Plans for faith schools defy 'time bomb' warning

NEW STATE-funded Muslim and Hindu secondaries are being planned, despite concerns from the Commission for Racial Equality that such schools are a "ticking time bomb waiting to explode".

Plans to open the first government-funded Hindu secondary are to be discussed this month in Leicester. The school is being proposed by the I-Foundation, a charitable trust which has been criticised in the past for its links with the international Hare Krishna movement.

The foundation will also open Britain's first state Hindu primary in London next year.

The proposed secondary would cater for Leicester's 41,000 Hindus, but would also be open to pupils from other religions.

Pradip Gajjar, the foundation's director, said: "Hindu pupils are high up in school league tables, so there is a definite ethic to do well. Hindus have become part of the British fabric and it is now time to invest in education."

Also being discussed by the Government is a proposal to set up the UK's first Muslim academy, in Bradford. The state-funded independent boys'

school would have an Islamic ethos, but would be open to pupils of all backgrounds.

A prospectus for the proposed 1,200-pupil Marmaduke Pickthall academy has already been published on the web. It claims support from a range of local organisations, including mosques and Bradford's university and FE college.

Bradford council is also named as a partner, but has since said that it does not support the plan.

A picture of a white rather than an Asian boy was deliberately chosen for the cover, which states that the school will "contribute to community cohesion, raising standards, instilling cultural tolerance, and improving inclusiveness and respect between different groups."

But Ian Murch, the National Union of Teachers' Bradford secretary, said the school would be unlikely to attract non-Muslim pupils.

Similar fears have been expressed by Nick Johnson, director of policy at the Commission for Racial Equality.

He has attacked faith schools, claiming that sending children to schools with others from the same ethnic or racial background will create a segregated society.

He said: "If a Muslim child is educated in a school where the vast majority of other children are also Muslim, how can we expect him to work, live and interact with people from other cultures when he leaves school?"

In 2005, a GuardianICM poll found that two-thirds of the public thought the Government should not fund faith schools of any kind.

Mr Johnson proposed that schools should be offered extra money for admitting a broad racial mix of pupils.

"Schools are where our children first learn how to get along with people from other cultures and backgrounds," he said. "Racially segregated schools prevent this from happening. This is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode."

Education by numbers

Total number of pupils in England: 7.3 million

Average primary class: 26.2 pupils

Average secondary: 21.3 pupils

Percentage eligible for free school meals: 15.9%

Ethnic-minority pupils

Primary: 21.9% (20.6% in 2006)

Secondary: 17.7% (16.8% in 2006)

Pupils whose first language is not English

Primary: 13.5% (12.5% in 2006)

Secondary: 10.5% (9.5% in 2006)

Gifted and talented pupils: 9.4%

Special educational needs: 2.8%

Looked-after children: 44,200

Proportion of looked-after children achieving at least one GCSE:63%

Proportion achieving five A*-C GCSEs: 12%

Full-time teachers: 434,900 (435,500 in 2006)

Teaching assistants: 162,900 (153,100 in 2006)

Vacancies: 2,040 (2,230 in 2006)

Proportion of workforce taking sick leave in 2006: 57%

Average days' sick leave per teacher: 5.3

Total number of schools: 25,179

Nurseries: 455

Primaries: 17,504

Secondaries: 3,365

Special schools: 1,105

Independent schools: 2,261

City technology colleges: 11

Academies: 27

Pupil referral units: 449

Source: DfES

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