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Bill would stop school

A small Muslim school for girls in Dundee condemned by inspectors would never have been established if ministers had the tough powers over independent schools they want to introduce.

A formal notice of complaint from Peter Peacock, Education Minister, has now been served on the independent Imam Muhammad Zakariya School in Broughty Ferry after HMI described the quality of secondary and boarding education as "unsatisfactory".

Girls, the inspectors say, are routinely confined to the inside of the small school building and small garden for two weeks at a time. All staff, apart from the headteacher, are under the age of 20. "Those teaching the secular curriculum had GCSE qualifications in the subjects they were teaching," inspectors report.

Even those teaching Islamic studies only possess certificates of achievement from a school in England. The school's manager and headteacher have no recognised teaching or care qualifications.

Ministers this week served a notice of complaint with the board of trustees after they were warned in September 2002 that the quality of education and care was not good enough for multicultural Scotland. The school, in a former nursing home, was set up in August 2001.

Perversely, parents, pupils and staff are more than happy with the school, which had 20 girls on the roll during the inspection last December. The inspectors concede the school has a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere.

Ministers this week took a quite different view about the adequacy of provision and will remove it from the register of independent schools in six months unless there is an immediate response.

The school would probably have been ordered to close immediately under the tougher sanctions that are spelt out in the draft Bill on extending ministerial powers now before MSPs.

The school is only provisionally registered with the Registrar of Independent Schools - the Scottish Executive by another name - and is unlikely to gain full registration. Inspectors visited as part of the registration process.

The forthcoming Bill makes it absolutely clear that such a school would never have met the stringent criteria now demanded of those who want to establish independent schools. It abandons the concept of provisional registration in favour of full registration before a school opens its doors on the first day.

Iqra Academy in Glasgow, the country's other independent Muslim school, closed following an equally scathing report.

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