Multi-faith schools planned to combat segregation

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Plans for a new network of multi-faith academies to combat segregated schooling in the inner cities will be unveiled today.

The new-style schools will be backed by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

The scheme is being pioneered in Oldham, Lancashire - the scene of race riots in 2001 - where seven secondary schools will close to make way for three academies supported by the four faiths.

The catchment areas of the academies will be redrawn to avoid the current segregation whereby some secondary schools have a 99 per cent Bangladeshi intake and others are almost exclusively white.

The plan will be unveiled by Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust - the Government's senior adviser on academies - in a speech to a conference on literacy and numeracy. He will say the Oldham blueprint is expected to pave the way for similar models to be introduced in other inner-city areas.

"Segregation can fuel extremism," he will tell the conference in London. "Our Muslim communities are much more likely to help the police over atrocities such as the July 7 Tube bombings if they are better integrated. It is a radical step but I believe a multi-faith community academy initiative can create new schools in socially deprived areas with a far more balanced intake of pupils."

Each academy will have reserved space for community activities including, for example, areas set aside for local mosquesto teach the Koran to Muslim pupils. If the academies become popular and oversubscribed, selection will be by lottery to avoid one faith getting a stranglehold. Sir Cyril told The Independent: "It is important to point out these schools will not be jointly administered by four faiths, but supported by them."

Private sponsors are being sought to finance the academies, in which English language classes will be introduced for parents who do not speak English.

"I believe the pupils will welcome the change," Sir Cyril will say. "Most commentators underestimate the desire of most British ethnic minorities to integrate better. White children will also welcome the end of segregation.

"The encouragement of better relations between the two billion Muslims in the world with the four-and-a-half billion other inhabitants of our planet is vital. Britain, with its tradition of tolerance, could lead the way in developing new ways to achieve this."

He will add: "Making our schools strong community centres would not only raise academic standards but help foster better relations between all our citizens."