Diversity comes with a price tag

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Preservation of language and culture within a multi-ethnic and diverse Scotland continues to dominate the headlines (page five). Ministers have trumpeted their defence of Gaelic and will introduce legislation before the summer: education is paramount to success. In a separate development, parents are attempting to win backing for state-funded Islamic schools in East Renfrewshire and perhaps Glasgow, which have the largest concentrations of Muslims. Ministers are more reticent and say that is a matter for local authorities.

In three weeks, Jack McConnell and Peter Peacock will attend a conference in North Lanarkshire entitled "Diversity makes a Difference". What they appear to have in mind are specialisms such as sport, music and languages.

Less certain is their stance on distinct Muslim schools when they are actively pursuing an attack on sectarianism in the west of Scotland and gently nudging Roman Catholic and non-denominational schools together on joint campuses.

South of the border, there are a handful of state-backed Islamic schools and many more independent schools, to add to Church of England and Roman Catholic primaries and secondaries. It is a more varied pattern. But there is no suggestion Scotland will emulate that model of choice based on religion. We simply accept historical precedent.

Gaelic is largely primary-based and struggles in secondary. Only a trickle of teachers qualify each year to teach secondary subjects through Gaelic.

Staff are reluctant to commit themselves. Would any Muslim school, if parents support it and any council is prepared to establish one, fare any better? Would it be confined to primary? Where would the teachers come from? The Muslim community is far smaller than the Catholic community which is already facing staffing difficulties and declining rolls.

Aside from the principles, practicalities can sink any initiative, however well-intentioned.

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