students in a UK Madrassa
The opening of more Islamic faith schools should be stopped amid fears they will fuel social segregation, according to teachers.
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor
Government plans to create more state-funded Muslim schools will divide communities along racial and religious lines, it is claimed.
They risk creating a situation similar to that in Northern Ireland where some educated teenagers fail to meet students of the opposite faith until they go to university, according to Voice, the teaching union.
In a speech to the union’s annual conference next week, one teacher will claim Labour’s policy to expand Muslim schools is “about trying to defend minorities”.
Last year, Ed Balls, the schools secretary, pledged to remove “unnecessary barriers” to religious groups bidding to open their own schools.
He said additional money would be made available to allow the hundreds of private religious schools to convert to the state sector. The move raised the prospect of more schools for faiths including Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, which have few schools of their own, despite representing significant minority groups.
Speaking at the conference, Wesley Paxton, a further education lecturer from Hull, will say: “More faith schools in 2008 is probably going to mean more Islamic schools.”
He adds: “As is often pointed out, there are already many schools with more than a 50 per cent non-white enrolment.
“What benefit will there be by emphasising difference, by removing what non-Islamic influences these people will have, and reduce their chances of having a balanced upbringing?
“For girls in particular, can you imagine a UK Madrassa being a hot-bed of liberty, co-education and having Cosmopolitan in the school library? I have a vivid imagination, which is why I never read horror stories, but I can’t envisage that. It has been announced [that] Saudi Arabia will not send female athletes to Beijing. Need one say more? No, we are all people, we all breathe the same air, we need fewer distinctions, not more.”
At the moment, there are just four state-funded Muslim primary schools and five secondaries – including two which opened last September. They educate almost 3,500 pupils.
In addition, there is one Hindu school, three Sikh schools, and 38 Jewish schools. England’s remaining 6,750 faith schools – around a third of the total number of schools – are all Christian.
Faith schools are increasingly popular with parents, with some even prepared to lie on application forms to make sure pupils get a place.
But they are often unpopular among teaching unions who have complained in the past that they “separate communities”.
On Tuesday, Mr Paxton will propose a motion to the union – formerly known as the Professional Association of Teachers – which will claim that the opening of new faith schools will be “divisive not inclusive” for communities.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said schools now had a legal duty to promote religious and race relations, which is vetted by Ofsted.
“Schools should be our breeding grounds for tolerance – one of the essential British values,” said a spokesman. “The citizenship curriculum encourages them to take an interest in their community and the wider world.
“Every school has a moral responsibility, regardless of the social or ethnic make-up of its pupils, to educate children so that they can live in, work in and enjoy our diverse society. That is why Ofsted will be inspecting schools on how well they promote community cohesion from this September.”