Christian schools fail test of tolerance

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Evangelical Christian independent schools are less likely than their Muslim counterparts to fulfil their legal duty to teach pupils tolerance of other cultures, figures seen by The TES reveal.

Information from the Office for Standards in Education appears to contradict claims by chief inspector David Bell that private Muslim schools pose a greater threat to social cohesion than other new faith schools.

Mr Bell was accused of Islamophobia after singling out Muslim faith schools for criticism in a speech to the Hansard Society in Westminster this week.

Problems exist in evangelical Christian and Jewish schools but "not to the same extent", he said.

But Ofsted figures show that of 40 evangelical Christian schools inspected 17 (42.5 per cent) were failing in their duty to "assist pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures, in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony". This compares with 18 out of 50 (36 per cent) Muslim schools and no Jewish schools.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "Over the academic year 20034 the number of independent faith schools grew from 170 to 276. Independent Muslim schools are now the largest group within this sector and are increasing at a faster rate than schools from other faiths. Given the growth of this sector it was appropriate for the chief inspector to highlight inspection evidence in this area."

Schools that continue to ignore the regulations will not be granted registration and will be closed.

Independent faith schools make up about one third of the 1,000 private schools inspected by Ofsted. One hundred are Muslim. Mr Bell said: "I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools, with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities... to British society.

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

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

Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools and principal of Leicester Islamic academy, said: "I think it's a misconception of Islamic schools and a further example of Islamophobia. For a person in his position to make such a generalised comment just beggars belief."

Phil Williamson, head of Christian Fellowship independent school in Liverpool, said: "Ofsted's figures are a nonsense. We have pupils from many ethnic backgrounds. The whole idea of a Christian ethos is that everyone is accepted for who they are."

Mr Bell's foray into controversy followed an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Any Questions last Friday when he criticised Prince Harry for wearing a Nazi uniform. He said: "If Prince Harry had attended a state school he would have studied the Holocaust." Tony Little, head of Eton college, where Prince Harry was educated, said all his pupils learn about the Holocaust.

Activities include lectures by survivors, an annual essay competition and Auschwitz visits.

news 6; Leader, Another voice 22

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