Can we trust Muslim faith Schools?


‘Discriminatory’, ‘dysfunctional’, ‘inadequate ‘ and ‘in chaos’ are some of the adjectives that were leaked from the Ofsted report on the Al-Madinah Muslim school in Derby. Now that the furore over the compulsory veiling of female teachers and the outrage over the ‘forced’ segregation of girls and boys in the media reportage has simmered down there is further damning news for the school about inadequate accounting, mismanagement of funds, poor teaching standards.

Media outrage has predictably centred on the headline grabbing dress code for women and the practice of segregation, reinforcing the negative image that Muslim communities already enjoy in the press. The more mundane ‘procedural’ failings recently identified merely add salt to the wounds. The parents of the children in Al- Madinah Muslim school have been left wondering about the application procedure for this free school and whether they can trust the state with its new venture. Was the School simply given the go-ahead because it made a case for providing a suitable home for Muslim children in Derby? What were the checks and balances that were put into place to scrutinise the business set up of the school, the make up of its Governing Body and its delivery standards? The school’s placement under special measures by Ofsted has galvanised community action and a joint statement by local Muslim groups, including the Derby Jamia Mosque, the Pakistan Community Centre, the Derby Islamic Centre and Charity Jet, has been issued asking the School trustees to resign as the ‘vision and principles on which they “sold” the school has been a false representation. They feel that the ‘Muslim community of Derby has been thrust into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons’.

The failure of Al-Madinah school has put the Free Schools strategy devised by the current government in the limelight too. David Cameron felt the heat from the failure of the school and said that ‘the Al-Madinah school situation should not be used as a stick with which to beat the whole free school movement’. More recently, the Education Secretary Michael Gove, in a House of Commons debate defending the free school experiment, has named and shamed the local authority in Derby for a poor record of ‘helping to challenge underperforming schools’.

Be that as it may, one of the parents from Al-Madinah School, who felt that the school had let the parents down gave a frustrated response, ‘Why should I pull my daughter out of the school? Why can’t they pull their socks up and fix everything?’ Who can the parents trust in this scenario when the ‘business’ is more or less facing closure and the government has abdicated responsibility as it is a free school.

Instead of ‘Free Schools’ perhaps this increasingly compromised experiment ought to be renamed ‘Free-for-All’ schools, since it is clear that anything goes in the Brave New World of decentralized, ‘customer-driven’, education. When trustees can’t be trusted, the government passes the buck, and communities get the national spotlight for the wrong reasons, it seems the lived experience of a fraught multiculturalism and intercultural exchange is brought into sharp focus.


Last Updated on 19 January 2014
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