The spread of faith schools across the country has been shelved because ministers fear they could help create a new generation of Muslim extremists, it was claimed last night. In a Commons committee on Wednesday, Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, appeared to take a step back from plans to create more. He said ministers had no ideological commitment to faith schools, in which children are admitted on the basis of their parents’ beliefs.
Last night it was claimed the Government may have woken up to the potential dangers of Islamic schools. At present, there are seven state-run Muslim faith schools and more than 100 in the independent sector. Keith Porteous Wood, the director of the National Secular Society, said that the Government now appeared willing to consider the negatives of faith schools.
He claimed the Government may have abandoned its drive for faith schools in general because of concerns about Muslim schools in particular. “This Government has gone down the faith school route and they find it very difficult because there will be pressure for them to have Muslim schools,” he said. “I hope that they have the courage to say ‘no more faith schools’.”
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families insisted that the Government had not changed its policy on faith schools of any denomination.
In fact Ed Balls stated back in September last year that the government had “no policy to increase the number” of faith schools.
What the government’s 2007 report Faith in the System does do is recognise that “in relation to the overall size of their populations there are relatively few faith school places in the maintained sector available to Muslim, Sikh and Hindu children compared to the provision available for Christian and Jewish families”. The report goes on to commit the government to “encourage independent schools to enter the maintained sector in their existing premises”.
So what we are likely to see in the immediate future is not more faith schools as such but rather some of the hundred-odd independent Muslim schools being brought into the state sector. We can undoubtedly expect campaigns by anti-Muslim bigots against this process. And it is equally predictable that these campaigns will win the enthusiastic support of the National Secular Society.