Labour under pressure to drop faith-based schools plan

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Tony Blair is under pressure from close allies to scrap plans for a network of faith-based schools amid fears that they could foment racial tensions in the wake of the terrorist attacks on America.

Some ministers fear privately that the creation of Islamic schools could add to the problems in Britain's inner cities. The Government is monitoring the position closely in areas such as Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, where there was rioting this summer.

A government adviser said: "The situation in America is already causing problems within our own society. I'm not sure everyone has fully thought through this proposal."

The television mogul Lord Alli, who was a member of Labour's general election campaign team, said the attacks on the US had underlined the need for Britain and other countries to reduce "fear and tension" within their own communities.

He said: "Anything which encourages isolation and segregation in communities through education – where people usually have the chance to learn about co-existence – is a recipe for disaster."

Frank Dobson, a former secretary of state for health, said the events in the US had reinforced the need for the Government to think again about its policy for faith-based schools. He said: "I am not against Muslim schools. But as I believe in integration, I think we would be better off overall if we did not have denominational schools at all."

He said tensions could be raised if parents did not secure a place for their child at a local school which became a faith school and selected its pupils.

The Prime Minister wants to see more Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and Sikh schools within the state education system, believing this will give schools their own "ethos" and allow greater diversity.

Mr Blair has been the driving force behind the proposal, which was set out in a White Paper this month, but other ministers are understood to be less keen.

David Blunkett, who helped devise the plans while he was Secretary of State for Education, admitted that faith-based schools might risk reinforcing divisions within communities. In a Channel 4 programme at the weekend, I'm Not Racist But..., Mr Blunkett, who is now the Home Secretary, asked: "Should we have ethnically divided schools, can we have faith schools for Islamic and Sikh communities and Hindus when we gave them for Jewish and Christian denominations? I plead guilty to the contradictions and schizophrenias ... that we're all faced with."

In an attempt to reduce tensions, Mr Blair has stressed that nearly all British Muslims are appalled by the terrorist atrocities in America. But there are fears that problems could arise because some of the first applications for faith-based schools are expected to be made in Bradford.

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