The Muslim Community in the British Educational System. Which Challenges Have to Be Faced by State Schools?

Essay, 2012

16 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1. Introduction

II. Various challenges that need to be faced by state schools
2.1 Changes in the curriculum
2.2. Changes regarding school staff

III. Conclusion

IV. Bibliography


1. Introduction

“Since 1944, all schools have been under a statutory obligation to provide for the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils at the schools. All state schools have failed to help children to achieve such goals. This is the main reason why silent majority of Muslim parents would prefer to send their children to Muslim schools” (Ahmad, Iftikhar (2008): End of Local Education Authorities. n. pag.).

According to the 2001 census the Muslim population in the United Kingdom contained a total of approximately 1.6 million (Masood (2006): British Muslims. p. 4). In 2010 the number estimated by the Pew Forum report was around 2.9 million (The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (2010): Muslim Networks and Movements in Western Europe. n. pag.), which would signify that it had nearly doubled within nine years. Taking this vast growth into account, it becomes obvious that the number of Muslim pupils in English schools will increase as well. Therefore the following question arises: What challenge must the English state school system face regarding a growing number of Muslim pupils?

Until the first Education Act in 1870, the Church of England mainly determined the education in England (Preston (1870): The Elementary Education Act, 1870). Afterwards, the state began to take over responsibility as it demonstrated a commitment to provision of education on a national scale and financially supported various church schools. With this education act the foundation of board schools and the election of school boards took place on a local level.

After another education act in 1944 major parts of the responsibility for education laid in the hands of the state. Therefore, local education authorities such as counties or district councils were supposed to organize these schools (Nielsen (1995): Muslims in Western Europe. p. 53). The only obligation they had was the “continuing commitment to religious education within the general state system” (Nielsen 54). Consequently, the teaching of religion and “daily collective acts of worship within school” (Nielsen 54) were obligatory and determined by law. However, these local authorities set the framework whereas head teachers also had significant influence with regard to the curriculum, selection of school staffs and books (Nielsen 53).

During the first decades of the existence of compulsory primary education since 1880 Muslim pupils could easily be assimilated because there were only few of them (Nielsen 54). As immigration numbers raised in the early 1960s this was no longer the fact. By the end of this decade, “the numbers of Pakistani children in school [had] doubled” (Nielsen 54). 20 years later in various schools all over the England the majority (at times 90%) of pupils were of Muslim heritage (Nielsen 54).

Earlier actions taken by authorities were laying the focus on English language teaching and occasional “policies of transporting children around to even out the proportion of ethnic minority children in different schools” (Nielsen 54). During the 1970s these measures changed in favor of the Muslim community, as authorities recognized that some concessions needed to be made in order to provide an integrative policy for them. That was the consequence of campaigns of Muslim organizations and parents in the 1960s (Gilliat-Ray (2010): Muslims in Britain: an Introduction. p. 149). Those demands included the provision of halal school meals,1 adoption of school uniform rules and procedures to accommodate Muslim expectations of modesty (for boys and girls), adjustment to the curriculum and timetable to allow for exemptions for Eid2 holidays and Friday prayers, and provision of single-sex education (Gilliat-Ray 149).

For the first time the Muslim community in England expressed their concerns about sending their children to state schools.3 This caused some changes with regard to education policies for migrants as concepts for a more multicultural and anti-racist education were introduced (Gilliat-Ray 149). Even though not all demands were heard off concessions regarding uniforms and provision of halal school meals were made. However, Muslim parents were still quite unsatisfied because these changes “did not address some of their specifically religious concerns […], particularly in relation to the religious education […] curriculum” (Gilliat-Ray 149). They disliked the idea that their children should study religion from a non-religious angle and that information about the Islam was mostly taught by teachers who were, in the eyes of the Muslim community, not qualified enough and who worked with insufficient textbooks about the Orient (Gilliat-Ray 149-150). Concerns among Muslim parents and criticism of schools grew as it became obvious that Muslim pupils, especially of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage, performed poorly at school. Statistics, as for example “produced by the Inner London Education Authority in 1986 […] [revealed that] only 16.1% of Pakistani children and 3.6% of Bangladeshi children were leaving school with five or more O level passes” (Gilliat-Ray 150).

Low academic achievements by Muslim pupils are still a problem at present time and this can obviously, since many have lived in England for generations, not only be justified by recent arrivals in England. Therefore, various investigations took place in order to explore other causes that might be responsible for the unequal achievements among pupils from Muslim and non-Muslim heritage (Gilliat-Ray 150). Even though changes have been made the 2001 census showed that a majority of Muslims in further education attend the former polytechnics and colleges of higher education rather than the older universities, and that drop-out rates are high. Half of eligible Muslim young people are therefore not at university; and underachievement at primary and secondary levels is significant (Masood 28).

These matters call for more fundamental pedagogical and practical changes within English state schools.4

II. Various challenges that need to be faced by state schools

2.1 Changes in the curriculum

All children, to whatever extent possible, whatever their background, should be educated in the fullness of their being in consistency with their beliefs and the wishes of their parents, in a spirit that values their multiple identities, (faith, cultural and British). This will contribute to nurturing self-esteem and self-confidence, forming the basis for understanding and appreciation for the heritage and beliefs of others (The Muslim Council of Education (2007): Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools. p. 17).

The National Curriculum of England rarely helps to establish a mutual understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim students. Therefore, its Eurocentric viewpoint needs to be replaced by a more multicultural one.

The curriculum contains an inclusion statement (Qualification and Curriculum Development Agency: National Curriculum. n. pag.) which ensures the provision of a curriculum “that meets the needs of individuals and groups of pupils” (Reed (2005): Young Muslims in the UK: Education and Integration. p. 11). In fact, the curriculum in England only addresses pupils with a European and Christian heritage, whereas Muslim students are left disadvantaged in English schools (Open Society Institute (2005): Muslims in the UK: Policies for Engaged Citizens. p. 154).

Certain people state that children from ethnic minorities in general need to ignore their cultural heritage and that they should quickly intend to achieve “cultural literacy” (Hirsch (1988): Cultural Literacy, qtd. in Open Society Institute 154) regarding traditions, cultural lifestyle and language in England. In my estimation, this argumentation causes the problem that pupils are required to give up their identity in an institution in which their own identity should be strengthened by learning to appreciate their own culture and faith. As “identity is continually shaped and re-shaped through interactions with others” (Benn (2003): Muslim Women Talking. p. 133) institutions like schools play an important role within this process. Therefore, teachers should not see their task in ‘liberating’ children from their cultural background (Open Society Institute 154) but in supporting positive attitudes towards multiculturalism in their classrooms.

In order to achieve the warding off a Eurocentric curriculum two shifts ought to be done. First of all, the curriculum needs “a more global focus, where European and Christian culture is contextualized in terms of world civilization” (Open Society Institute 154). In other words, the European and Christian culture as a central focus is not sufficient enough for an education in a global sense. Therefore, other cultures and religions from the Asian continent should be taken into account as well.5

Secondly, the contributions the Muslim society made to the European world should no longer be excluded. In my opinion, teachers of subjects such as natural science and arts should not ignore the knowledge of the Islamic world. Moreover, this change would help to improve the curriculum in England since pupils would learn about Muslim cultures and, as a result, learn to respect them. Furthermore, students would be able to discover the “interdependence of cultures and civilizations, and to support the identity and self-concept of young Muslims within the context of European citizenship” (Open Society Institute 154).

Even though numbers of Muslim students in English schools are constantly rising, little has been done across the curriculum so far.


1 Depending on their economic background many English children are entitled to a free meal in school and, therefore, kosher food needs to be provided for Muslim pupils.

2 The abbreviation Eid stands for Eid ul-Fitr which is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

3 It needs to be added that the Muslim community is a very heterogeneous ethnic group with different values and attitudes. Therefore, the ideas presented in this essay do not always account for all Muslims living in England.

4 In the following I will only refer to state schools, since the inclusion of all school types would go beyond the scope of this essay.

5 This aspect does not only include Muslim cultures and Islam belief but also other Asian cultures and religions that are constantly excluded from the curriculum in England.

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The Muslim Community in the British Educational System. Which Challenges Have to Be Faced by State Schools?
Universität Potsdam  (Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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Anne Lipp (Autor), 2012, The Muslim Community in the British Educational System. Which Challenges Have to Be Faced by State Schools?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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