Head seeks to show Islam's 'broad values' by opening school to all
Islamic state schools should encourage non-believers to become pupils in a bid to tackle intolerance, according to the head of a leading Muslim secondary.
Hamid Patel, principal of high-performing Tauheedul Islam Girls High School in Blackburn, said inclusive admissions would reduce hostility towards Islam and demonstrate the "positive broad values of the faith".
Mr Patel plans to set up a chain of Tauheedul-branded faith and non-faith free schools to further break down religious divisions.
He said that his current school - which is heavily over-subscribed with Muslim applications - had been contacted by a number of non-religious parents attracted by Tauheedul's outstanding exam results.
It would only be a "matter of time" until non-Muslims applied for places and were accepted by the school, he said.
"If there were 20 white children at our school already, parents would be reassured," Mr Patel told The TES.
"It will take that first group, but the experience they have will inspire others to do the same. Come back here in 10 years and ask me if we have non-Muslim pupils - the answer will be yes."
Mr Patel's comments follow remarks from the Bishop of Oxford, who, as chair of the Church of England's board of education, has called on its schools to cut reserved places for practising Anglicans.
The Association of Muslim Schools criticised the Bishop, saying the CofE was "bending to ... a secularist agenda to try to get rid of faith schools".
But Mr Patel said that Tauheedul - where 98 per cent of pupils achieved five GCSEs with English and maths last year, despite serving a deprived area - could maintain its faith ethos with a diverse pupil intake.
His school offered a "secular curriculum", Mr Patel said. "Anyone would look at 99 per cent of what we do and say it's a no-brainer. We are not a madrassa. We have lots of them around here and that's where kids go for Islamic instruction."
The religious elements of the school could be adapted for non-faith pupils, he insists. Every lesson begins with 30 seconds of silence for individual prayer, but this could be used by non-religious pupils for reflection.
Prayers in assemblies cover general themes, such as health, family and community, that are relevant to a wide range of pupils, Mr Patel said. And while all of the girls wear headscarves - and some wear full face coverings - that would not apply to other pupils.
Tauheedul is located in a largely Muslim part of Blackburn, but is due to move to a new site in a more mixed area. While it will still reserve 70 of its 120 annual places for Muslims, the rest will be allocated on proximity to the school. Mr Patel also plans to work with free-school groups across the country to create a network of up to 12 Tauheedul schools in the next three years.
Some are likely to have a 100 per cent Muslim intake, but Mr Patel also wants to work in predominantly white areas.
"If we can create an environment of people from all communities working together, you have something powerful," he said.
"Many non-Muslims only come into contact with Islam on the news when they hear about extremism, but that is not representative of the community."
Tauheedul Islam Girls High School became the first Muslim state school to partner a struggling community school to help it improve standards.
It has worked with Blakewater College in Blackburn since 2009, and has seen the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs with English and maths rise from 11 to 26 per cent.
Mr Patel wants all successful faith schools to work with less successful community schools.