Muslim schools fail to teach tolerance, Ofsted chief says

The chief schools inspector, David Bell, faced an angry backlash from Muslim leaders last night after claiming many of their schools failed to promote tolerance of other cultures.

The chief schools inspector, David Bell, faced an angry backlash from Muslim leaders last night after claiming many of their schools failed to promote tolerance of other cultures.

Mr Bell, who is head of Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, said there was a danger that the growth in independent faith schools - especially Muslim ones - could undermine the coherence of British society.

His comments were condemned as "highly irresponsible" and he was accused of being Islamophobic. Mr Bell said he was worried that a traditional Islamic education "does not entirely fit" Muslim children for life in modern Britain.

He chose a lecture on the importance of teaching citizenship in schools to warn of the dangers of a "significant" growth in the number of independent faith schools in the UK. There are now around 300 of the schools in the country - including 100 Muslim, 100 evangelical Christian and 50 Jewish schools.

In his speech, Mr Bell said: "Britain's diversity has the potential to be one of its greatest strengths. But diverse does not need to mean completely different and it certainly must not mean segregated and separate.

"The growth in faith schools needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding not only of their own faiths but of other faiths and the wider tenets of British society," Mr Bell added. "We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation."

Mr Bell acknowledged that parents had a right to choose how their children were educated, and to pay for it, but added that "faith should not be blind".

"I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society."

He revealed that his annual state of the nation report on education standards next month would single out Muslim schools and warn they must adapt their curriculum to provide pupils "with a broad general knowledge of public institutions".

Yesterday's speech was condemned by Muslim leaders who accused Mr Bell of Islamophobia.

Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools and principal of the Leicester Islamic Academy, said: "I challenge him to come up with evidence that Muslim schools are not preparing young people for life in British society.

"It's a misconception of Islamic schools and a further example of Islamophobia. For a person in his position to make such a generalised comment just beggars belief."

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, added: "We consider it highly irresponsible to suggest that the growth of Muslim faith schools poses a threat to 'our coherence as a nation'."

However, Idris Mears, of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: "I do not think it's unfair of Mr Bell to bring the matter up. Muslim schools are aware of it. They're putting positive actions into place."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, added: "All schools have a responsibility to educate young people about the world outside their own background."

Speaking after his lecture Mr Bell said the problem was "less of an issue" with state faith schools - including Muslim ones - because "there are more formal requirements to meet the national curriculum".

Under the national curriculum, citizenship lessons are compulsory. However, Mr Bell said it was the "worst taught" subject with one in four lessons classified as "unsatisfactory".

FAITH-BASED EDUCATION

The number of faith-based independent schools has mushroomed over the past few years, according to the education standards watchdog, Ofsted. Two decades ago there was hardly a single Muslim school in the country.

The Islamia primary school in Brent, north-west London, founded by Yusuf Islam ­ the former pop singer Cat Stevens ­ in 1983, was one of the first to be founded. It became state funded in 1998 after a 15-year battle.

There are now 100 Muslim independent schools in Britain ­ but it is not only the Muslim faith that has expanded the number of schools that it runs. There are also 100 schools run by different groups of evangelical Christians and a further fifty run by various Jewish communities.

The independent faith schools do not charge the same level of fees levied by traditional public schools, such as Eton and Harrow. Many struggle on a hand to mouth existence, with gifts from the local community, and charge parents around £2,000 a year for their children's education.

The schools are not members of the Independent Schools Council, which represents the majority of established independent schools.

They have to apply for registration from Ofsted and can be refused if it is felt the school does not offer a sufficiently broad-based curriculum for its pupils.

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