Muslim and Jewish organisations are setting up their own teacher-training schemes to provide qualified staff for their schools and boost recruitment from their communities into the teaching profession.
The Teacher Training Agency last week gave the Association of Muslim Schools the go-ahead for a secondary school-centred initial teacher-training course (SCITT). A primary SCITT run by the Agency for Jewish Education in London won approval earlier this term.
They add to the tiny but growing pool of courses attracting ethnic-minority students into teaching. The TTA last week also approved the relaunch of an undergraduate primary course with an Islamic specialism at Westhill College in Birmingham.
Roman Catholic and Church of England training colleges are well-established, but the introduction of SCITTs has allowed the spread of smaller courses with religious elements. Consortia of Catholic schools were among the first to take the opportunity.
Ibrahim Hewitt, development officer with the Association of Muslim Schools, said practitioners of Islam - particularly women - often feared their faith would not be respected at university. Experiences on a degree course put some off postgraduate certificates in education.
He said: "There are still places where Muslims are not really welcomed. They don't encourage the practice of faith on campus. They may be inflexible in tutorial times - Friday (holy day) prayers are a difficulty. Some lecturers are actually hostile towards them because they wear an identifiable badge of the faith such as the scarf."
The course will start with 10 maths and science students, adding English and primary courses over three years. It will include the use of Islam in multi-lingual, multi-cultural teaching in its core curriculum. Trainees will start and finish in Muslim schools, spending a middle placement in a state school.
All but two of 60 Muslim schools in the country are independent and so can employ unqualified teachers. More Jewish schools are state-funded, but because of shortages of primary teachers with a Jewish academic background they rely on non-qualified teachers to deliver the RE which occupies a quarter of the timetable.
The SCITT adds to other routes into teaching already set up by the Agency for Jewish Education, including a graduate teacher programme.
Jeffrey Leader, its director of education, said: "We want to plug the gap with talented graduates who are able to teach Jewish RE but also the national curriculum."
Westhill helped pioneer teacher training for ethnic minorities in the early 1990s with an undergraduate primary course. When that closed in a college-wide move to PGCEs, tutors hoped graduates from the applied theology degree course would take the postgraduate route into teaching. But numbers fell, and the undergraduate course will restart in September.
Around 16 providers with Christian religious affiliations, including Methodist and Free Church, are already accredited by the TTA.