Muslim schools in England face closure
LONDON // Dozens of Muslim schools in England could be closed because of the economic downturn, it was revealed yesterday.
The Association of Muslim Schools (AMS) is concerned that although the future of 11 state-funded Muslim schools is currently secure the 119 private ones in Britain are under threat to varying degrees.
“The possibility of closing down is a looming reality and the smaller schools are the ones that are most vulnerable,” Mohammed Mukadhum, chairman of AMS, told the BBC.
He said that although the schools were attended by thousands of pupils, they were primarily “hand-to-mouth” establishments operating on shoestring budgets.
Typically, it costs £2,000 a year (Dh12,156) to educate each child and schools raise the money through fees and donations.
But Mr Mukadhum said that because of the recession many parents suddenly found themselves unable to meet the fees, while donations from charities, businesses and individuals are drying up.
“Many of the schools have been relatively recently established, so there has always been some financial struggle, but the economic crisis has put them under enormous pressure and they are getting through each day with great difficulty,” he said.
Hojjat Ramzy, head teacher of the Iqra Girls’ School, the only Islamic school in Oxford, admitted that it was hard to see how the establishment would survive in the current economic climate.
He said there simply was not enough money coming in to maintain the independent school and that the governing body might soon have no alternative but to close it.
“Most of the charitable donations we relied on have dried up and many parents have taken their kids out of the school because they can no longer afford the fees,” he said.
Mr Ramzy said some parents had sent their children to schools in Pakistan and Bangladesh rather than have them educated in state-run local schools.
He is concerned that, if the school is forced to close, many more will follow suit. “It will be very sad because they won’t get the same quality of education and some may just end up getting married and not completing their studies at all,” he added.
One way that Muslim and other faith-based schools could survive would entail entering the state sector as voluntary aided schools, which would mean that the UK taxpayer would pick up the bill for their running costs.
In return, the schools would not be allowed to charge fees and would have to follow the national curriculum, laid down by the government, though they would be able to teach religious education according to their beliefs.
Although Muslim schools in the UK sign up to a code to “love and pursue the Quran”, the education offered is generally high in most academic areas, often leading to students gaining university places in Britain or abroad.
“It is always an emotive issue when any independent school faces potential financial difficulties, but there will be no bailouts with taxpayers’ money,” said a spokesman for the department for children, schools and families.
“We have made it far easier for an independent school to join the state sector, as long as it is supported by the local council and community.’’
However, Mr Mukadhum said many Muslim schools do not want to become voluntary aided because it would result in the government’s having a much louder voice in the way each was run.
“They want to remain independent and so they will have to try to survive by themselves,” he said. “If they are unable to do so, it will mean a great loss for all the parents, teachers and students involved.”
The threat to the schools comes at a time of increasing criticism of faith-based schools by some who regard them as enhancing divisions within British society.
Last month, however, a report from the government’s education inspectorate, known as Ofsted, found that the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of all pupils at these schools to be at least good and, in some cases, excellent.
The AMS, which co-operated with the inspectors, said in statement: “This report is an emphatic rebuttal of the allegation, purported earlier this year, that independent faith schools were not meeting the standards expected from them.
“Muslim schools have always endeavoured to educate and nurture all pupils in the belief that being a good Muslim requires being a good citizen.
“The report unequivocally confirms the hard work that is done to prepare pupils to be good citizens. We hope that the government will do more to encourage the same from those who seek confrontation, rather than co-operation, with faith schools.
“We hope this report will ... give confidence to the government to resist any further pressure from the small group of people with powerful voices who are unwilling to tolerate faith schools and, particularly, those schools that support members of minority faith communities.”