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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 January, 2005, 15:17 GMT
Muslim schools 'deeply upset'
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Islamia school
The number of Islamic schools has risen rapidly in recent years
"I'm just as British as David Bell. What right has he got to say I'm constituting a threat?"

So says Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, aggrieved at what he sees as unfair criticism by the Ofsted chief.

Mr Bell's comments that some Muslim schools were not passing on a British "common heritage" have rankled deeply with Muslim educationalists.

"It was very hurtful. And what was the evidence?" asks Dr Mukadam.

Mr Bell's comments about independent Muslim schools, in a speech on Monday about failings in the teaching of citizenship, have angered Muslim education figures - who say their schools are a success story and not an obstacle to pupils' entering fully into British life.

'Shoestring budget'

Dr Mukadam says these schools are providing a vital bridge in allowing children from the Muslim community to succeed in adult life - with good results achieved on "shoestring budgets".

His own school, Leicester Islamic Academy, achieved 100% of pupils getting the equivalent of five good GCSEs for the fourth consecutive year - and a state-maintained Muslim girls' school in Bradford was top of this year's national value-added league table.

Mohamed Mukadam
Pupils can be both Muslim and British, says Mohamed Mukadam

While many of these Muslim schools are outside the state sector, they are not plushly-resourced private schools. Dr Mukadam's school charges 1,300 per year - considerably below the going rate for private schools and the amount spent by state schools.

He says that 70% of pupils are from deprived backgrounds - and when parents cannot afford the fees, he has to try to raise money to make up the difference.

These are hard-working schools for hard-working families, who put a premium on sending their children to a school that reflects their religious ethos, he says.

According to figures from Ofsted, such schools are growing rapidly. In September 2003, there were 53 Muslim faith schools, in January 2005 there are 118.

Rather than being against "social cohesion", Dr Mukadam says that his association, which represents more than three-quarters of Muslim schools, has been deliberately working on improving relations with non-Muslim education groups.

Last year, it held its own conference promoting cross-community links, he said.

Tolerance?

"That's what we believe in. We want our children to fit in. So it's very hurtful for someone in Mr Bell's position to say we're not preparing pupils for life after school."

Leicester Islamic Academy
Leicester Islamic Academy scored 100% in this year's GCSE tables

The speech by the head of the education watchdog did not give specific examples of any shortcomings in independent Muslim schools - but it pointed towards the need in all schools to prevent the demeaning of "women or people living in non-traditional relationships".

Rather than holding girls back, Dr Mukadam says that by gaining the trust of Muslim parents, these schools are ensuring that most girls are going onto further and higher education.

"What he fails to understand is that this is the only way in which a large number of girls are going to succeed in education, by winning over the hearts and minds of parents."

By offering the Muslim community a school that works within a Muslim ethos, parents are much more willing to support their children's education, he says.

And it means that girls are going into "university rather than the kitchen".

On the subject of homosexuality, he says his religion does not allow for any "compromises" and forbids homosexual relationships - but he denies that this means promoting intolerance.

"We have our own value system. But we don't ridicule other people, it wouldn't be acceptable to 'gay bash' or to degrade people," he says.

Respect

And he says he is annoyed at underlying assumptions that Muslim schools are promoting "extremism" - or that teaching in the ethos of one religion will mean a lack of respect for others.

David Bell
David Bell warned that faith schools must pass on a "common heritage"

"We should respect the right of people to be different, whether they're Christian, Hindu or whatever. A human being demands respect."

Dr Mukadam is also aware that suspicions about Muslim schools have been fuelled by a reluctance from some schools to be open to other parts of the community - and have been distrustful of the press.

This defensive attitude from within the Muslim community also needs to change, he says - but he feels that the criticism of the Ofsted chief will not help this.

"He has to accept me for what I am. I'm a Muslim and I'm British. There's no contradiction."


SEE ALSO:
Muslim schools citizenship warning
17 Jan 05 |  Education
Modesty best policy - top school
13 Jan 05 |  Education


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