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More faith schools are planned in an effort to integrate minorities

More faith schools are planned in an effort to
integrate minorities



Thousands of Muslim children will be educated in new state faith schools under radical plans to extend state education to Britain’s minority religions.

The move comes amid growing concern that a generation of British Muslim children, whose parents may speak poor English or be poorly integrated in British society, could grow up in segregated communities.

The move would give the Government greater control over Muslim schools at a time when questions are being raised about whether some are adequately preparing children for life in Britain.

It would also respond to the huge demand among Muslim parents for their children to attend madrassas and after-school Muslim education classes in mosques and to ensure that their children get a proper grounding in their faith.

A joint document signed by the Government and leaders of Britain’s main faith communities, to be published on Monday, emphasises the important role of faith schools in fostering understanding between different religions and promoting integration and community cohesion.

A draft of the document seen by The Times states that the Government will work with faith organisations “to remove unnecessary barriers to the creation of new faith schools” and to “encourage independent schools to enter the maintained sector”.

“We recognise that there are nearly 15,000 Muslim children and around 11,000 Jewish children, including those from low-income families, whose parents chose to send them to independent schools with a particular religious character and that the availability of places in the maintained sector could therefore provide an important contribution to integration and empowerment of these communities,” the document states.

It adds that where independent faith schools want to enter the state sector, but do not have appropriate premises, local authorities may “offer premises, or arrange to acquire them, and also offer any capital investment that may be needed”.

“Where (the local authority) does not itself have the necessary resources, it may approach the department (for children, schools and families) for additional funding to support low-cost options,” it continues. The document was drawn up by a coalition of Britain’s leading faith schools in the aftermath of a government retreat on plans to force new religious schools to take a quarter of their intake from pupils of other religions or none.

The climbdown came in the face of unprecedented lobbying by the two-million-strong Roman Catholic community.

The document, Faith in Schools, aims to heal the rift caused by this U-turn and to establish a consensus on faith schools. But it fails to resolve the fundamental clash between two of Labour’s most cherished mantras – the desire to bolster parent power and parental choice, and the imperative of avoiding segregation.

About one third of the 21,000 state schools in England are faith schools, the vast majority Christian. Of the 48 that are non-Christian, 37 are Jewish, seven Muslim and two Sikh.

Critics of the expansion of faith schools argue that they not only increase segregation of the children who attend them, but they also reduce diversity in nearby non-faith schools by attracting away pupils of faith.

Supporters point to the superior academic results of faith schools, attributed to the shared religious ethos of pupils and staff.

Members of the Muslim community believe that there is a “significant interest” among about 30 of England’s 115 independent Muslim schools to enter the state sector.

Tahir Alam, education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “There are half a million Muslim children at school in the state sector, but only a handful of Muslim schools. If you are a Christian child, you have a 33 per cent chance of attending a school of your faith. But if you are Muslim, the chances are 0.75 per cent.”

He added, however, that it would not be desirable for all children of faith to be educated in separate schools.

“Not every Muslim wants to send their children to a faith school. That would create parallel system. But there ought to be the choice for the parents who do want it,” he said.

In the Jewish community, by contrast, there is very little demand for more state funding for schools, largely because 63 per cent of Jewish children already attend Jewish schools.

From   September 8, 2007

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