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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Faith schools continue to proliferate despite majority not wanting them

A new, publicly-funded Islamic “free school” for boys is to open in Blackburn in Lancashire.

The government has approved the new school to be set up by the Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School, to take boys aged 11 to 18. The girls’ school will move to a new site.

Kam Kothia, chairman of Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School, said: "This really is tremendous news for everyone in the community and for all who want the best for Blackburn boys – Muslim and non-Muslim. The boys’ school is expected to open in 2012.

National Union of Teachers division secretary Simon Jones disagreed, saying: "This is very worrying news. It will completely undermine all the local authority careful planning for admissions across the borough. It is a retrograde step for community cohesion."

Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said: “The girls’ school may perform well in the league tables but it is completely separatist and now the boys’ school will encourage the same thinking that Muslim children must live in this religious bubble that has little contact with the mainstream. How anyone can argue that community relations are served by such schools is beyond me.”

Meanwhile, in Bradford, concerns are arising over a new free school after it emerged that one of the people involved in it has previously called for segregated Muslim education.

Although the proposed Rainbow primary Free School will not officially be a “faith school”, politicians have become alarmed after it was revealed that one of its proponents, Ayub Ismail, submitted a report to Bradford Council calling for all Muslim pupils to be educated in “faith schools” in order to “avoid the problem” of them being exposed to values that conflict with their religion.

The Yorkshire Post has uncovered the document written by Mr Ismail (which predates and is not directly connected with the Rainbow school). It was written on behalf of the Bradford Council of Mosques as part of a consultation exercise on the future of education in Bradford. It claimed that Muslim pupils are disadvantaged and marginalised in the city's state schools because the cultural heritage of the curriculum is "European and Christian". It says: "Muslim schools provide an education in accordance with the Muslim beliefs and values, such as providing single-sex schooling after puberty. They are thus a response to the danger of absorption into the dominant culture."

The report has been described as "segregationist" by Bradford Council's executive member for education, Ralph Berry, and has led to fears that the proposed free school will only attract pupils of Muslim faith, undermining efforts to develop community cohesion among young people. Councillor Berry told the Yorkshire Post: "There are concerns that one of the proponents of the Rainbow School has previously argued for a segregated education system based on faith. There are, of course, good schools from faith backgrounds but segregating children on the grounds of religion does not offer any educational basis for improvement."

Plans for the school are being led by ATL, formerly known as Asian Trade Link, a Bradford-based not-for-profit business and enterprise organisation, is for a primary school open to all pupils "regardless of ethnicity, social background or faith".

David Ward, Bradford East's Lib Dem MP, who rebelled against the coalition in the vote on free schools last year, said: "We already have a divided education system in Bradford because of the demographics of the population. Why would we want something which is going to make the situation worse?" He said more needed to be done to ensure schools' intakes were mixed to reflect the city's diversity.

However, ATL chief executive Arshad Javed, who is also involved in developing the Rainbow Free School, dismissed the segregation fears. He told the Yorkshire Post: "Inner-city secondary schools in Bradford are already mono-ethnic. This has been the situation for 15 to 20 years. If this was so important why has nothing been done before? Our proposal is not for a faith school. The Rainbow School is open to all members of the community.

"This is not a school for pupils who are Pakistani, or Bangladeshi or Indian or whatever. If anything we are more interested in promoting community cohesion in Bradford because we live here and our children are growing up here."

Brentford

Meanwhile, a consultation on the creation of a new secondary school in Brentford, Middlesex shows that the majority of respondents were against it being a “faith school.” The local council, Hounslow Borough Council, asked (among other things) whether schools in the borough should “more closely match the faiths held by the community.” Head-teachers and parents were generally opposed to the idea whereas just under half of governors wanted “faith schools”.

Durham

This week Durham County Council announced that it is considering cutting home to school transport subsidies to “faith schools” as part of a £6m cost-cutting exercise. The Council will be consulting on the issue.

Cheltenham

In Cheltenham, the new All Saints' Academy is under construction costing £24.6m and should be ready for opening in September. It is “sponsored” by the Anglican diocese of Gloucester and the Catholic diocese of Clifton and will specialise in, among other things, religious education. Just what the bishops ordered!

Slough

Education bosses at Slough Borough Council (Berkshire) are proposing to remove the governorship at Iqra Islamic Primary School, a failing Muslim school in a bid to oversee its “necessary” turnaround. The school was placed in 'special measures’ in March following an Ofsted Inspection which rated the school overall, as well as its capacity to improve, as 'inadequate’. The board of governors has said it will resist their removal, which they describe as 'unjustified’. Iqra is the town’s first Muslim state school and it received £8m funding from the government.

Published Fri, 21 Jan 2011