Race-split fears over plan for flagship free school in Bradford

PLANS to open one of the first of the Government's flagship free schools in the region could add to racial and religious segregation in a Yorkshire city, education bosses have warned.

Politicians in Bradford are to raise concerns with the Department for Education over the proposed Rainbow Free School after it emerged that one of the people involved in the project has previously called for Muslim pupils to be educated in faith schools because the current system is marginalising them.

The Yorkshire Post can reveal that Ayub Ismail, who is involved in the plan for the Rainbow Free School primary in the city, submitted a document to Bradford Council more than a year ago in which he argued that teaching Muslim children in a faith school would remove the "problem of them being exposed" to values that conflict with their religion.

The report has been described as "segregationist" by Bradford Council's executive member for education, Ralph Berry, and has led to fears that the proposed free school will only attract pupils of Muslim faith – undermining efforts to develop community cohesion among young people.

However, the Rainbow proposal is not for a faith-based school.

The plan, being led by ATL – formerly known as Asian Trade Link – a Bradford based not-for-profit business and enterprise organisation, is for a primary school open to all pupils "regardless of ethnicity, social background or faith".

Mr Ismail's report, which predates and is not connected to the Rainbow School plan, claimed that Muslim pupils are disadvantaged and marginalised in the city's state schools because the cultural heritage of the curriculum is "European and Christian".

The report, which has been obtained by the Yorkshire Post, goes on to argue in favour of Muslim faith schools. It says: "Muslim schools provide an education in accordance with the Muslim beliefs and values, such as providing single-sex schooling after puberty. They are thus a response to the danger of absorption into the dominant culture."

The report is said to have been produced on behalf of Bradford Council for Mosques as part of a consultation exercise into the future of state education in the city.

Coun Berry said: "There are concerns that one of the proponents of the Rainbow School has previously argued for a segregated education system based on faith.

"There are, of course, good schools from faith backgrounds but segregating children on the grounds of religion does not offer any educational basis for improvement."

David Ward, Bradford East's Lib Dem MP, who rebelled against the coalition in the vote on free schools last year, said: "We already have a divided education system in Bradford because of the demographics of the population. Why would we want something which is going to make the situation worse?"

He said more needed to be done to ensure schools' intakes were mixed to reflect the city's diversity.

However, ATL chief executive Arshad Javed, who is also involved in developing the Rainbow Free School, dismissed the segregation fears. He said: "Inner-city secondary schools in Bradford are already mono-ethnic. This has been the situation for 15 to 20 years.

"If this was so important why has nothing been done before? Our proposal is not for a faith school. The Rainbow School is open to all members of the community.

"This is not a school for pupils who are Pakistani, or Bangladeshi or Indian or whatever. If anything we are more interested in promoting community cohesion in Bradford because we live here and our children are growing up here."

Mr Ismail said:" Rainbow Schools mission is to provide all of our students with the academic and character skills they need to achieve excellent results, to succeed in a competitive world and to serve as the next generation of leaders for our communities.

"Rainbow School is a co-educational, non selective and non-denominational school with a focus on english, maths and science and a secondary emphasis on community and social cohesion.

"As Rainbow Primary School is committed to being an inclusive school it will accept children of all levels of ability. Children with special educational needs and/or disabilities will receive equal consideration with other applicants."