Muslim school helps out secular neighbour

On the face of it the two schools have nothing in common apart from the city they share.

Tauheedul Islam Girls' School in Blackburn was one of the country's first state-funded Muslim schools, set up by parents who wanted an alternative to the state sector. Ranked as outstanding by Ofsted, it has some of the best exam results in Britain.

Blakewater College has traditionally served a more white working-class Lancastrian community in another part of the city. It has a chequered past, having problems with behaviour and exam performance.

But now Tauheedul is helping Blakewater turn itself round. It is the first time that a Muslim school has been asked to perform a rescue act on a non-faith state school, but the experiment is already paying dividends.

After only eight months the percentage of pupils gaining five A* to C grade passes at Blakewater has risen from 11 per cent to 26 per cent.

Alan Chambers, head of Blakewater College for the past year, said the link with Tauheedul – led by its principal, Hamid Patel – had helped immeasurably. "Hamid is a Blackburn lad and there is no doubt that he wants to put something back into the wider community that both of us serve," Mr Chambers said.

The college now assesses the performance of pupils as soon as they arrive, giving them extra support if they fall short. It has also approached parents to get them more involved in the process – a tactic previously honed by their colleagues across the city.

"At Tauheedul, we get 90 to 95 per cent parental attendance," said Mr Patel. "If they don't come we ring them and say 'Come tomorrow'. We keep doing that until they come." Another of the key challenges, he said, was to raise pupils' aspirations.

Mr Patel has already written to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, outlining plans for a countrywide network of schools like Tauheedul – using the "free schools" initiative to get them up and running. Tauheedul was run as an independent school for more than two decades in terraced houses, accepting financial contributions from parents.

It joined the state sector in 2006 and has since expanded, now having to turn away more than 200 applicants a year. Mr Patel said that within five years he would like to open the doors to non-Muslim pupils, as white families are already asking for its prospectus on the strength of its exam results.

"Come back in five years and I guarantee [we] will have white families. In some areas of the country there are Church of England schools that are 100 per cent Muslim because they like the ethos of the school," he said.

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