Alexandra Frean, London Times, January 24, 2008
A children’s story based on the tale of the Three Little Pigs was rejected for an award after judges became concerned that it would offend Muslims.
The animated virtual book for primary school children, The Three Little Cowboy Builders, was also criticised for its potential to offend builders.
The row centred on the Bett awards, which were supported by Becta, the Government’s technology agency for schools. The judges’ remarks, reported on the education technology website Merlin John Online, included: “Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?
“The idea of taking a traditional tale and retelling a story is fine, but it should not alienate parts of the workforce. Judges would not recommend this product to the Muslim community in particular.”
Ann Curtis, whose company, Shoo Fly Publishing, produced the CD-Rom, said the criticisms were unjustified and could even “propagate a racist stance”. She said: “I felt disbelief, to be honest. As a small company, we have a strong ethical and moral grounding. We support the rights of all children in the world to have access to education.
“To be told that we cynically set out to alienate minority groups is a very narrow-minded view.” She said the group had had messages of support from the local community, including Muslims. The book had already won an award in a separate competition.
But the Bett award’s backers—Becta, the Besa trade association and Emap Education—said that the book was rejected for a range of reasons. In a joint statement, they said: “The reason The Three Little Cowboy Builders was not shortlisted was that it failed to reach the required standard across a number of criteria. The . . . issues highlighted were a small selection from a much broader range of comments.
“In particular, the product was not sufficiently convincing on curriculum and innovation grounds to be shortlisted.”
The statement said the competition aimed to “reward inclusive and accessible designs” and was judged by a panel of 70 people, including many teachers.