Bell's staff say he is wrong on Muslims

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Senior inspectors leap to defence of Islamic schools and say their boss should have checked his facts, reports Jon Slater

Senior colleagues of David Bell, the chief inspector, have attacked him for issuing a warning about Muslim schools without checking the facts, The TES has learned.

They say Mr Bell presented his personal view that private Muslim schools posed a threat to Britain's social cohesion as inspection evidence.

Accusations of Islamophobia were levelled at the chief inspector after he singled out Muslim schools for criticism for failing to teach pupils tolerance of other cultures.

Writing in this week's TES, Christopher Schenk, an HMI who inspects independent faith schools, says it is untrue that Muslim schools resist their legal obligation to promote tolerance and harmony.

In fact, he says, Muslim heads point out "that tolerance and harmony are Islamic virtues and they want their pupils to appreciate and respect other cultures".

The TES revealed last week that evangelical Christian schools were less likely than their Muslim counterparts to promote tolerance.

Now it has emerged that Meg Buckingham, Alison Steele and Jane Cooper, the senior Ofsted managers responsible for the areas referred to by Mr Bell in his speech, were not consulted about its content.

In an email to Ms Steel and Ms Cooper, an Ofsted press officer admitted:

"With hindsight I think we now realise that it would have been much more helpful to have asked you to identify and provide briefing on issues relating to the independent schools inspection prior to the speech itself."

Mr Schenk says in his article: "When David Bell raised his concern that independent Muslim schools might pose a challenge to our coherence as a nation he was expressing his own personal views and not speaking on behalf of those of us who inspect these schools on a regular basis."

Mr Schenk said Islamic independent schools are keen to comply with the regulations.

"As I inspect Muslim schools I meet headteachers and trustees who talk about the need to educate the next generation of good British Muslims so that they can play a full part in the life of their country." Mr Schenk said Muslim schools have reacted with "hurt and bewilderment" to press coverage of Mr Bell's speech.

Mr Bell said last week: "I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities ... to British society.

"We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation."

Mr Bell made clear that he believed Muslim schools had greater problems than either evangelical Christian or Jewish ones.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said Mr Schenk's article represented only his personal opinions and denied Mr Bell had misrepresented inspectors' views.

The chief inspector's annual report, published next week, will state: "Many new schools are being opened by a younger generation of British Muslims, who recognise that traditional Islamic education does not entirely fit pupils for their lives as Muslims in modern Britain....

"Many schools must adapt their curriculum to ensure that it provides pupils with a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England and helps them to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony."

The spokeswoman said: "This section of the annual report was drafted by HMI who directly manage the inspection of independent faith school education.

"It would therefore be entirely incorrect to claim that the evidence and contents of the chief inspector's speech were not fully grounded in Ofsted evidence."

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