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Blunkett faces religious wrath

Leaders of Britain's minority religious schools this week stepped up their + campaign for grant-maintained status, accusing the Government of discrimination+ and of dithering over their applications. Representatives from the Muslim and + Seventh-day Adventist schools said the Education Secretary David Blunkett was + "sitting on" the proposals in the hope that the schools would "give up and go + away". This week the Muslim community published a full-page open letter to Mr + Blunkett in a national newspaper, claiming they were being left out in the cold+ amid fears that their desire for state-fund ed schools was isolationist. They + pointed to the success of Christian and Jewish state schools to back their call+ for equal treatment for Muslim children. Ibrahim Hewitt, of the Association of+ Muslim Schools, said leaders of his organisation were angered recently when a + meeting intended to be with Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, was + taken by an employment minister. "This indicates the interest and the + commitment that this Government attaches to our cause," he said. "We are not + being taken seriously. Our greatest concern is that if the law changes and GM + status is effectively revoked, we will have to go through the same process all + over again." The open letter, signed by 10 prominent Muslim educationists, + said Government backing for its schools would "demonstrate its desire to build + shared values and the promotion of good citizenship or all communities + equally". It added that such a move would be "one of the wisest possible + decisions, making British Muslims proud to acknowledge that we are not an + isolated community but an integral part of a forward-thinking, balanced and + guided society". The Muslims initially want GM status for the Islamia primary + school in north London and the Al-Furquan school in Birmingham, but have not + ruled out further applications. The success or otherwise of their demands will + have a direct impact on the John Loughborough school in Haringey, which is run + by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. John Loughborough already has the backing + of the Funding Agency for Schools, and claims that Haringey education + department's fears over its standards are now unfounded because GCSE results + have risen dramatically. In 1997, 48 per cent of candidates gained five or + more A* to C grades, compared with 22 per cent a year earlier. Keith Davidson, + the Seventh-day Adventist Church's education director for the south of England,+ said there was a waiting list of parents who could not afford the + #163;2,000-a-year fees but wished to send their children to John Loughborough + school. Members of the church reject the theory of evolution and are awaiting + the Second Coming of Christ. They do not smoke, drink or take drugs and they + observe the Sabbath on Saturdays. Mr Davidson said: "If we are not recognised + soon, then we cannot take part in any future discussions on the status of + church schools. The Government appears to be afraid of opening its doors to us + and the Muslims."But in the process it is discriminating against hundreds of + children and their parents. There are fundamental issues of equal opportuniti + es here. "The Catholics and Anglicans are allowed to have their own schools but+ we cannot, even though we are also Christians." A spokesman for the Department+ for Education and Employment said: "We are still considering their + applications. The Government is not dragging its feet and will make a decision + as soon as it possibly can."

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