Muslim school methods criticised by inspectors

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Plans for Britain's first state-funded Muslim school suffered a serious setback last night after a critical report from government inspectors.

The inspectors said that Islamia school in Brent, north London, was failing to teach the national curriculum and was breaching health and safety rules in a number of ways. They also questioned the school's discipline policy, under which pupils are hit on the hand with rulers if they misbehave.

Islamia school is currently run privately, relying on fees and private donations to survive. After being turned down for the voluntary-aided status which many Church of England and Catholic schools enjoy, it is now applying to "opt in" and become grant maintained.

But inspectors from Ofsted, the school inspection body, found that its teaching methods had serious weaknesses and it was failing to diagnose pupils' special needs properly.

Two reports published yesterday on the school's two sections, a primary department and a girls' high school, were very critical of its methods.

Although they declared that the high school met the minimum requirements of the 1944 education act they criticised its discipline policy. It was one of the very few schools which still had corporal punishment, the inspectors said, and it should think again about it. If Islamia was allowed to become a state school it would no longer be allowed to use physical punishment.

However, the girls' school had satisfactory standards of achievement and pupils were well motivated and well behaved, they said.

The primary school was criticised for its teaching methods, which the inspectors said failed to stretch the brightest but were too hard for the slowest. The school had been unable to implement the national curriculum and staff were not checked against a government list of banned teachers - those who have been struck off for abuse or misconduct - before being employed.

Parents and the community gave the school a great deal of support, however, and the welfare of the pupils was well looked after.

Last night, the general secretary of the association of Muslim schools, Ibrahim Hewitt, said that the reports gave extra weight to Islamia's case for state funding rather than weakening it. The girls' high school had some of the best GCSE results in Brent, he added.

"Obviously, if you are trying to run a school on a tight budget there may well be things which slip through, which otherwise would not or should not happen. This strengthens the case for state funding," he said.