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Muslim school denied state aid

THE ISLAMIA primary school in Brent, north-west London, has lost its battle to become the first state-aided Muslim school in Britain.

Ten years after the school was founded by Yusuf Islam (formerly the pop singer Cat Stevens) and began its campaign for state funding, Baroness Blatch, Minister of State for Education, said yesterday that Islamia's application had again been turned down because of a surplus of primary school places in the borough.

The decision was condemned by Muslim groups as 'unjust and insensitive'. But a letter to Islamia's governors from the Department for Education made clear that there was no objection in principle to granting voluntary-aided status to a Muslim school.

The school's original application was turned down in 1990 by John MacGregor, then Secretary of State for Education, but a judge ordered a review on the grounds that the information on surplus places should have been revealed to the applicants. John Patten, the current Secretary of State, visited several months ago and was reportedly satisfied with the way Islamia implemented the national curriculum.

Brent local education authority has more than 1,500 surplus places within two miles of Islamia school, and about 3,500 altogether. Ibrahim Hewitt, former general secretary of the Islamia Schools Trust, said this was 'a bankrupt argument - because if Muslim parents were happy with the local authority schools, then there wouldn't be surplus places. It is clear that these schools are not meeting the needs of British Muslims.'

Sir Rhodes Boyson, a former Conservative education minister, said the decision was a disaster: 'There are a million Muslim believers now in Britain and they should have the same rights to voluntary-aided schools as have the Christian and Jewish communities.'

Ghulam Sarwar, director of the Muslim Educational Trust, said: 'This unjust and insensitive decision undermines the Government's case for choice and diversity in education.'

The 180-pupil school, which has a waiting list of about 1,000, has been heavily subsidised by Yusuf Islam, and parents are asked to contribute pounds 1,100 a year. But Mr Islam has warned that without government funding it may have to close.