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Church Schools and Citizenship

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The chief inspector of schools David Bell has claimed that a traditional Islamic education did not equip Muslim children for living in modern Britain.

Diversity and acceptance of different cultures was potentially a great strength, Mr Bell claimed, but it could also undermine "our coherence as a nation".

Mr Bell used a speech about citizenship to look at the fast-growing independent faith school sector - which includes about 100 Muslim, 100 evangelical Christian and 50 Jewish schools. Bell argued: "Faith should not be blind. 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 added that many Muslim schools "must adapt their curriculum to ensure that (they provide) pupils with a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England and help them to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony".

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A selection of letters in the Guardian about this issue:

David Bell is highlighting what we must not fail to appreciate: that we live in a multicultural/multifaith society and we need to educate students so they are capable of living in such a society. I am yet to be convinced of the merits of a faith-based education, but if they fail to reach the standards of the chief inspector of schools, then it is time to take action without waving the "Islamophobia" flag unduly.

My experience has guided me to conclude that a Muslim student who is taught in a non-faith school may appreciate their "uniqueness" more in such a school as opposed to a faith school. This in turn will allow the student to understand, explore and question their identity in a classroom vibrant with diversity.

Rather than taking an isolationist approach to the education of British Muslims, we may wish to consider education as a vehicle of breaking down prejudice by promoting and supporting the involvement of British Muslims in the education system in Britain - that was one of the reasons I chose to train as one of the few, if not only, Scottish Muslim teachers of religious education.

Amanullah De Sondy

School of Divinity, University of Glasgow

What possible outcome other than further stoking social division or alienating the Muslim community could David Bell have wished? Even if his allegations were true - which I and my colleagues emphatically refute - were his comments wise under the wider circumstances? How is it that Muslim schools can be so arbitrarily lumped together when they are as diverse as other schools?

One thing is for sure - by making provocative statements like this, David Bell will not be encouraging the social cohesion that he so ardently espouses. Muslim schools facing Ofsted inspections must be doing so with greater trepidation than is even normally the case. How objective will inspections be if the director himself prejudges in this manner? He may unwittingly be encouraging a future legal challenge as to the suitability of Ofsted to carry out the inspection of Muslim schools or faith schools generally.

As for citizenship studies, the cynicism he mentions comes from education being kicked around like a football at the whim of those in political authority - citizenship being one of the latest "new initiatives". Surely he can accept that there is room for some healthy cynicism when a government presumes to take the role of moral arbitrator.

Abdullah Trevathan

Headteacher, Islamia primary school, London

After reading that David Bell thinks "the growth of Islamic faith schools posed a challenge to the coherence of British society", I read the following headlines: Mental hospital ward in stabbing case 'like Beirut'; Pressure mounts to delay 24hr drinking; Rugby league game halted amid race abuse; Feltham officers disciplined for race attack; Prison overwhelmed by gang culture; Britain's seas in a shameful state. And Bell thinks that Muslim schools will destroy such "coherence". Something got there before us, mate.

Ibrahim Hewitt

Independent Muslim school headteacher, Leicester

None of the faiths should receive state sponsorship for special schools. All children should receive a secular education with citizenship built into schools' ethos and free from religious education. By all means let children learn the rudiments of all faiths, but place them in their philosophical, sociological and political context. Let parents with faith fund the religious education of their children elsewhere and in their own time.

Paul Fitzpatrick

Wirral, Merseyside

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