a particular examiner’s subject knowledge. It reaches into whether examinations are still premised on fundamental principles of scholarship. The examiners in question have elided the distinction between facts and values. Examinations should not be assessing the opinions students express in their essays, but the quality of the reasoning behind the arguments they advance. An exam or an examiner that fails to differentiate between these things is not fit for purpose.

Furthermore, in academia, the meanings of words should matter. Religion relates to beliefs. It is not the same thing as race. Criticising religion is not racism. To confuse the two impedes critical thinking about religion. By condemning a student’s criticism of a religious practice as ‘obscene’, the OCR exam board is behaving like a medieval catechist, not an enlightened educator. That it would do so in response to an answer in a religious-studies exam, of all places, is deeply troubling.

The incident points to the fearful, anti-intellectual and moralising culture of conformity operating at the heart of our educational institutions. It is not simply a case of a particularly ‘overzealous’ marker, as Miss Ward’s mother charitably put it. To disqualify a student entirely, it is highly likely that more than one examiner considered the case. Tellingly, no one in the organisation changed the decision until the school objected.

Even in the press statement that followed OCR’s climb-down, the board made no apology for policing the moral boundaries of students’ arguments: ‘OCR takes all incidence of suspected offensive material against a religious group in exams very seriously and must apply rules which are set out for all exam boards in such cases.’

Perhaps the people who set up and mark our public exams should turn the questioning on themselves. What should exams be testing: students’ ability to reason critically or their ability to conform to PC ideology? There is only one correct answer.

Gareth Sturdy teaches mathematics and English in London and is co-organiser of the Academy of Ideas Education Forum.

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Barry Watson

24th August 2019 at 12:09 pm

What the liberal-left is trying t do is to change the definition of words. The dictionary definition is THE one we must go by, obviously. It’s also happening among those who believe in man-made global warming. They talk of the ‘acidification’ of the seas. However, to acidify (yes, this is my field, I should add) is to make something an acid. That is the dictionary definition. But not only are the seas NOT becoming acid, they CAN’T become acid – there isn’t enough fossil fuel to burn to make the oceans drop below 7pH! If we continue on this path of words meaning what we want them to mean, we are heading for peak wank.

Jerry Owen

24th August 2019 at 11:33 pm

Ah… A Rod Liddle fan !

James Knight

22nd August 2019 at 5:40 pm

So a big fat “F” for the exam board.

John Reic

22nd August 2019 at 3:40 pm

I swear blind Amelia’ Canter is just BO’N who writes a woke reply, just to wind up readers get more comments for click bait

Jane 70

22nd August 2019 at 3:17 pm

What a piece of nonsense this is, and a very worrying one at that.
The woke inquisitors are distorting students’ ability to think, to reason and to draw independent conclusions.
My view is that outmoded abattoir practices which inflict suffering under the umbrella of religious rituals should be banned.
The RCVS has guidelines:

Ven Oods

22nd August 2019 at 11:59 am

“The incident puts an immediate question mark over the calibre of the people responsible for marking exams.”

Calibre? I’d have gone for ‘sanity’.

Bronk’s Funeral

22nd August 2019 at 9:08 am

I mean, absolutely, it’s an unpleasant practice—although of course a majority of halal slaughter is pre-stunned, according to the FSA. Unlike, for example shechita .

It’s almost as if honking wildly about halal is some sort of dogwhistle!

Anyway. Exams. Bag of wank.

Christopher Tyson

22nd August 2019 at 7:52 am

Someone once said that nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. This has become the case for identity politics. In the Evening Standard yesterday a woman by the name of Jo Swinton was calling for a resistance to Brexit, as though she was the hurt party here. The remainers seem to think that belligerence and passive aggression is more palatable coming from a woman, or perhaps all the big beast, Blair, Mandleson, Campbell, Clegg, Osbourne and co. have all lot their credibility. But that’s not my point, while trashing democracy the standard were at pains to emphasise their anti-racism. Now I have a powerful vested interest in opposing racism, however if we look at the two examples we have Manchester United star player Paul Pogba missing a penalty and being subjected to on-line abuse. We also have Meghan Duchess of Sussex who has been behaving like a spoilt brat for the past few months. Pogba did many things right, he showed leadership and took responsibility, he’s missed a few penalties lately and it was good to see that he hasn’t lost confidence, and had guts to stand up and be counted. What he did wrong was miss the penalty, it’s a thin line between hero and zero, and if Pogba hadn’t spent the summer behaving like a prima donna, United fans may have been more forgiving. Meghan’s is clearly surrounded by people either to scared to tell her that she is behaving like a prat or people just like herself who can’t tell. Racial abuse is horrible, or course I’m against it, put black people behaving badly should not be exempt from criticism, in any case today’s anti-racism is more about virtue signalling than improving the lot of black people.

eli Bastenbury

22nd August 2019 at 10:42 am Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Hana Jinks

22nd August 2019 at 5:28 am

So why weren’t the OCR people arrested?

Ven Oods

22nd August 2019 at 12:14 pm

Presumably, because the person they persecuted was not a protected minority (though you’d think vegans should qualify).

Hana Jinks

22nd August 2019 at 5:18 pm

Haha, definitely.

Danny Rees

22nd August 2019 at 4:37 am

No but it is hippie airey fairy vegan animal rights bollocks.

Neil McCaughan

22nd August 2019 at 11:40 am

How predictable that you would be in favour of cruelty to animals, just to suck up to your postal voting friends.

Ven Oods

22nd August 2019 at 12:04 pm

I don’t agree with halal butchery, but, had the young examinee ever visited a ‘normal’ abbatoir, she might have been more general in her criticism of butchery.

H McLean

22nd August 2019 at 12:57 am

Why would anyone be surprised by this? Education has become averse to critical thinking to the extent it is actively punished. It’s been going on for at least the last ten years, probably since around 2007-8 when leftist identitarian dogma began to move into the mainstream. The academy is completely to blame for this increasing thought-crime attitude towards opinions that veer from approved speech but – of course – the politicians of all mainstream parties who allowed this to seep into all public institutions should be publicly criticised for their capitulation to this totalitarian ideology. Ms Ward should sue OCR, regardless of their non-apology apology.

Philip Humphrey

22nd August 2019 at 6:59 am

I wonder how we ended up in this mess. My old grammar school teachers back in the 70s were a mixture of all political outlooks and all open to discussing ideas. They might all have been white men, but they were far more diverse in thought than what you get in modern schools. My feeling is that as the status of teachers went down, the cleverest people went into other fields, allowing the leftists to take over and impose their conformist views on the whole profession.

Ven Oods

22nd August 2019 at 12:16 pm

My experience was similar. Benefited from a liberal State education before the word liberal was bastardised.

Margaret Potter

22nd August 2019 at 5:44 pm

You are so right Philip. I lectured in a college and when ‘business’ thinking seeped in critical thinking left by the back door. All the wishy washy ideas of individual learning plans, thinking policing of teachers, everyone being made to follow the diktat mantras. Politics and business have taken over education (Academies pfft) to the detriment of students, teachers and society.

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