SCOTLAND’S first Islamic secondary school is to be opened in Glasgow by a group of Muslim parents.
The Glasgow Community Education Association (GCEA) has bought Abbotsford House, a former state school in the Gorbals, for £400,000 and plans to rename the B-listed Victorian building The Islamic Institute. It will offer private secondary education to boys and girls, as well as a nursery.
The school will be funded by parents, businessmen and members of Glasgow’s Muslim community.
A spokesperson for the GCEA told Scotland on Sunday: “We can confirm that the building has been purchased, and we are now focused on getting the project moving forward.
“We support denominational schools in Scotland and we think they’ve always had a contribution to make towards the private and public sector in education in Scotland and we are a part of that. We think this is a very positive thing and we hope it will be a very successful centre of learning.”
The GCEA has in the past claimed that attending mainstream schools was resulting in “unsocial behaviour” among Glasgow’s Muslim youngsters.
On a website set up to raise money for another project, it stated: “There is a huge demand in the community for a high-standard local facility providing good secular education together with moral guidance in order to produce well-balanced upright individuals.”
However, the establishment of the school raises questions over inclusivity and whether denominational learning could cause rifts within the community.
Glasgow MSP Hanzala Malik last year disputed the need for a Muslim school in Glasgow, saying he was a firm believer in public education and urging those behind such plans to redirect their energy into improving mainstream provision.
He said: “When children leave school they are all going to have to live in the same world.”
Last year, it was reported that the GCEA was attempting to raise £300,000 to buy the derelict Holmlea Primary School in Glasgow’s Cathcart and turn it into a private Islamic school and community centre. The school was to have separate entrances for boys and girls. However, Glasgow City Council confirmed last week that the bid had been abandoned and the school was back on the market.
A city council spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, the organisation was unable to complete the sale of the building. As a result, the council has withdrawn from the transaction and the property will now be remarketed.”
It is understood the GCEA dropped the bid to focus on purchasing Abbotsford House, a larger property closer to the city centre.
A GCEA posting on Facebook states: “The GCEA has purchased Abbotsford House at a total price of £400,000 with the intention of opening an Islamic Secondary School (Boys and Girls) and Nursery.”
The Association’s website also asks for donations to help fund the school. A fundraising dinner in aid of the school was held last week, and a women-only bazaar is to be held in Govanhill tomorrow. The GCEA said it had no plans to pursue public funding for the school.
The Facebook posting continues: “Please donate generously and remember you will not only be investing in your children but also in your own Akhirah [afterlife]. Take advantage of this great opportunity to be able to give Sadaqah Jaariyah (Perpetual Charity) before it’s too late. This will be the first successful Islamic secondary school in all of Scotland!”
Previous attempts to establish Muslim secondary schools in Scotland have been unsuccessful. Both the Iqra Academy in Glasgow and the Imam Muhammad Zakariya School for girls in Dundee closed after receiving negative inspection reports.
The Iqra Academy, which shut in 2003, was criticised by inspectors for giving pupils no opportunity to mix with the local community and for its treatment of girls at the school.
However, more recently the Qalam Academy has been set up in Glasgow’s Pollokshields, and an independent Islamic Educational Institute is providing primary education.
One member of Glasgow’s Muslim community expressed concerns about the project. “They should have made sure that all the systems were in place before they purchased the building, but they’ve gone ahead and done that already. The problems with previous schools was that the people involved had no experience – they’d never run a school before. They were all businessmen.”
Malik said the success of the school would depend upon the organisation behind it. “There is always room for improvement when it comes to education and, in terms of religious schools, there are many around the world. In Catholic schools, for example, people tend to feel that education levels are slightly better because discipline levels are better. But the most important issue here is not whether it is a religious school or a secular school, but whether the pupils going to the school will benefit from it.”
The GCEA described its members as a group of “grassroots community people” including businessmen and parents.
There are already a number of Islamic secondary schools in England. They include the Darul Uloom Islamic High School in Birmingham dubbed the “Eton of Islam”.