Education is crucial to integration and social cohesion in a diverse multicultural and multi-faith society. There are several reasons for this. First, the school system is the earliest mainstream social institution with which young people come into sustained contact, and the extent to which schools respect and accommodate diversity sends out strong signals about the value which society as a whole places on diversity. Second, educational attainment levels are a key determinant of opportunities for finding employment and improving future life chances. Third, schools provide an opportunity to develop bonds and friendships across different ethnic and faith groups, and the education curriculum is itself a mechanism by which pupils are able to develop an understanding of the different groups within their community.
One third of Muslims are under age 16 as compared with one fifth of the population as a whole. There are approximately half a million Muslim children and young people currently receiving education in British schools and colleges. Increasing numbers of Muslims are entering further and higher education. As a result of this younger age profile, Government education policies aimed at children and young people will have a disproportionate impact on Muslim communities.
There is significant diversity in what Muslim parents want.
The key educational issues concerning Muslim parents are:
- the continuing poor academic results of Muslim children;
- the need to eradicate institutional racism and racist and Islamophobic bullying;
- the lack of recognition or support for their children’s faith identity; and
- the inadequacy of spirituals and moral education that schools provide.
The levels of academic achievement of Muslim students are low, but improving. Explanations for these low levels are usually given in terms of poverty, social deprivation and language difficulties, but there are further obstacles to their full achievement of potential that relate more specifically to their experiences as Muslims.
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Eighty per cent of the UK’s Muslims live in the five major conurbations of Greater London, West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, and East Midlands, while the same areas contain 50 per cent of the general population.6 Approximately 40 per cent of Muslims live in Greater London.7 Outside London, the largest numbers of Muslims are found in Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn with Darwen, Luton, Oldham, Leicester, Kirklees, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.8
- 4 The Muslim population of the United Kingdom is variously estimated as being between 1.6 and 1.8 million people, or about 350,000 households. The lower figure comes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). (See: Office for National Statistics, UK National Census 2001: Focus on Religion, available on the ONS website at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/focuson/religion, (accessed 1 November 2004), (hereafter ONS, Focus on Religion)). The higher figure comes from M. Anwar, an expert on Muslim ethnography, quoted in The Financial Times, 23 January 2002. These figures represent approximately three per cent of the total population – more than the combined total of Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Buddhists in the UK. (See: ONS, Ethnicity and Religion). Moreover, the age profile of Muslims is much younger than any other religious group: In all, 33.8 per cent of Muslims fall into the 0-15 age bracket, and a further 18.2 per cent are between 16 and 24 years old. (See: Scott et al, Ethnic Popuations). Assuming that 75 per cent of children in the 0-15 age bracket attend school, and 80 per cent of young people in the 16-18 age bracket are in school, the number of Muslims attending school in the UK is between 482,477 (if the total Muslim population is 1.6 million) and 542,786 (if the total population is 1.8 million). The ONS gives the figure of 371,000 Muslim children in England of compulsory schooling age, i.e. 5-16 year-olds. (See: ONS, Focus on Religion, Education, 11 October 2004, available on the ONS website at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=963 (accessed 1 November 2004)). The higher figure in the present report includes all the children who attend school outside the compulsory period of schooling, especially 4-5 year-olds and 16-18 year-olds, as well as Muslim children in the rest of the UK, and an estimate of the increase between 2001 and 2004.
- 5 This figure is calculated on the basis of about 14,000 children in Scotland, about 7,000 in Wales and less than 1,000 in Northern Ireland. See: website of the General Register Office, Scotland at http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk; and website of the Office for National Statistics at http://www.statistics.gov.uk (accessed 5 November 2004).
6 See Chapter 3 of this report (British Muslims and the Labour Market).
7 In Greater London, the biggest concentrations of Muslims are in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Hackney, Brent, Redbridge, Westminster, Camden, Haringey, Ealing, Enfield and Hounslow.
8 Office for National Statistics, “Census 2001: Ranking: Ethnicity and Religion: Muslim”, available on the ONS website at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/census2001/profiles/rank/ewmuslim.asp (accessed 1 November 2004).