Catholic Church supports plans for State-supported Muslim school in Scotland

(Image: Barna Group)

The Catholic Church is supporting the principle of State-funded Muslim schools in Scotland.

The backing came after a private primary school launched a bid to become the country's first State-funded autonomous Muslim school, Scotland's Herald newspaper reported Dec. 14.

The Al-Qalam school in Glasgow has submitted a proposal to Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to expand into secondary education with the help of public funding.

Official UK census figures for 2011, show that Scotland's Muslim population stands at 76,737, accounting for 1.4 per cent of Scotland's 5.2 million population.

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Muslims are the third largest non-Christian group after atheists and agnostics. Many Scottish Muslims are of believed to be of South Asian descent, primarily originating in Pakistan.

Under the plans the 60-pupil school would be funded by the State, but run by an independent board of governors outside council control.

The Scottish Government already funds Catholic schools across the country as well as the Calderwood Lodge Jewish School in Newlands, Glasgow, which is run by East Renfrewshire Council.

Michael McGrath, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, said there could be no objection to the principle of other faith schools, but warned they should be run in the same way as existing primary and secondary schools.

'SUPPORTS VALUE OF DENOMINATIONAL SCHOOLS'

He said: "Our Church obviously believes in the value of denominational schools and would be supportive of other wider forms of denominational provision being available where there is public demand.

"Of course we would expect these schools to be managed and governed in the same way as Catholic schools are as well as being regulated in the same ways."

The submission has already provoked a debate in Scotland over whether more denominational schools should be allowed - and whether they should be autonomous rather than run by councils.

Nabeel Shaikh, general secretary of the Glasgow Central Mosque, said there is an increasing wish for a school which is faith-based yet teaches the State-approved curriculum.

He said: "Lots of questions are raised over why there isn't any state-funded Muslim school. I live in East Renfrewshire which has great Catholic schools and where a new 13 million pound ($20 million) joint campus for Jewish and Catholic pupils.

"Considering the number of Muslim pupils around Glasgow, many ask why we don't have a faith-based school but where the national curriculum is taught.

"Pupils could freely practice their beliefs but the curriculum is predominantly secular."

Ramin Forghani, vice chairman of the Scottish Secular Society, said, however, there should be no place in a modern Scotland for more religious schools.

"It makes sense for all state schools to be neutral on religion rather than for some belief groups to be awarded specialized schools," said Forghani.

Under the plans Al-Qalam would be non-selective, seek to serve the whole community including other faiths and would strive to become a beacon school for the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), with particular specialisms in artificial intelligence and Islamic education.

The school is the second in recent weeks to contact the Scottish Government with a proposal to set up a State-funded institution outside council control.

First Minister Sturgeon is already considering proposals from families in East Dunbartonshire to take over the running of the Catholic St Joseph's Primary in Milngavie, which the council is shutting.

Although State-funded schools run by independent trusts are common in England, there is no similar provision in Scotland, although a handful of grant-maintained schools do exist, including Jordanhill, in Glasgow's west end.

The business case for Al-Qalam has been prepared with the help of Bill Nicol, a director of the charitable trust the Hometown Foundation, which has also worked on the St Joseph's proposal.

He said parents across Scotland should be given the right to set up community schools outside council control.

Nicol said, "We believe an autonomous model that clearly places responsibilities and accountability with the headteacher, but which also includes significant parental engagement and involvement can push up attainment levels while delivering education at a much lower cost."

The Herald reported that moves to allow more schools to run as autonomous State-funded institutions will be highly controversial because previous attempts have been seen as politically-motivated and seeking to undermine the power of local authorities.

It said trade unions have opposed changes to Scotland's education such as those south of its border in England where the setting up of autonomous, State-funded free schools and academies has been allowed.

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