Muslim schools targeted by Islamophobia

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Both the academies project started by Labour and the Coalition’s so-called ‘free school’ scheme have the goal of breaking up the state education system under Local Authority control. In this they have been successful, with the inevitable result that the £4 billion budget for ‘free’ schools is draining money away from Local Education Authorities, which are now forbidden to build or open new schools. Most recently, Education minister Michael Gove has been accused of raiding £400 million from a fund intended to safeguard local authority primary school provision to prop up his pet free school project.

But another result is that special interest groups have seized the chance to sponsor schools and extend their political and ideological influence. Chief among these are the religious foundations and leading them is the Church of England (CofE) which exerts a disproportionate control and influence over schooling in Britain. From a population of approximately 64 million, only 6% - not all of them even CofE – describe themselves as regular church goers. But the Church of England has massive property interests above and beyond its clerical services as the established church of the British state and is also one of the largest landowners of the country. Indeed, the Church of England Commissioners are London’s second-largest private residential landlords. The CofE has a vested interest in preserving its historical privileges and the state has an interest in preserving the established church. That is why of the approximately 24, 372 state funded schools in Britain, 4,598 are Church of England, with another 2,000 being a variety of other Christian denominations. Other state-funded religious schools include 38 Jewish Schools, one Hindu school, one Sikh school and 11 Muslim schools.

As communists we are opposed to all faith schools. But what is interesting is how, in encouraging free schools and academies to act as though they are independent, stand-alone capitalist businesses able to implement their own curriculums and educational priorities, the government has unleashed a Pandora’s box it can no longer control. The result is not merely chaos in local school place provision, but also fear and loathing from the Department of Education. This hostility is directed specifically towards Muslim schools or even free schools that happen to serve a predominantly Muslim community.

Last month a torrent of abuse was launched against schools in Birmingham, Manchester and Bradford. This hostility was initiated by a report from the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) about suspected plots by Islamic extremists to take over schools. Media smear stories immediately filled the racist media. A former anti-terrorism chief was brought in to head the investigation into 25 Birmingham schools. Park View academy in Birmingham was specially targeted by the national press, led by the Telegraph newspaper. This school has a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals at 70% compared to a national average of 17%. Its intake is 98% Muslim from a catchment area with a similar proportion. Recent exam results have improved greatly, according to Ofsted but the smears that the school is a hotbed of Islamist extremism has led to a series of visits from the DfE and Ofsted inspectors that is now unsettling the exam year students. ‘It’s more than strange, it’s extremely stressful for everybody’ says John Brockley, who has taught at the school for 26 years. Visits to the school by journalists from The Guardian newspaper reveal absolutely nothing unusual - no more uniform requirements than other schools, no more gender separation than most (certainly not the elite single-sex private schools like Eton), no more religious instruction than the average CofE school. The only conclusion to be drawn is that while the ruling class is happy for the Home Office and the military to spend money on bombing and occupying Muslim countries, they object to state expenditure on Muslim school children in Muslim schools in Britain.

The majority of people in this country do not support giving public funds to any religious institution and favour a secular education system for all. But until that time we must demand an end to the Islamophobia fuelling the criminalisation of and discrimination against Muslim schools.

Susan Davidson