Muslim schools may get tax cash

12th August 2005 at 01:00
Half of Britain's Islamic private schools could join the state sector, writes Jon Slater

Ministers are considering relaxing the rules to allow up to 60 Muslim schools to become part of the state sector.

A White Paper this autumn is expected to outline reforms to bring them into the mainstream and give them taxpayer funding.

There are only five state Muslim schools, and the Government believes that an increase will help to break down barriers between different faiths.

The Department for Education and Skills has already given pound;100,000 to the Association of Muslim Schools to help to increase the existing number.

Idris Mears, director of the association, said about 35 Islamic schools are ready to join the state sector. Over the next decade, he said, he would like half of the current 120 Muslim private schools to do so.

The move comes as a TES investigation reveals that the first nine Islamic private schools inspected in 2005 meet the requirement to promote tolerance and harmony between cultural traditions.

Only one, Darul Uloom Islamic high in Birmingham, fails to provide pupils with knowledge of British public institutions.

The only Christian independent school inspected this year, Victory Day academy, in Wandsworth, south-west London, also failed to meet this requirement.

Activities at Muslim schools praised by inspectors included visits by pupils at Al Hikmah in Luton to Parliament and visits to Islamia girls', Kirklees, by professionals from the judicial system and the health service.

The findings from the TES investigation come six months after David Bell, the chief inspector, warned that independent Muslim schools posed a threat to social cohesion in Britain.

His comments caused a row with Muslim community leaders and rebukes from his own staff who accused him of failing to properly check his evidence.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said Mr Bell's comments referred to Muslim schools in the transitional phase before official registration. Ofsted only published reports of schools already registered.

Of 44 Muslim schools which had not gained registration by autumn 2004, 25 have since received Ofsted's approval. All private schools must gain official registration or face closure.

The London bombings have served to reignite the controversy about the place of Islamic schools in British society.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, answering questions at his monthly press conference, said: "We are looking to make sure that faith schools are very much incorporated into the mainstream and that should apply to all categories of faith school. We are having a discussion about how that operates."

Independent schools of all types - including Muslim schools - may be offered more flexibility on the conditions they must meet if they choose to join the state sector.

Rule changes may include relaxing the standards required of buildings to allow independent schools to receive state funding before work is completed.

A DfES spokesman said the Government would expect to see new state schools offering places to children of all faiths. They would also be expected to follow the national curriculum.

Marilyn Mason, the British Humanist Association's education officer, said:

"Funding and encouraging separate faith schools can't be the best way to achieve generations that understand each other, and a cohesive society."

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

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