Should we have faith in the future of religious schools?

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The Independent Online

An interesting perspective on those Ofsted reports claiming that independent Muslim schools in Tower Hamlets were failing to safeguard their pupils and rendering them prey to extremist views and radicalisation.

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Roman, from the pressure group Accord, which campaigns for open access to faith schools, argues that the Tower Hamlets affair just happens to involve Muslim schools – but that flaws such as neglecting secular studies and not being interested in wider society could happen in any faith school.

It did seem to me that last Friday's inspection reports were probably the best argument I had ever heard for reverting to a secular education system. The trouble is, how do you go about it? It would appear to be too bold a move to introduce, even in just the state sector.

Former Education Secretary Michael Gove tried to open up admissions to faith free schools by insisting that 50 per cent of admissions should be retained for pupils of a different faith or none. Many of these schools, though, failed to attract enough interest from outside of their own faiths.

So, while it may be the right policy to outlaw faith schools to avoid segregation of pupils, I cannot see it happening during my time as an education editor.

Meanwhile, on a visit to Malvern St James Girls' School, an independent boarding school in Herefordshire, I discovered, on talking to the head, Patricia Woodhouse, that it had attracted quite a few pupils from the Far East.

Now, there is a lot of talk about how we should adopt the policies of places such as Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea to soar up the international testing league tables (these countries top them).

Talking to Mrs Woodhouse, I learnt that, upon arrival, the Far Eastern pupils were loathe to ask questions of the teacher. They were used to rote learning and just listening to what their teachers said.

They were ahead in algebra, but behind in thinking skills, she said. They do, however, have specialist teachers in the primary sector, as a group of visiting Chinese teachers explained. So it would seem to be a case of swings and roundabouts.