Watchdog warns over growth in faith schools

The growth of Muslim faith schools must not be allowed to undermine the coherence of British society, the head of Ofsted warned today.

A traditional Islamic education "does not entirely fit" Muslim children for life in modern Britain, Chief Inspector of Schools David Bell said.

While diversity is potentially a great strength, Mr Bell suggested that it could also pose a threat to "our coherence as a nation" if taken too far.

In a speech to the Hansard Society in central London, Mr Bell acknowledged that the issues he was raising were "tricky".

But he stressed: "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 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 or separate.

"Religious segregation in schools, for example, must not put our coherence at risk."

Mr Bell said his next annual report will urge Muslim schools to reform their lessons to give children "a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England".

These schools must help their pupils "to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony", he said.

The country now has about 300 independent faith schools, including more than 50 Jewish schools, about 100 Muslim schools and over 100 Evangelical Christian schools, he said.

"I believe that it is right that parents should be able to choose how their children are educated and should be able to pay to do so."

And many new faith schools were being opened by "a younger generation of British Muslims".

These people recognised that "traditional Islamic education does not entirely fit pupils for their lives as Muslims in modern Britain".

Mr Bell said the Government must monitor these new faith schools to make sure pupils are taught about "other faiths and the wider tenets of British society".

"We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation," he said.

Mr Bell went on to say that there should be no tolerance of "attitudes and values that demean the place of certain sections of our community, be they women or people living in non-traditional relationships".

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