Muslim schools set to win state cash

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The Independent Online
Plans for Britain's first publicly funded Muslim schools moved nearer reality yesterday after two private schools won official backing for their applications to join the state sector.

Islamia primary school, in Brent, north London, and Al-Furqan primary, in Birmingham, are today due to enter applications to Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, to win grant-maintained status. An application will also be entered for GM status for Islamia's sister school, an all-girls' secondary.

It comes after the quango which funds GM schools recommended both primary school bids, giving them a higher chance of securing approval.

As the three schools applied for GM status, a private Muslim girls' secondary school in Bradford announced plans to make a second attempt to join the state sector as a voluntary aided school. If successful, Feversham College, which had an application turned down two years ago, would become a state school, receiving funding through the local education authority on the same basis as many Church of England and Roman Catholic schools.

The developments mark a new burst of progress after several years of set-backs for the institutions jostling to become the first state-funded Islamic school. All are over-subscribed and are surviving on a combination of fees, charged where parents can pay, and donations from mosques and community groups.

Islamia primary and its sister school sought a legal review after their joint application for voluntary-aided status was refused in 1993. A second application was also rejected, prompting the schools to seek access to the state sector as grant-maintained institutions independent of the local authority. Al-Furqan primary, founded as a study group with four pupils in 1989, became a fully fledged primary three years later. Despite gaining parental backing for a bid for GM status almost immediately, the school has delayed applying until now while seeking larger premises than its current home in a converted textiles factory.

Feversham College also has plans for a move to a larger site after losing its first bid for state support partly on the grounds that its accommodation did not meet the requirements of the National Curriculum.

To gain public funding, Muslim schools have to commit themselves to following the National Curriculum, from which independent schools are exempt. They must demonstrate that they meet required standards of teaching and of financial management.

Islamia primary and secondary had a set-back last February when they received a critical report from government inspectors. A team from Ofsted, the school inspection body, found serious weaknesses in their teaching methods and criticised discipline policy, which involves children being hit on the hand with a ruler.

Dr Azam Baig, principal of both schools, yesterday said that changes had been made since the report, including the ending of corporal punishment. Staff were hopeful that the latest application for state funding would succeed, he said. "We feel as a GM school we would be able to take part in the state system and share our resources with other local schools. It would bring greater integration within the local community and for us in the Muslim community that would mean acceptance."

Zahida Hussain, principal of Al-Furqan primary, said state funding would bring greater stability to the school, assuring it of regular resources to allow it to maintain standards.