Muslims condemn 'tokenism'

25th February 2005 at 00:00
Pressure group says the needs of the vast majority of Islamic pupils at state schools are ignored, reports Graeme Paton

State schools are failing Islamic pupils by neglecting to provide prayer facilities or teach basic elements of their faith, the Muslim Council of Britain has said.

Tahir Alam, chairman of the council's education committee, said even schools with a predominately Muslim population often made only "tokenistic" efforts to accommodate Islamic beliefs.

His comments came as Stephen Twigg, the school standards minister, praised schools last week for their excellent work in promoting inclusion.

Mr Twigg picked out 46 church schools which, he said, played an important role in promoting all religions. The list included a Church of England secondary in east London which has 80 per cent Muslim pupils.

Sir John Cass in Stepney, London, offers 20 per cent of its places on a religious basis and designates a further 10 per cent as "language" places.

The school has a purpose-built prayer room for Muslim pupils and is visited each day by an imam from a local mosque.

Inspectors said that pupils were given plentiful opportunities to study the development of Islamic civilisations in history and in religious education and that the school's Muslim prayer group was active in the community.

Hadyn Evans, head of Sir John Cass, said faith schools were "proactive" at supporting Muslim children and those with other religions because they understood the importance of belief. "It's very difficult to understand faith unless you have one," he said.

David Whittington, the Church of England's national school development officer, said that many of the church's city schools have at least 80 per cent Muslim pupils. "They take enabling Muslim pupils to pray and learn about their religion very seriously," he said. "Sadly, there are some schools in England that don't do that - but they can be tokenistic about all faiths."

But Mr Alam said: "Most schools, including those with a high composition of Muslim pupils, are failing to meet their needs," he said. "French, German or Spanish may be offered, but very few offer Arabic. Islamic studies are often ignored and many schools do not even have prayer facilities or proper washing facilities for Muslim pupils.

"You could visit almost any state school with a large number of Muslim pupils and it probably will not be delivering anything to do with Islam.

They may have four tokenistic assemblies a year on things like Eid or Ramadan, but that is clearly not enough."

Mr Alam said parents of pupils at two Christian state schools in Birmingham, where 70 per cent of pupils are Muslim, recently lodged complaints over obligatory twice-weekly church services for all students.

He called for the creation of more Muslim state schools to cater for Islamic children. Last year there were 371,000 Muslim children aged five to 16 in England. Around 97 per cent at-tended mainstream state schools and 3 per cent were educated at private Muslim schools.

However, parents unable to pay private fees have been left with few alternatives. There are only five Muslim state schools in England, three primaries and two secondaries, educating fewer than 1,500 children. This year two more independent Muslim schools have joined the state sector and will open in coming months.

The Leicester Islamic academy, a five-to-16 school, and Avenue primary, in Brent, north-west London, have successfully applied to win voluntary-aided status this year. The newly-gained status will enable both schools, which charge less than pound;1,500 in annual fees, to tap into extra resources, aiding expansion.

Mr Alam insisted that demand among parents for a Muslim education did not undermine the coherence of British society, despite claims by David Bell, the chief inspector, who said last month that Muslim schools largely failed to promote tolerance of other cultures. The Muslim Council of Britain confirmed this week that it is to meet Mr Bell to discuss his claims.

Faith schools: working for cohesion:


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