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Muslim schools win historic fight for state funding

The first two Muslim schools to receive state funding were announced by the Government yesterday. Judith Judd, Education Editor, explains how an 11-year fight came to an end.

For years Muslims have complained that white middle-class parents could send their children to religious schools free while Muslim, often working- class, parents had to pay.

Previous governments twice turned down applications but now David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, has agreed Muslims should be allowed state-funded schools in the same way as Anglicans and Roman Catholics. The two schools are the Islamia primary School in Brent, London, founded by Yusuf Islam, formerly the singer Cat Stevens, and the Al Furqan primary school in Sparkhill, Birmingham. At present, parents at both pay fees. Two Jewish schools will also get public funding - the Mathilda Marks Kennedy primary School in Barnet, London and a new Jewish primary school in Hertsmere, Hertfordshire.

Last month the Islamia school threatened to sue the Government because it had received no decision on an application for state-funding submitted a year earlier.

The three existing schools have been given grant-maintained status but will be expected to become voluntary- aided, like other church schools, when a Bill which abolishes grant-maintained status becomes law later this year.

Mr Blunkett is also expected to approve a new Jewish Orthodox primary school in Hertfordshire.

Officials made it clear that the Government had consistently said that applications for state funding would be decided on their merits.

Previous applications have been turned down because buildings or the curriculum were unsuitable or because there were already too many school places in the area.

Mr Blunkett yesterday reassured critics of state-funded Muslim schools that boys and girls would be treated equally and the national curriculum, which has brought complaints from some Muslim parents, would be taught. "I am pleased to be able to approve sound proposals which demonstrate that these new schools will comply with the statutory provisions governing all maintained schools, such as delivering the national curriculum and offering equal access to the curriculum for boys and girls."

Schools have to meet criteria which include a good standard of education, the national curriculum, suitably qualified staff, equal opportunities for boys and girls, suitable buildings and financial competence.

Zafar Ashraf, a spokesman at the over-subscribed Islamia school, said the school, which charges pounds 2,200 a year, faced a shortfall of pounds 250,000 this year. "For many years Muslim parents have, through their taxes, been funding schools for other denominations. This has caused great anger and resentment."

Trevor Phillips, page 19