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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 11:54 GMT
Ofsted Muslim schools row goes on
pupils in classroom
Many Muslim schools were baffled by David Bell's remarks
The row over England's chief education inspector's criticism of independent Muslim schools has taken a new twist.

One of his officials has said that the chief inspector, David Bell, was expressing personal views.

He was "not speaking on behalf of those of us who inspect these schools on a regular basis", said Christopher Schenk.

But a spokesperson for Ofsted said that Mr Bell's comments had been based on inspection evidence.


In a speech earlier this month David Bell said his organisation had identified a significant growth in the number of independent faith schools.

He singled out Muslim schools for criticism.

"This growth needs to be carefully but sensitively monitored by government to ensure that pupils at all schools receive an understanding of not only their own faith but other faiths and the wider tenets of British society," he said.

"We must not allow recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation. We must be intolerant of intolerance."


This angered many Muslims.

"For a person in his position to make such a generalised comment beggars belief," said Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools.

Mr Schenk is one of the HMIs - permanent staff of Her Majesty's Inspectors in the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted).

In an article in the Times Educational Supplement, he said much of the media coverage had not explained the background detail.

This involved a change in the regulations for new independent schools.

Previously they had been able to operate while they attained an acceptable standard.

Now they have to operate at the standard as soon as they open.

Those that were getting up to standard when the rules changed were allowed to continue under transitional arrangements.

'Not resistant'

The required standard includes teaching about British institutions and services and different cultural traditions.

At first, Mr Schenk said, some Muslim and evangelical Christian schools were advised "to pay particular attention to these regulations".

"On the second transitional phase visits, that are taking place at the moment, it is becoming clear that they have done so."

He added: "What is not true is that faith schools are resistant to these requirements."

In a statement, Ofsted said Mr Schenk's "personal opinions" were "not based on the full weight of Ofsted's evidence base".

Mr Bell's speech had included an extract from his forthcoming annual report, saying many new Muslim schools must adapt their curriculum "to ensure that it provides pupils with a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England and helps them to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony."

This had been drafted by HMIs who directly managed the inspection of independent faith school education, Ofsted said.

So it would be entirely incorrect to claim that Mr Bell's comments were not fully grounded in Ofsted evidence.


Ofsted on Friday gave more details of that evidence base.

It said there were 50 Muslim schools and 40 Christian schools - eight Evangelical and most Christian Brethren - in the transitional phase of reaching acceptable educational standards.

2(d) provide pupils with a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England
2(e) assist pupils to acquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions.
In the 2003-04 inspection year, almost all of the Christian schools were assessed on whether they were meeting the two regulations at issue.

Of the Muslim schools, 41 of the 50 were assessed on the "English institutions" rule and 33 on the "other cultures" rule.

A quarter of the Christian schools and two thirds of the Muslim schools did not meet the first requirement.

Forty-six per cent of Christian schools and 54% of Muslim schools did not meet the second.

Since last September, the data available so far showed that half the Christian Brethren schools had been revisited and all were meeting the requirements.

About two fifths of the Muslim schools had been revisited, and about a quarter of those which previously did not meet the regulations were doing so.

So about a dozen were not.

"This is not as positive a picture as for Christian Brethren schools," Ofsted said.

The comments in David Bell's speech therefore were "an accurate reflection of Ofsted's evidence in this area", it said.

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