Faith schools break the mould

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Jewish and Muslim pupils defy stereotype of segregation to establish wider community links

Jewish and Muslim faith schools are challenging their common stereotypes of self-segregation and isolation by going out of their way to engage the wider community, according to new research.

From this month, Ofsted inspectors will be considering whether state schools are fulfilling their new statutory duty to promote community cohesion.

But a study of nine Jewish and Muslim schools across the country, both independent and state-funded, found that for at least the last five years all have been working to ensure their pupils were involved with other communities.

Professor Marie Parker-Jenkins said: "This shows the assumption that these schools are the ones most lacking when it comes to promoting community cohesion is erroneous. This work is being done by schools considered to be on the margins of the system - independent schools that have no ambition to become state-funded."

The schools' initiatives to engage their pupils in the wider community include visits to other schools, interfaith religious festivals, charity and volunteer work within and beyond their own faith groups, and international links with schools of the same and different faiths.

But the researchers from the University of Derby found that building inter-school links could be more difficult when parents had sent children to faith schools specifically because they were single sex.

Schools had to ensure that visits would not lead to pupils mixing with the opposite gender. The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, recommends that schools consult parents about these activities and visits before they take place.

Musharraf Hussain Al Azhari, head of Nottingham Islamia School, one of those in the study, said: "This type of research can be very helpful to the wider society as it will remove apprehensions and misunderstandings about faith schools."

Professor Parker-Jenkins recommends that all schools should "map" their work on community cohesion, ensuring it is reaching all groups in the school.

The statutory duty to promote community cohesion does not apply to independent schools. But regulations do require them to help their pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures in a way that "promotes tolerance and harmony".

Terms of Engagement: Muslim and Jewish school communities, cultural sustainability and maintenance of religious identity by Marie Parker-Jenkins, Meli Glenn and Huma Shantu.

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