Private Islamic schools face being required to promote “British values” as part of a new Government drive to combat extremism, it emerged today.
For the first time, they will be forced to meet new rules introduced to ensure schools respect the criminal and civil law, present political issues in a balanced way and promote tolerance of other faiths.
The change – applying to all independent schools in England – comes amid concerns that the curriculum in some schools may encourage the development of radical beliefs.
In a report, the Department for Education said reports from a range of sources suggest that “extremism may be more of a problem within some independent schools rather than state-funded schools”.
Although the duty applies to all fee-paying schools, particular concerns have been raised in the past over more than 100 private Muslim schools.
A report by the think-tank Civitas in 2009 found anti-Western views promoted on some school webites. A separate study by Ofsted, the education watchdog, revealed that one-in-five independent faith schools were failing to teach children about other religions.
The DfE is now proposing changes to official regulations for independent schools in England that toughen up requirements surrounding the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.
A consultation document into the plans suggests that schools should “enable pupils to distinguish right from wrong and to respect the civil and criminal law”, while providing children with a “broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England”.
Schools will also be expected to "preclude the promotion of partisan political views" and ensure that children “respect fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect, and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.
The new regulations represent a tightening of existing rules, which merely require independent schools to respect "the law", encourage pupils to contribute towards community life and tolerate different cultures. It will be used by Ofsted and other official watchdogs during inspections of independent schools.
The report – which is open to consultation until Tuesday – said the changes would “help ensure that extremism, intolerance and teaching that undermines democracy and the rule of law are challenged within independent schools”.
“Inspectorates will in future be better able to identify and report on extremism if these changes are made,” it added.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are consulting on whether we need to add additional requirements for independent schools to bring them into line with maintained schools.
“These requirements include the promoting of fundamental British values, respecting the civil and criminal law and presenting political issues in a balanced way.”