Muslim school plan asks questions of education

Muslim school Image copyright PA

Should the Scottish government help to pay for a separate Muslim school in Glasgow?

Campaigners are calling for Scottish government money to help an existing independent, fee-charging primary school expand into secondary education.

They want the Al Qalam school in Pollokshields to receive direct funding from the Scottish government but opponents say councils are better placed to run education, especially if there is public money involved.

There are two distinct arguments which supporters and opponents of the planned Al Qalam concept may advance.

The essential arguments for a separate school for Muslim youngsters are straightforward and, ultimately, identical to the arguments for and against any faith school.

Faith schools

Should children be educated in a school rooted in a particular faith and ethos? Or are non-denominational schools a better option?

These arguments are most commonly heard in Scotland in the debate over separate Roman Catholic education but the principles can easily be applied to schools for youngsters from any faith.

The second, entirely separate, argument is whether schools which are publicly funded should be run by anybody other than the council or should they get their money directly from the Scottish government?

Roman Catholic schools are funded and run by local authorities in the same way as non-denominational schools. East Renfrewshire Council also runs and funds a Jewish primary school, Calderwood Lodge.

Local catchment

Decisions on what sort of distinct provision should exist for any faith are made by councils when they weigh up the conflicting demands on their budgets.

The vast majority of Muslim youngsters in Glasgow are educated within non-denominational and Roman Catholic schools.

In fact at one RC primary in the south side of Glasgow, the bulk of the children are actually Muslim - reflecting the demographics of the local catchment area.

Some, of course, would simply argue it is a good thing for any young person to make friends with children from different faiths and backgrounds - others would not disagree with the notion but say that is distinct from the argument about faith schools.

Glasgow City Council has previously rejected calls for a dedicated, standalone Muslim school but says it is committed to ensuring there is appropriate provision for Muslim youngsters within its schools.

So if a significant number of parents are unhappy about council provision should the Scottish government be funding schools directly?

Some parents in Milngavie in East Dunbartonshire, unhappy at plans to shut a Roman Catholic primary, have been campaigning for this.

Image copyright Al Qalam
Image caption Al Qalam already runs a private primary school

The group which has helped them with their plan has also been working on the scheme to transform Al Qalam.

However if such ideas were to win government support, the repercussions could enormous.

Councils are fiercely protective of their role in the education system. All the schools which currently receive direct government funding and are not in local authority control can be considered as special cases.

For example, the schools for deaf and blind children have students from across Scotland - they could be described as national resources rather than schools for children from a local catchment area.

Jordanhill School in Glasgow is also quoted by campaigners - it is a mainstream school but, for entirely different reasons, is also a special case.

It was never run by the local authority and its current, unusual governance status came about after the University of Strathclyde took over Jordanhill College of Education.

Indeed any move to allow someone other than a council to provide "state" education would be fiercely resisted by local authorities and the teaching unions.

South of the border, of course, a far wider range of schools receive public funding. Schools run by local authorities are only one part of the mix.

The Scottish government is looking at the proposals for Al Qalam and says it will respond in due course.

It says it is always open to new ideas for improving our education system but that ultimately, any decision on this, or any other, proposal would be based on the needs of Scotland's education system as a whole.