New guidance was released last month by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) providing information for Schools and Colleges on how best to accommodate pupils who are fasting during the exam season. This year will be the first time Ramadan has fallen during the examination session in 2016 and will do so for the next few years. It has been put together in consultation with a large number of representatives of the Muslim community in Britain including religious education leaders as well as exam officers.
Fasting during Ramadan, which includes drinking no water, is one of the Five Pillars or fundamental religious duties of Islam and encourages Muslims to think of cleansing the whole self through prayer and reflection throughout the day which can have a positive impact on the individual. However, young Muslims and their families will need to take into consideration the impact on their studies and the importance of examinations for their future.
There is no doubt that Ramadan falling during the exam season will put extra pressure on young Muslims. The timetable for exams this year has already been slightly amended due to Ramadan which has seen the move of some large entry-exams to morning sessions for example, although this has sparked a widespread debate.
Practical advice given by the guidance for schools during fasting includes:
Inform pupils of the allowances Islam gives for them to break the fast and make it up later if they feel that fasting will in any way jeopardise their performance;
Fasting pupils will not be in the canteen and will have plenty of spare time to pass during the lunch hour. It would be desirable to provide them with a supervised, quiet space to rest;
Running revision lessons in cooler classrooms during hot weather will benefit all candidates;
Discuss with students whether they would prefer revision lessons to be in the morning or afternoon since a later start may allow pupils to sleep longer after late night prayers;
Consider granting exemptions from PE and sports to children who are fasting;
Exam rooms and halls:
Invigilators are advised to refrain from suggesting to students to have a ‘tiny sip of water’ for those fasting. This is not allowed unless there is concern that they may be suffering from dehydration;
Good examination room management during hot weather will benefit all candidates; ensure that exam rooms are shaded, ensure fans and sufficient bottles of water are available;
If a student taking an exam is showing any signs that they may be dehydrated, such as a headache or drowsiness, they should be advised to terminate the fast immediately by drinking some water. They can be reassured that in this situation Islamic rulings allow them to break and make it up later;
Invigilators do need to keep a close eye on all students to help avoid any disruption to other students not involved in this activity;
Provide a room(s) where appropriate for prayers near exam locations.