A vegetarian GCSE student was disqualified after an examiner took her criticism of Halal meat to be Islamophobic.
16-year-old Abbey Ward, who attended Gildredge House school in Eastbourne, East Sussex, sat her final Religious Studies exam in June, during which she expressed her feelings about Halal meat.
Abbey, who is a strict vegetarian, described the process surrounding Halal meat as ‘absolutely disgusting’.
Halal food is that which adheres to Islamic law, as defined in the Quran, and involves slaughtering animals by cutting the throat and allowing the blood to drain from their bodies.
According to the BBC, animals must be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter. There is debate about whether stunning the animals is allowed, though the RSPCA says slaughter without pre-stunning causes ‘unnecessary suffering’.
After reading Abbey’s comments, the exam board OCR disqualified her, claiming she had made ‘obscene racial comments’.
Gildredge House school launched an appeal, arguing the student’s comments were reflective of her vegetarian beliefs, rather than a comment on Islamic faith. The school also pointed out no other comments made in the paper could be construed as racist.
The teen’s mother, Layla Ward, said the examiner was ‘over-zealous’ and ‘over-righteous’.
The 36-year-old defended her daughter to The Sunday Telegraph, saying:
Abbey is an animal lover and a very strict vegetarian.
Philosophy is all about debating and getting your opinion out. I can’t believe how pathetic it is
It made me angry … when asked a question in the exam, you can’t even express your feelings.
Following the appeal, OCR overturned the disqualification and issued an apology for the ‘upset and stress’ the situation had caused the 16-year-old. They also acknowledged the board’s original letter, ‘describing the frequency and severity of the comments’, was ‘inaccurate’.
In a statement, OCR said:
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.
We accept that initially we did not reach the right conclusion and were too harsh.
Abbey’s mother Layla said it was ‘great’ the decision had been overturned but argued it ‘should never have happened’ in the first place.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.