Muslims back state funding

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Demands for state funds to run Islamic schools are strongly supported by Britain's Muslims, according to new research.

A survey by the Policy Studies Institute shows that Muslims are more than twice as likely as most other groups to support state backing for religious schools.

The research, published in a book out this week, also shows some ethnic minorities are forging ahead of whites in further and higher education.

Chinese, African Asians and Indians were the best-qualified groups, followed by whites. Then came Caribbeans and Pakistanis, with Bangladeshis least qualified.

The survey, carried out at random among more than 8,000 people nationwide, found four out of five Indian and African Asian men aged 16-19 were in full-time education compared with only 43 per cent of white males.

The research is likely to prompt a fresh look at how resources for ethnic minorities are shared.

Tariq Modood, the main author of Ethnic Minorities in Britain, said it showed that teachers ought to be aware that some black and Asian children were more highly motivated than whites. Extra help needed to be focused on the lowest achieving groups.

The findings on support for religious schools come as Muslim leaders wait for a decision from Education Secretary David Blunkett on the fate of the Islamia school in north London and the Al-Furqan primary in Birmingham, which want to become grant-maintained.

Governors of a third school, Feversham College in Bradford, West Yorkshire, formerly known as Bradford Girls' Muslim School, are applying for voluntary-aided status with backing from the local council.

Nearly half of the Muslims questioned in the survey backed state funding. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis also strongly supported single-sex schooling, especially for their daughters.

Mr Modood said: "The research shows that ethnic minorities are on the whole highly motivated and are doing well. But resources need to be targeted at those who are not doing well, especially the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Caribbean males.

"Muslims felt very strongly that they should be treated fairly alongside other groups who have state backing for their schools."

Ibrahim Hewitt, of the Association of Muslim Schools, said the figures probably underestimated support for state Islamic schools. He said many Muslim parents would not have said they supported religious schools because they associated them with high fees. But if Islamic schools were funded by the state the overwhelming majority of parents would back them.

Muslim campaigners are hoping Labour will take a more favourable attitude to widening state support for religious schools than the last government did. They point to Mr Blunkett's letter to school heads and governors shortly after the general election, which said that Labour was not interested in dogma.

Many have now realised that demands for state funding for Muslim schools are hard to resist when the Church of England, Catholics, Jews and other groups have long had their own state schools.

Ethnic Minorities in Britain by Tariq Modood et al, Policy Studies Institute, pound;17.50 from bookshops.

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