Muslim state schools are among the most successful in the country in terms of both value-added scores and raw exam results, The TES can reveal.
Pupils make more progress at Muslim secondary schools than in any other type of school, including faith schools and non-religious comprehensives, figures from Whitehall show.
Islamic state schools come joint top in primary school English tests, with more than 90 per cent of pupils achieving the Government's target score in their key stage 2 exams. Only Jewish schools - long regarded as the most academically successful - can match the performance of Muslim schools on this measure.
The figures, based on 2007 results, reignite the debate on faith schools and the quality of education they provide in compared with non-religious community schools.
Muslim schools are new to the state sector and their number, with just 10 open, are a tiny fraction of the number run by the Church of England and the Catholic Church.
Just three Muslim primaries and three Muslim secondaries returned results in 2007. But more private Islamic schools are expected to join the state sector. Plans for new schools in London and Kirklees in West Yorkshire are being developed.
And, as revealed in The TES last week, the first bid from a Muslim charity to run a state school with places guaranteed for non-Muslim pupils is now being considered by the schools adjudicator.
The exam results, released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, show that the Muslim secondaries last year had an average contextual value-added (CVA) score - which factors in pupil background and prior attainment - far above all other schools.
In terms of raw exam results, 62.9 per cent of pupils achieved five A*-C grade GCSEs, including English and maths - more than double the Government's floor target of 30 per cent.
The average for all faith schools is 51.8 per cent, with non-religious schools, excluding selective grammars, averaging 43.3 per cent. Jewish schools achieve the best raw results, with 77 per cent of pupils in eight secondaries hitting the five GCSEs target.
Mohamed Mukadam, the chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, which represents almost 130 state and private Islamic schools, said much of the success in developing pupils could be attributed to strong community involvement.
"We are only a small number of schools, but the key thing is that we work with the parents and the community to drive up standards," said Dr Mukadam, who is also the head of Leicester's Madani High School, an Pounds 18 million state secondary opened last year.
"We make sure we go the extra mile with parents and send them lots of information," he said. "We also inculcate pupils with traditional values of discipline and hard work."
The results for Muslim schools are also impressive considering that children from Pakistani and Muslim-Indian homes generally achieve lower exam results than national averages.
In primaries, the picture is more mixed. Muslim schools come joint top in key stage 2 English tests, with 93 per cent of pupils achieving at level 4.
Dr Mukadam said people should not be surprised. "We are talking about third and fourth generation children," he said. "The vast majority will now speak English at home as their first language. We have moved on from the days when English was not spoken at home."
But the contextual value-added score for Muslim primaries is the lowest of any type of school, suggesting that results with younger pupils should be better than they are.
Results from private Muslim schools have not been collated.
Elsewhere, the performance of CofE and Catholic schools, by far the largest providers of faith-based education, reached similar levels.
The Church of England is the biggest player in the primary sector, with almost 3,900 of its schools returning results last year. The Roman Catholic Church was in control of 1,621 primary schools.
In secondaries the position is reversed, with 160 CofE schools compared with 332 Catholic. The latter achieved slightly better results in both raw exam grades and value-added scores.
Earlier this year Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, was accused of a "witch-hunt" against faith schools after he launched an inquiry into schools breaking the new admissions code. Spot checks by his department concluded that the code, introduced last year, was being widely flouted, and that the majority of faith schools were guilty.
The Government said there was evidence of some Jewish schools in Barnet, north London, asking parents for voluntary cash contributions.
A report by the school adjudicator, published last month, found at least two-thirds of schools that control their own admissions, most of which are faith schools, were failing to follow the code. Most of these were minor transgressions, but there was a significant number which were caught asking for supplementary information from applicants.
It is feared this information, including parents' jobs and marital status, is used to cream off middle-class pupils - a common complaint by critics of faith schools, who say that their academic success is down to selecting more able students.
Faith schools refute the suggestion that they select on grounds of social class or academic ability.
Oona Stannard, director of the Catholic Education Service, said Ofsted data showed that Catholic schools are more ethnically diverse than community schools overall.
"Our success comes from fulfilling our mission, which is so much more than what Ofsted or the Government says what a school must do," she said. "When I was a teacher, I remembered that I was not just seeing a child, but was seeing God in that child, and that creates expectations in teachers. We are charged with developing the whole child."
But researchers into faith schools report that admissions criteria are a significant factor in their superior exam performance.
Rebecca Allen, lecturer in economics of education at London University's Institute of Education, said: "The most common criterion is that families need to attend church for two years before their children start at school.
"Families able to do that tend to be organised and supportive, which are the factors that children need to succeed at school."
Ms Allen said data on the Jewish community showed it was overwhelmingly upper-middle class, with highly educated adults.
"The data is so stark that the results that children from those families are getting are not a surprise," she said. "They do very well at school, as they should do."
Academics have also pointed to shortcomings in how contextual value-added scores are calculated.
Anne West, a professor at the London School of Economics, said CVA does not take account of all the factors affecting pupils. This means schools can achieve high scores for reasons not factored into the data, such as parents who are highly educated.
Faith schools have been further criticised for accepting relatively low numbers of children eligible for free school meals, the most commonly used indicator of social class.
Figures show that based on national trends, faith schools admit a similar number of children eligible for free school meals as other schools. But faith schools - especially Catholic secondaries - tend to be in inner-city areas where the numbers taking free school meals are higher than national averages.
Keith Porteous Wood, director of the National Secular Society, said: "Non- religious schools take a higher proportion of children who have behavioural problems, which drags down their results."
A report published this month by the Runnymede Trust said that faith schools should end selection on the basis of faith.
Andrew Copson, education director of the British Humanist Association, said faith schools, which have greater freedoms in the teaching of RE and employing teachers according to their religious beliefs, were incompatible with the duty placed on schools to promote community cohesion.
In Tony Blair, faith schools had a highly vocal champion. The rhetoric has been reduced under Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, but the expansion of faith schools appears inevitable.
Faith in the System, a government document published last year, promised to help remove the barriers stopping the growth of minority faith schools.
Coupled with the increasing influence of religious groups in the academies programme, the debate over the impact of faith on education has a long way to run.
Full reports, News, pages 14-17
Uneasy peace, Magazine, page 10
FAITH SCHOOLS HAVE THE EDGE
Faith schools outperform non-religious community schools in both raw exam results and contextual value-added (CVA) scores.
More than half of pupils at faith schools achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 43 per cent at non-religious schools.
Church of England and Roman Catholic schools achieve largely similar results in primary and secondary school exams.
Catholic secondary schools perform better than CE schools in CVA scores.
The three Muslim state primary schools that returned results for 2007 topped the league tables in key stage 2 English tests.
Muslim state primaries were the worst performers in CVA scores. But Muslim secondaries were the best schools in terms of CVA.
Jewish schools were the best overall performers in raw results. More than three-quarters of pupils received five good GCSEs including English and maths, although there are only eight of these schools.
More than 90 per cent of children at Jewish primaries reached the Government's targets for English and maths in KS2 tests.
`We are only a small number of schools, but the key thing is that we work with the parents and the community to drive up standards'
Mohamed Mukadam, Chairman, Association of Muslim Schools
`When I was a teacher, I remembered that I was not just seeing a child, but was seeing God in that child, and that creates expectations in teachers. We are charged with developing the whole child'
Oona Stannard, Director, Catholic Education Service
`Non-religious schools take a higher proportion of children who have behavioural problems, which drags down their results'
Keith Porteous Wood, Director, National Secular Society.