Margaret Thatcher’s official biographer Charles Moore writes in today’s Telegraph that Islamic faith schools should be more closely monitored than Christian ones. Mr Moore is also former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator, and was chairman of think-tank Policy Exchange.
Ofsted has investigated some part-time independent Muslim schools and found them wanting. They were dirty and contained literature which was ”homophobic’’, anti-Semitic and hostile to women. In the jargon, such institutions are called ”out-of-school education settings’’. The Department for Education (DfE) wants them better registered and inspected.
A policy trap lurks here. On the one hand, I bet there are too many such Muslim schools offering low standards of education and high standards of bigotry. On the other hand, it is surely a good thing that people have the urge to set up their own schools among the poor, rather than leaving it all to the state. No doubt the Ragged Schools, which did such good work in the slums in the middle of the 19th century, would today be ticked off by Ofsted for failing to have good lavatories and for teaching the Bible without reference to other faiths.
Yet Ragged Schools were fine examples of social entrepreneurship – what David Cameron (though he has quietly dropped the phrase) called the Big Society. A punitive regime of government interference will make it very difficult for informal Christian schools, often set up by evangelicals and strong among black communities, to thrive.
The nub of the problem is that the department understandably does not want to create a policy which looks at Muslim institutions with special attention, yet that is what, reality suggests, it should do. Because of radical Islam, there is a real danger of poisoning young minds which simply does not exist at present (though, in theory of course, it could) in Christian or Jewish settings in this country. The same difference is observable between mosques (many of which have dubious foreign funding) and churches and synagogues.
The problem arises not because of religion itself, but because of Islamist political doctrines which are intended to subvert our society. If there is to be much more registration and inspection, it should be of all bodies which wrap themselves in the green flag of Islam, not of every community group which wants to help the children of the neighbourhood. It’s the difference between the little jihadis and the little platoons.