Muslims outnumber Christian pupils in more than 30 church schools nationwide, including one which proudly proclaims to have a “100 per cent Muslim population”.
The Church of England has estimated that around 20 of its schools have more Muslim than Christian background pupils, while according to the Catholic Education Service, about 15 Catholic schools said the same.
St. Thomas in Werneth, Oldham, has no Christian pupils according to its website, although the Rev Nick Andrewes, who chairs the school’s governors says that figure is “a little out of date”. While 98 per cent of pupils attending Staincliffe C of E Junior School in Batley, West Yorkshire, “come from a Muslim background”, according to its most recent religious inspection report in 2015.
The Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, has told The Times that at Bishop Bridgeman C of E Primary School in Bolton, 90 per cent of pupils were Muslim.
He added: “Yet it feels like a Church of England school.”
He said: “It goes back to the principle that we are not faith schools serving a Christian population but church schools serving the local community.”
Although it is a requirement for both Catholic and CofE schools, which receive government funding, to have a daily act of collective worship that is recognisably Christian, many of the schools appear to be accommodating both Christian and Muslim practices.
Some have incorporated Islamic prayers into their worship acts and allow girls to wear headscarves as part of the official uniform.
All Saints Church of England Primary in Bradford sells hijabs to its pupils.
The website for St. Thomas’ school notes that the school observes “both Christian and Muslim festivals”, while Staincliffe holds shared assembly services with an imam and a parish priest, referred to as the “men in black”, each term.
Their Remembrance Day service includes Islamic as well as Christian prayers, and the school schedules staff training days to coincide with the Islamic festival Eid to improve its attendance ratings, because most Muslim pupils would expect not to attend on those days.
Staincliffe’s website gives its motto as “one team together”, and says it is proud to be “cohesive, inclusive and caring” and “a church school serving a majority Muslim community”.
Education experts have suggested that the schools be turned into secular schools to avoid pupils becoming confused.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at the University of Buckingham, said: “The Church of England has traditionally provided education in this country but now that risks being an uncomfortable experience for the Muslim pupils that fill many of these schools.
“It must also be very confusing for the handful of Christian pupils in some of them. It would seem logical these schools become secular institutions.”