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Page last updated at 11:46 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009
Faith schools: cause for concern?
By Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire

David Cameron
David Cameron attacked the Government over a Slough school

The Conservatives have claimed that a Slough faith school with links to a radical Islamic group has received Government money.

At prime minister's questions, Mr Cameron said the schools had been established by "an extremist Islamist foundation".

He said this foundation was a "front" for Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

But the government says the school was inspected by education watchdog Ofsted in 2007.

Ofsted reported "no evidence has been found to support allegations that the schools are teaching anti-Semitic or anti-Western values".

And Slough Borough Council says that although the school does receive funding of £50,000 a year, this is early years funding given to all schools by Ofsted.

The council says the school is accredited by Ofsted and there is no need to deny it this money.

What is Hizb ut-Tahrir?

Hannah Stuart works for the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think-tank that specialises in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain.

She says that Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a terrorist organisation, but it is a very "worrying group".

"Hizb ut-Tahrir does support a violent ideology," she said. "Its ideology is on the same spectrum as groups like al-Qaeda.

"Their overall aim is to establish an Islamist state in a Muslim majority country that will force its citizens to adhere to an intolerant strand of Sharia law.

Should people associated with this group run a school?

"The headteacher Farah Ahmed has admitted one of the four trustees is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir," said Hannah.

"Trustees have to have a very hands on, guiding role as to what the charity does. I don't see how her ideology would not influence the school in some way.

"Let me put it this way, would we be happy if a charity set up by the BNP ran a school?"

Hizb ut-Tahrir denies links to terrorism and says it opposes violence, but campaigns for an Islamic state across the Middle East.

In a statement it accused Mr Cameron of "baseless allegations" and said it never accepted funding from government.

What questions does this raise about faith schools?

Jonathan Romain is a Maidenhead Rabbi, but also sits on the ACCORD group. The ACCORD group warns of the dangers of segregating children at a young age and says governments shouldn't finance schools which don't support the tolerance of different religious beliefs.

"Whether or not Hizb ut-Tahrir members have any involvement with this school it does raise a wider question about the role faith schools have," said Jonathan.

"The real issue is whether any school, of any denomination, of any faith has any links to a terrorist organisation.

"In private schools and faith schools there's much less stringent supervision of them and they can also teach their own syllabus, they don't have to stick to the national curriculum. It does beg questions - are the teachers the right sort of people to be educators? What sort of divisive or sectarian agenda are they teaching?"

The politics of the row

BBC South Political Editor Peter Henley said that David Cameron had raised the question in Parliament to create a 'clear dividing line' between themselves and Labour.

"He believes it's something very important, with soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and on the educational agenda, with public money going to private schools and faith schools as well," he told BBC Radio Berkshire's Andrew Peach.

"They're seeing this as a clear dividing line between them and Labour.

"It's interesting in the response that that Labour say that they are now considering looking at banning teachers with links to the BNP. 'A bad organisation' as Ed Balls call it.

"You can't equate the BNP with a racist agenda, with Hizb ut-Tahrir, but they are both on the extremes of politics, and Ed Balls is saying keep that out of education.

"That's an interesting perspective when the Conservatives are talking about setting up lots more schools and getting teachers involved in setting up those schools.

"There will be a real diversity of different sorts of faith provision and maybe they're putting a marker down now, saying this is as far as it goes."

It's not the end of the chapter

"Michael Gove also sent a letter to Ed Balls, but he also sent a letter to the charity commission asking for public funding to be withdrawn not just for schools that host Hizb ut-Tahrir but also mosques.

"He's very keen that Islamic charities are reviewed by the faith and social cohesion unit within the charity commission, and he suggesting that that unit itself isn't doing its job properly."

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