In conjunction with the growing sense of religiosity amongst those who ascribe to Islam, there seems to be a rise in the current trend of Muslim parents readily turning to Muslim schools. Their reasons for choosing Muslim schools vary but are often centred on concerns about the potential effects of a secular education, especially on behaviour and discipline. Many of them have the expectation that their children will receive an education that nurtures a faithful outlook.
Over the past decade or so there has been a rapid rise in the number of Muslim schools opened across England. The Guardian reported that ‘although the number of Islamic schools is still small – around 140 at the latest count, just 12 of them state-funded – it is growing fast.’ According to the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS), 3% of British Muslim children attend a Muslim school.
One of the ways to find out what Muslims schools have to offer is by looking through their prospectuses. These illustrate that most of these Muslim schools in fact follow the national curriculum. Islamic education, that is to say the recitation and memorisation of the Quran, basic Islamic law pertaining to worship and a basic study of the Prophetic biography is often conducted either before school commences or during an after-school club. That being the case, the main advantage of such schools seems to be the incorporation of faith into daily learning. This means that Muslim schools strive to provide an environment that instils in its pupils an understanding, love and respect for the Islamic faith. In short, they rely on their understanding and practice of religion to promote justice and respect while helping pupils develop a strong moral character.
Many Muslim parents may assume that the use of the national curriculum contradicts the very notion of a Muslim school, since a secular government sets the standards. However, this need not be the case. In the first instance, like all independent schools, Muslim schools are not bound by the national curriculum. Yet, by adopting the standard it allows Muslim children equal access to education as their peers in secular state schools. Fundamentally, it offers an equitable opportunity for young people to obtain a relevant education and succeed in wider society.
It is important to consider that the national curriculum does not direct schools on the approach to teaching and learning that they should employ. Few of England’s Muslim schools have adopted a specific approach to teaching and learning and this causes a particular problem. Employing differing teaching approaches within the same school leaves students confused as to the expectations of different teachers as they move through their education.
Much of this can be attributed to the high turnover of teachers in Muslim schools making it difficult to develop and maintain a uniform and consistent method of teaching. There are various things that determine the length of time it takes for new teachers to obtain a grasp of the ethos of the school and its practices, but while this is taking place, established teachers continue to leave and new ones are employed with the perpetual cycle preventing the school from maintaining the uniformed approach evidently needed.
Unanimity in teaching and learning is paramount to ensuring the curriculum is working for the very people it is there to help, namely the students. One of the reasons behind such variance is the severe shortage of qualified teachers working in Muslim schools. Many Muslim teachers have not been through a robust training programme that would typically include training in child development, analysing methods and theories of teaching and learning, training in behaviour management, and exploring various forms of assessment such as progress evaluations. Generally, a lack of training tends to be accompanied by a lack of experience that would typically offer depth, experience, and a heightened way of thinking about issues that affect young learners.
Since the majority of Muslim schools are independent, the fundamental cause behind many of these issues can be a lack of financial support that would allow for the funds to pay qualified and experienced teachers with a wage that reflects their experience. Better funding would also mean that they could be offered ongoing professional development, support and improved resources for both teachers and students. All of these things in turn help to retain teachers and provide a stable and consistent learning environment for pupils to thrive in.
 “Islamic Schools flourish to meet demand” – Fran Abrams, The Guardian, 28th November 2011