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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 12:21 GMT
Divisions over faith schools
pupils in school corridor
Debate raises issues of difference and alienation
Education ministers' desire to see more faith schools in England continues to cause controversy, following the reports on the riots in northern towns this summer.

The education spokesman in Bradford, one of the towns affected, Liberal Democrat David Ward, has said he would support the abolition of single faith schools.

"I believe that prejudice is created when people are kept apart," he said.

"I also believe automatically, naturally that prejudice is broken down when people mix.

"And you don't do that by having sixth form discussions about the need to understand and appreciate different cultures," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Long history

"You do it by sitting next to people, sharing your rubbers, sharing your rulers, sharing your bag of crisps. That's how you actually get to know other people."

The idea of having a quota system for minority pupils within schools dominated by one faith or culture - proposed in one of the official reports on the summer's disturbances - was impractical because it would involve "massive bussing" of children across Bradford.

Asked whether he would support the abolition of single faith schools, Mr Ward said: "That's an enormous step to take, and you're taking in hundreds and hundreds of years of history there.

"I would personally like to do that. As long as it's legal for there to be faith schools then of course I must support that."

But he said he would not mourn their passing and he did not think the majority of people in the country would.

Generations 'failed'

A former Bradford head teacher, Ray Honeyford, who was forced to step down after attacking the idea of multi-culturalism, said there were now 14 religions in the country and if they all wanted their own schools there would be "chaos".

He said most Muslim parents did not want separate schools for their children - so those who advocated them tended towards extremism.

But the director of the London School of Islamics educational trust, Iftikhar Ahmad, argues that "the silent majority" of Muslim parents do want separate schools because multi-culturalism has failed their children.

The Muslim community had lost three generations who had not been educated properly for their own society or for British society at large.

"The children should be educated according to the wishes and demands of the parents," he said.

But Muslim communities did not have the resources to set up schools for all their children.

So there did need to be government help to do so. He proposed that state schools where Muslim pupils were in a majority anyway should be handed over to Muslim educational trusts.

Recognition

The head of the Church of England board of education, Canon John Hall, said the government Community Cohesion Review Team report on the riots - the Cantle report - had said the segregation problem arose because of schools where one community happened to be in a majority - whether they were faith schools or not.

He said there were about 70 Muslim schools which were independent - so were not required to teach the national curriculum.

"I think the proposal to extend the number of faith schools ought to bring those into the maintained system, so that they are giving the national curriculum with citizenship education, are subject to inspection and appraisal and all the rest of it."

Commission for Racial Equality research showed that Muslim youngsters tended to regard their religion as being more important in their lives than did others.

If they were educated in schools which did not take proper account of their faith, they were less likely to grow up as well-rounded individuals, Canon Hall said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Thompson
Mother fined for keeping daughter out of school
David Ward, Bradford Council
"Prejudice is created when people are kept apart"
Nawasifh Bokhari, Muslim Council of Britain
"No evidence faith schools caused riots"


Background

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Talking PointTALKING POINT
Faith schools
Do they cause problems in society?
See also:

11 Dec 01 | England
Race 'segregation' caused riots
11 Dec 01 | Education
Analysis: Faith schools and quotas
11 Dec 01 | Education
Religious quota 'works for us'
11 Dec 01 | Education
Schools 'need to work together'
19 Feb 99 | Education
Education system racist - Ouseley
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