Many New UK Faith Schools Not Performing Well

Britain’s Chief Inspector of Schools has got into a row over private Muslim schools. As reported in The Telegraph:

“I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society,” he told a London conference on citizenship.

Mr Bell said that many of the new faith schools were being opened by a younger generation of British Muslims who recognised that traditional Islamic education did not entirely fit pupils for life in modern Britain. But a significant proportion of others had been told that they did not meet the conditions for being registered as schools.

Hardly earth-shattering (full text available here). Bell isn’t saying that Muslim schools should be closed down or that they represent a threat to society – only that some need to improve drastically. We knew that already, as the case of the Imam Muhammad Zakariya school in Dundee showed back in April.

Unfortunately, though, rather than address the problem highlighted by Bell, some Muslim educational leaders have preferred to take the easy route of crying “Islamophoia”, as quotes from The Guardian demonstrate:

Last night Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, accused Mr Bell of Islamophobia and challenged him to a public debate on the issue…”I am very surprised to hear Mr Bell’s comments and I challenge him to come up with evidence that Muslim schools are not preparing young people for life in British society.”

Well, the evidence that some Muslim schools are not preparing young people properly can be found in the government inspection reports that Bell drew on in his talk. However, not everyone is as dismissive as Mukadam:

Idris Mears, of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: “One of the things the Association of Muslim Schools is doing is to get schools participating in the community. I don’t think it’s unfair of Mr Bell to bring the matter up. Muslim schools are aware of it.”

But there are a couple of points that the media’s take on Bell’s talk have glossed over. Back to the Telegraph report:

Ofsted [the Office for Standards in Education] said that 175 private faith and special schools, of which 29 per cent were Muslim, had been told that they must improve their curriculum to qualify or continue to qualify for registration. Independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum but they must show that they provide for “the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” of pupils.

In other words, there are around 120 non-Muslim “special” schools that are failing to cut the mustard. So, are these Christian schools or what? Unfortunately, Ofsted only does reports on individual schools or geographical areas, so finding out would require wading through hundreds of inspections.

It is also rather depressing that while Bell is concerned about how schools prepare students to become citizens, he apparently does not see good science as equally important. As noted here last year, a private educational organisation run by a millionaire Creationist has been given control of several state schools in the UK, most famously Emmanuel College in Gateshead. Science at Emmanuel is taught by Steven Layfield, a young-earth Creationist who stated in a lecture that Christian science teachers should

Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement. Wherever possible, we must give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data.

This does not bother Bell, as the Guardian reported back in 2002:

David Bell, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, said today that OFSTED would not be following up its inquiry into the teaching of science at Emmanuel College, Gateshead.

In a letter to Sir Peter Vardy, the chairman of Emmanuel College governors, David Bell said he was satisfied with the school’s response to OFSTED’s request for information about the way the school meets the requirements of the science curriculum as they apply to technology colleges.

…In his letter David Bell dated May 7 [sic], he said: “I appreciate the trouble you have taken to explain the philosophy and policies of the college as they apply to controversial issues and freedom of debate. I do not feel that I need to pursue this matter further with the college.”

UPDATE: Most of the media ignored this follow-up:

Evangelical Christian schools have a worse record at teaching tolerance than the Muslim schools criticised by the head of Ofsted this week, it emerged today.

Inspectors found 42.5% of independent evangelical Christian schools were failing to help pupils learn to respect other cultures and promote “tolerance and harmony”.

But figures from Ofsted showed that 36% of independent Muslim schools were judged to be failing in this duty, the Times Educational Supplement reported.

One Response

  1. Interesting stuff. I had no idea all this was going on. Thank you for opening my eyes. Until schools start encouraging open minds in children, and teaching them about all manner of religions/ views (rather than indocrinating them with blinkered opinions)I believe we will continue to see strife in the world caused by extreme lack of understanding and respect between religions / political pursuasions etc

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