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Education watchdog attacks Muslim schools (UPI) VIA-WASHINGTON TIMES) By Hannah K. Strange - London, England 02/03/05)Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20050202-032800-6020r.htm UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL UPI} UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
London, England, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Britain´s education watchdog Ofsted has criticized Muslim faith schools for not teaching tolerance and social participation -- comments that have angered some in the Muslim community.

In its annual report published Wednesday, Ofsted concluded that independent faith schools of all denominations -- there are over 100 Muslim, 51 Jewish and around 85 evangelical Christian schools in Britain -- were "lacking" in the cultural development of pupils.

Muslim schools, however, were singled out for particular criticism. Though many new schools were recognizing that "traditional Islamic education does not entirely fit pupils for their lives as Muslims in modern Britain," there was still a need for "significant improvement" in many cases, the report stated.

Many schools were not providing pupils with sufficient knowledge of public institutions and services in England or helping them "to acquire an appreciation of and respect for other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony," it continued.

Two-thirds of the weakest schools in the process of registering as new schools were Muslim, it added.

Ibrahim Hewitt of the Association of Muslim Schools told United Press International that his organization would be looking at the report very closely and would raise the matter when it met with Education Secretary Ruth Kelly in two weeks´ time.

The Muslim community had been bracing itself for criticism since the chief inspector of schools, David Bell, made similar comments during a speech introducing the report earlier this month.

Speaking at the educational charity the Hansard Society, Bell had claimed that Islamic schools endangered the coherence of British society, a statement that provoked outrage from senior Muslim figures.

Hewitt expressed concern that Bell´s criticisms had not accurately reflected the findings of his inspectors.

Bell had implied his assessment applied to all Muslim schools whereas in fact it concerned mostly new schools, he said.

"There may well be weaknesses (in Muslim schools) as there are in all schools," he said.

New schools in the process of registration were bound to have difficulties, he said, and should be given encouragement to remedy them.

"The way he has done this ... suggests there is perhaps a wider agenda than just the purely educational," Hewitt concluded.

In comments condemned as "irresponsible" and "derogatory" by Islamic organizations across Britain, the education chief said Islamic education did not prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.

Although cultural diversity and acceptance could benefit society, he said, they could also undermine "our coherence as a nation" if taken to extremes.

Discussing the teaching of citizenship and national identity, he turned to the issue of independent faith schools, saying: "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 continued: "The growth in faith schools 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 of other faiths and the wider tenets of British society. We must not allow our recognition of diversity to become apathy in the face of any challenge to our coherence as a nation.

"... I would go further and say that an awareness of our common heritage as British citizens, equal under the law, should enable us to assert with confidence that we are intolerant of intolerance, illiberalism and attitudes and values that demean the place of certain sections of our community, be they women or people living in non-traditional relationships."

His comments provoked an angry reaction from senior Muslim representatives.

Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, labeled the speech Islamophobic and challenged the chief inspector to a public debate on the issue.

Mukadam, who is also the principal of Leicester Islamic Academy, which has 700 pupils age 5 to 16, told the Guardian newspaper: "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. It´s a misconception of Islamic schools and a further example of Islamophobia. For a person in his position to make such a generalized comment, just beggars belief."

His association, which represents more than three-quarters of Muslim schools, promotes social cohesion and consistently works to improve relations with non-Muslim communities, he later told the BBC.

The secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, issued a statement acknowledging the importance of community cohesion but said it was "highly irresponsible to suggest that the growth of Muslim faith schools poses a threat to ´our coherence as a nation.´"

Mohammad Naseem, the chairman of Birmingham´s Central Mosque, said: "Muslim schools do not harm social cohesion and neither do Jewish or Christian schools. Why he is picking up on Muslim schools I do not understand. Why would teaching children the principles of their faith affect community cohesion? It´s unfortunate that he has made these comments."

However, some admitted social cohesion was a legitimate issue to raise.

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."

The row was further compounded when Christopher Schenk, an Ofsted official, wrote in the Times Educational Supplement last week that Bell´s comments did not represent the findings of the organization.

Bell "was expressing his personal views and not speaking on behalf of those of us who inspect these schools on a regular basis."

Schenk, who inspects independent faith schools, said it was untrue that Muslim schools were resisting their legal obligation to promote tolerance and harmony.

In fact, he said, Muslim head teachers point out "that tolerance and harmony are Islamic virtues and they want their pupils to appreciate and respect other cultures."

However, an Ofsted spokesman then told the BBC Schenk was incorrect and was expressing his "personal opinions."

The comments in David Bell´s speech were "an accurate reflection of Ofsted´s evidence in this area," he concluded. (Copyright 2005 United Press International 02/02/05)

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