Are We Seeing Segregation in Our Schools; as a Primary School Intoduces Separate Religious Education for Its 500 Moslem Pupils the Dilemma Facing Gillian Shephard

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Byline: JOHN TORODE

THIS is the sacred month of Ramadan and the 500 Moslem children at the Birchfield primary school in Aston, Birmingham, are at the centre of a revolution. An Islamic revolution.

Hamza, five, bright-eyed and cheeky beneath his white religious skull cap, has been fasting as the Koran requires. `It was his decision. I couldn't stop him,' says father Mohamed Mukadem, a parent governor at the school.

Hamza's sister Shabnam, eight, is a little more lax, but she wears an ankle-length dress and a black headscarf.

They and their friends may not know it, but they're the shock troops of an Islamic revolt striking at the heart of the woolly-minded multi-culturalism which pervades the British educational establishment.

Put simply, Birchfield is more than 70 per cent Moslem and, under pressure from the local Moslem Welfare Association and mosques, the school has agreed to segregated religious education.

Under the scheme, Imran Mogra, a qualified teacher who is also an Imam, instructs Moslem children in their faith. Non-Moslem children attend a separate `multi-faith' class of the type ordained by law.

Now the rebellion - organised by Mr Mukadem - threatens to go national and destroy the uneasy compromise on which religious education in British schools has been based for half a century.

Birchfield primary school stands in Trinity Road, just past the Anglican church from which it takes its name and beside a Roman Catholic primary.

It also looks across at the thriving Moslem Prayer Hall and the golden dome of the Saddam Hussein Mosque is visible down the road. A symbol for our multi-faith times, perhaps?

But what has happened at Birchfield is deeply disturbing to many, and may well be unlawful. The Department of Education and Employment is still undecided over what to do about it.

The Birchfield experiment is certainly unacceptable to the patronisingly tolerant elite which calls England a `post-Christian' country and preaches instead a multi-cultural mish-mash. But it has the discreet blessing of Labour-controlled Birmingham Education Authority.

Mr Mukadem, the organiser of this coup, is one of the new generation of true believers. British educated and a teacher, he is studying for a PhD in religious education while training teachers at a nearby college. His family came from Kenya 20 years ago, and when he tells you in his immaculately-accented English that he sees no contradiction between traditional British values and those of Islam, you believe him.

And his argument over religious education is a persuasive one: `We are sure that the Government has got its approach to morality wrong,' he says.

`It says it wants schools to promote moral and spiritual values but doesn't have a clue about how they should go about it.

`The multi-faith muddle our children are taught does not help them with `spiritual and moral values' as the law demands. In primary schools, we believe religious education should reinforce the faith the child brings to school from home.

`Perhaps in secondary schools you might let children make comparisons with other religions. But not at an early age.'

It is an argument which would easily appeal to many in Middle England.

Indeed, although all but a handful of Birchfield's 700 pupils are from ethnic minorities, the school has a reassuringly old-fashioned feel about it. Children walk rather than run in the corridors, they answer your questions politely, and teachers are smartly dressed. Headmaster Andrew Saunders, who worked out the religious syllabus with Moslem parents, is a committed Christian. …