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State funding for Muslims

The first Muslim state school in Britain could open next year if the Government accepts advice from the Funding Agency for Schools that the Islamia primary school in Brent, north London, should be allowed to become grant maintained.

The Funding Agency, the Government quango which oversees the sector, is expected to support the school's application for grant- maintained status. The school, which was founded by Yusuf Islam, formerly the singer Cat Stevens, has sought public funding for several years.

Islamia's possible success is expected to lead to bids from other Muslim and other religious groups. Education Secretary Gillian Shephard is already considering the case of the Seventh Day Adventist John Loughborough school in Haringey, London, which the FAS is also supporting.

Dr Syed Pasha, secretary of the National Muslim Education Council of the UK, is optimistic that the Islamia primary school will be granted public funding. He said: "We've been taking it as a test case for the Muslim community. "

There are about 50 Muslim schools in Britain, but according to Dr Pasha, many would not wish to apply the national curriculum in full and are not seeking grant-maintained status.

A school must follow the national curriculum and attract sufficient demand for places to allow it to become a state school.

Muhammad Zamir, administrator of the Islamia school, said: "We are following the national curriculum and our parents are taxpayers. We want there to be more moral education.

"Islam teaches the moral values that bind society. Our schools should be granted grant- maintained status.

"I also wish there were more Catholic schools. We welcome non Muslims to our school provided they subscribe to our ethos. It's not a school that promotes fundamentalism or extremism."

There are mixed views within the education system about the development of separate Muslim Schools. Birmingham's director of education, Professor Tim Brighouse, accepts that the muslim community has a justifiedgrievance.

"As long as there are other religious schools, there's no logical reason for there not being Muslim schools.

"But I would hope that we can achieve some way of speaking to the Islamic community in a way that will allow Muslims to feel less excluded than they do from the system at the moment."

Professor Brighouse pointed to other possible alternatives to opting into the GM sector, including applying for voluntary-aided status.

However, Islamia had an earlier request to be state-funded as a voluntary-aided school turned down.

The Funding Agency for Schools confirmed it is also considering the case of the Islamia High School for Girls, in Brent, and is working with the Al-Sadiq school for boys aged 11-16 and its sister school Al-Zahra for girls 11-16, both also in Brent.

In addition, the Al-Furqan primary school, Birmingham, is preparing to bid for entry to the state system.

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