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'Opt-in' Muslim schools named

The first private Muslim schools likely to be fast-tracked into the state system have been identified.

A shortlist of 28 which meet initial criteria to "opt in" to the maintained sector - judged on their size, teaching expertise and buildings - will be handed to ministers in the new year.

It includes the London East academy, Whitechapel, which opened last year and has been praised by Ofsted for offering a "broad and balanced"

secondary education, and the Noor Ul Islam primary in Waltham Forest, which was commended by Ken Livingstone, London's mayor, for its outstanding environmental work in the local community.

The list has been drawn up by the Association of Muslim Schools, which has been given pound;100,000 by the Department for Education and Skills to lead the search for converts.

It follows plans outlined in the education white paper to encourage more independent faith schools to give up their private status, a move designed to appeal primarily to the country's 120 Muslim schools.

There are only five state Muslim schools at present, and the Government believes that an increase in numbers will help to break down barriers between different faiths.

The Association of Muslim Schools expects the first wave to convert to the state in September 2007. Idris Mears, the association's director, said five would be fast-tracked from the initial 28-strong shortlist, although over the next decade as many as 60 could join.

However, speaking after a conference of Muslim heads in east London last week, he said there was a lingering anxiety among many private schools about the impending loss of independence. He said: "There are still some people who are naturally suspicious of government and who think that joining the state sector will simply lead to a dilution of the Islamic ethos of a school.

"But certainly that has not been our impression of the Muslim schools which have already moved from the independent to the state sector."

Mr Mears said the 28 schools on the shortlist were spread throughout England and chosen on their size, the efficiency of existing management and staff and those requiring the least amount of building work.

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