Religious schools appeal for cash

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JUDITH JUDD

Education Editor

Muslim, Christian and Jewish schools will tomorrow announce a new alliance to persuade politicians to provide them with state funding. The alliance, which also includes Steiner and small parent-run schools, is sending a pack presenting its case to all MPs.

The law already allows alliance schools to apply for state funding but none has so far been successful. Labour, which has held talks with the alliance, says it has no objection to Muslim schools, provided that they follow the national curriculum. Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, has said it is only a matter of time before Muslims and similar groups have their own schools.

But the alliance, which involves more than 50 schools at present financed by fees, says that, in practice, their applications are always turned down. Its members believe a few Muslim and Christian fundamentalist schools have given the rest a bad name, The alliance schools say they want to separate themselves from those which are not prepared to compromise.

They have agreed to open their doors to pupils of all faiths without trying to convert them. They have also promised to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. A document to be sent to all MPs says: "We believe that parents, children, and society will benefit from having a greater variety of schools in a sector that comes between state and private schools.

"For the new `faith' schools there is an injustice in a system that funds Church of England, Roman Catholic and some Methodist and Jewish schools from the public purse."

The alliance expects that 10 per cent of school places might eventually be provided by the new "third sector." A failing school in Birmingham, for instance, might be converted to house a Muslim school, a Steiner school, a Christian school, a school specialising in technology or music and a nursery and teachers' centre, as happens in New York.

Schools such as the Christian Oakhill school in Bristol and the Muslim Islamia School in Brent have been turned down for state funding. Colin Hodgetts, the alliance co-ordinator and secretary, said: "I believe Muslims are being scapegoated: the satanic mantle that rested on communist shoulders is now being placed on Muslim shoulders. To prevent this happening would on its own be a good enough reason for supporting Muslim schools."

He said schools had been turned down for state funding because there were surplus places in nearby schools, "We do not accept that. If you are going to have choice, you have to have spare places."

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