Leading article: Not all Muslim schools fail

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It is simplistic to accuse David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, of Islamophobia for his comment that many Muslim schools do not prepare their pupils adequately for life in modern Britain.

It is simplistic to accuse David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, of Islamophobia for his comment that many Muslim schools do not prepare their pupils adequately for life in modern Britain. If he has evidence from his inspectors, as he says he has, that this is the case and that Muslim schools are failing to teach tolerance of other cultures, he has a duty to speak out about it and we should welcome the fact that it is now a matter for public debate.

However, discussions with the Muslim community indicate that the problem lies with the smaller faith-based schools who rely on handouts to get by, may not be able to afford qualified teachers and struggle to provide a broad and balanced curriculum. If that is the case, Bell should have stated that more clearly.

By far the majority of the 100 or so independent Muslim schools in the United Kingdom are keen to come into the state sector. Indeed, many have applications for voluntary aided status lodged with the Department for Education and Skills. With voluntary aided status comes the responsibility to deliver the national curriculum and to be regularly inspected by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog. Bell says there are no problems with the five Muslim schools that have already been granted voluntary aided status.

While we have a state education system that allows different religious groups to run their own schools, it is only fair that the Muslims should have as many state-aided schools pro rata as the Christian community. Some independent Muslim schools, such as the Leicester Islamic Academy where 100 per cent of pupils achieve A* to C grade passes at GCSE, have been waiting for more than three years for their applications to be approved.

It is obvious that such schools benefit their communities. If, however, there are problems with smaller schools - as representatives of the Association of Muslim Schools have themselves said - they should no longer be allowed to operate as independent schools until they have put right their deficiencies. The issue is too important to be swept under the carpet. In today's world, children need to taught about different cultures and religions - and to learn respect for them - to avoid falling prey to extremists.

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