Anger as Muslim school is denied state funding

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A Muslim girls' school has lost its campaign to become the first to receive state funds in Britain.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, has turned down an application for voluntary aided status by Feversham College, Bradford, West Yorkshire. School governors were told the news yesterday by government officials.

In a statement, Mrs Shephard said the bid had been rejected because it was felt that Feversham, formerly the Muslim Girls Community School, could not deliver the full national curriculum. The proposals for accommodation at the school also failed to meet health and safety standards.

"Management of the school is insufficiently developed to enable the school to meet its legal requirements for the national curriculum,'' she said.

The request for state funding was seen by many in the Muslim community as a test for their civil rights and government promises to allow parental choice in education.

Yesterday Ibrahim Hewitt, development officer of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: "The decision is a great disappointment. The Government has missed an opportunity to show the Muslim community that it values what they are doing for their daughters.''

The school was established just over 10 years ago. In that decade the Muslim community in Bradford has donated £1m towards its running costs as well as paying fees.

Its application had all-party backing from Bradford borough council's education committee.

Mr Hewitt added: "The Muslims in Bradford are not wealthy, but they have struggled to keep the school going so that their daughters can follow Islam and be properly educated.

"No doubt the school will struggle on, but it is hard to see how the Government can justify giving voluntary aided status to Christian schools, to Jewish schools and others but not to the Muslims. Their decision not to is a violation of the Muslim community's human rights."

Feversham is among a handful of Muslim schools which have applied for voluntary aided status and failed. Last year the Islamia school in Brent, north London, was refused equal footing with Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Jewish voluntary aided schools.

Islamia's application was refused on the grounds there were surplus schools places in the area. Despite a High Court ruling in 1992 that the Department for Education had acted unfairly, the Islamia school was again rejected in 1993.

Mr Hewitt said it was unlikely that Feversham College would appeal through the courts. "It did not work for Islamia, it seems unlikely it would work for Feversham. Appeals and lawyers are expensive and we do not have the money.''

Mrs Shephard stressed that although Feversham had been unsuccessful in its application the door remained open for it and other Muslim schools to join the maintained sector.

"I have given this application long and careful consideration," she said. "I am very much aware of the strong local demand for single-sex places for Muslim girls and the wide support for the school among the Bradford community: support that is not confined to the Muslim community. Whilst I have had to reject this present application, I do not want it to be seen as closing the door on this or any other Muslim school joining the state sector.''

She said she had asked her officials to work with the sponsors of the school "to help them overcome the current shortcomings in their application''.

"But all applications I receive for a new school to enter the publically funded sector must be judged by the same criteria," she added.