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Moving exam times to accommodate Muslims 'could create hostility'
A number of exams will be moved this summer to accommodate Muslims who are fasting during their holy month of Ramadan.
Subjects taken by large numbers of students - for example GCSE English and maths - may be timetabled right at the start of the exams season, before the holy month begins in early June - or set at a time to lessen the effect on Muslim students, it has been revealed.
Ramadan, which Muslims observe by fasting during daylight hours, has been gradually moving into the summer exams season in England - which runs from the end of May and throughout most of June - over the last few years. This year it covers most of the exams period.
As the window available for students to sit papers is tight, exams would not be able to be delayed, but there is scope for movement within the regular schedule, it was suggested.
In a statement, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents exam boards, said it consulted on the timetable every year and considered comments from a wide range of groups, including schools, colleges and faith groups.
"Where possible, large entry GCSE and GCE subjects are timetabled prior to the commencement of Ramadan and consideration given to whether they are timetabled in the morning or afternoon," it said.
Alan Craig works closely with campaign group Christian Concern and told Premier's News Hour it was worrying.
"The Muslim community, at the moment, seems to be making greater and greater demands on the various authorities and this is creating a hostility amongst other people," he said.
"Why this continual preference for Islam? They don't make the same adjustments for Hindu or for Sikhs or for other religious minorities".
He added that Easter holidays had been replaced in many schools by 'Spring break' which means some celebrations are taking place in term time.
"Christian festivals are being downgraded in the education schedules and yet the Muslim ones are being upgraded," he warned.
But Catriona Robinson from the Christian Muslim Forum told Premier's News Hour it was a welcome move.
She said: "We really would like our Muslim children, just as we'd like all our children, to perform at their best.
"So if the timetable can be adjusted a little bit, without going outside the exam six weeks, I think that sounds like a good idea.
"We have a very strong Christian tradition in this country and we live together and work together and are educated together.
"I don't think anyone's asking for any special favours."
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the union had been campaigning about the issue for more than a year.
"As educators we want all children to be able to achieve their best in exams that are so crucial to their future," she said.
"We shall continue to raise awareness of best practice and how education staff can support students during Ramadan."