Row Erupts in Britain Over Teaching of Tolerance

By Debra Viadero — March 15, 2005 1 min read
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Days after Britain’s chief schools inspector singled out Muslim schools as failing to teach tolerance, a report from his agency showed that evangelical Christian schools may be doing an even worse job of it.

London: Shabina Begum, 16, leaves an English courthouse this month, after the Court of Appeal ruled that her rights had been violated by her school's ban on the jilbab, the clothing that Muslim women wear.

David Bell, the head of the Office for Standards in Education, or OFSTED, ran into intense criticism following a speech on citizenship education in which he suggested that the growing number of religious schools were challenging Britain’s “coherence as a nation.”

His agency’s subsequent report on the subject, however, showed that of the 50 Muslim schools inspected last year, 18 were cited for failing to teach tolerance. In comparison, 17 of the 40 evangelical Christian schools inspected—a higher proportion—got bad marks in that area.

Idris Mears, the executive director of the Association of Muslim Schools, in Birmingham, England, said that while Mr. Bell’s remarks were “irresponsible,” they reflected widespread problems stemming from the sudden growth in recent years of independent schools of all religions. “Well-established Muslim schools are teaching citizenship very effectively.”

A spokesman for OFSTED said the agency was making no more comments on the controversy.

Coverage of cultural understanding and international issues in education is supported in part by the Atlantic Philanthropies.
A version of this article appeared in the March 16, 2005 edition of Education Week


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