Six Muslim schools in London’s Tower Hamlets region have recently been accused of exposing their pupils to ‘serious risk’ of ‘extremist influences and radicalisation’, Sir. Michael Wilshaw says. The head of Ofsted and Chief Inspector of Schools claims these independent institutions focus far too heavily on Islamic teaching, ignoring the core modules of the National Curriculum and under preparing their students for a life in modern Britain. Although many staff within these schools called Ofsted’s accusations ‘unprofessional’, the Education Secretary has threatened that unless they alter their academic focus, these primary and secondary schools – many of whom have since lost their ‘outstanding’ academic status previously awarded by Ofsted – will be closed.
This investigation into independent Muslim institutions comes in the wake of the Birmingham schools ‘Trojan Horse’ incident of earlier this year, where five Muslim schools were accused of encouraging a ‘hard-line Islamist takeover’ and subjected to unannounced inspection by Ofsted. In a similar case, Wilshaw claims that the schools in Tower Hamlets focus solely on Islamist teachings, ignoring subjects such as art, music and drama and as such, exposing their vulnerable pupils to ‘extremist influences and radicalisation’.
This is simply not the case, however, and to suggest that Muslim institutions specialising in Islamic teachings are radical and extremist is more over, a sweeping mis-judgment; one that is unfortunately no doubt shaped by the influx of information concerning certain terrorist organisations ISIS and Boko Haram within our media.
In many instances Muslim schools have raised the standard for pupils within the community, creating a safe and approachable environment for families who care not only about their children’s education, but their religious beliefs and continuation of cultural practices and morals. Since 2004 the national average of Muslims achieving a GCSE A*- C grade has increased drastically with the development of these schools, with pass rate figures rising from 25-30% for both boys and girls in parts of England, to 100% in particular Islamic institutions. The Brondesbury College for Boys in Brent is one such example, whose GCSE pass rates are 46% higher than England’s national average.
Muslim Schools are therefore setting the standards of all-round excellence and nurturing a new generation of high achievers throughout the country; allowing their pupils to excel in subjects beyond the schools’ Islamic focus. The number of Muslim schools, along with their successful pass rates, thus provide Britain with young educated Muslims, who will in turn, be in a better position to contribute towards Britain in primary fields of work.
Furthermore, if we look at the subjects offered by each of the six accused Muslim private schools, we notice that they do offer a variety of subjects which are not all solely based on Islamic teachings. Therefore the argument about not providing a broad and balanced curriculum is inaccurate.
The following shows the six Muslim Schools that were inspected and what they were accused of:
The Mazahirul Uloom (Secondary School), was accused of focusing solely on Islamic themes.
Jamiatul Ummah (Secondary School), was accused of not providing pupils with a broad and balanced curriculum.
Ebrahim Academy (Secondary School), was accused of not preparing students for modern British life and their curriculum was said to be too narrow.
London East Academy (Secondary School), was accused of not having a broad and balanced curriculum and their students were accused of not having a sufficient understanding of how other people live in Britain and abroad. This school was also accused of not keeping their children safe and most of the library books are in Arabic.
Al Mizan (Primary School), was accused of only teaching Islam in religious studies and not keeping children safe due to the public having open access to the school.
East London Islamic (Primary School), was accused of focusing a majority of their lessons on Islamic or Arabic Studies.
These primary and secondary schools have thus all been unfairly rated by Ofsted. As the government encourages community-run schools to have more freedom to develop their own curriculum and ethos, why shouldn’t private schools such as these have the same privilege? The academic focus of these Muslim institutions is in no way different from the existing Christian, Jewish and other faith schools that exist around the country who focus heavily upon their culture, religion and ethical values, but do not neglect the National Curriculum.
By creating an environment in which parents feel their children are safe, a child can develop strong links between what is taught at home and what is taught at school, thus enhancing their learning, in accordance with their parents’ wishes. Though a faith focus exists in many other institutions, here it has been misconstrued as extreme and radical, when simply it is just put in place to teach the fundamentals of the specific religion. Pupils are not “at risk of extremism and radicalisation”, and it seems as though Ofsted’s chief inspector has overreacted on the recent reporting of the six Muslim private schools.
Many say that for too long the United Kingdom has allowed religious communities to “enforce their own values and traditions” on children. Is this so wrong? These religious communities include parents, do they not have a say in how to bring up their own children anymore? Why is it so necessary to get involved with the personal lives of people so much, what happened to freedom of choice?
This report has emerged at the same time as the recent research by Dr Nabil Khattab and Professor Ron Johnston, from the University of Bristol, which finds that Muslims experience the worst discrimination of any other minority group in job prospects in the UK, with Muslim men up to 76%, and Muslim women up to 65% less likely to gain employment than their white counterparts of the same age with the same qualifications.
Combined with the recent downgrading of several Muslim schools, this evidence suggests an ongoing and growing nervousness about Islam in the UK, raising further worrying questions about Islam-phobia amongst the public.