From The Daily Mail U.K.
Roman Catholic school could be handed over to a mosque after number of RC pupils falls to ‘five or six’
By Liz Hull
Last updated at 12:54 AM on 25th September 2010
A Roman Catholic primary school could become the first in the country to be run by a mosque after a dramatic rise in the number of Muslim pupils, it emerged today
Church bosses want to close Sacred Heart RC Primary School, in Blackburn, Lancashire, because the number of Catholic students has plummeted from 91 per cent to just three per cent in a decade.
In what would be the first case of its kind in Britain, the primary would be handed over to another organisation to run – most likely the local Tauheedul mosque – and re-opened with a new name.
Around 95 per cent of the school’s 200 pupils are of Asian origin. Many do not speak English as their first language and the majority follow the Islamic faith.
The Diocese of Salford has told Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council that it no longer believes it is “appropriate” for the church to be in charge.
According to a report presented to the council’s executive, the school, which sits in a predominantly Asian populated area of the town, has been struggling to recruit a permanent headteacher because of rules imposed by the church that the head must follow the Catholic faith.
The board of governors also made a decision to resign en masse because they believed they were not an accurate reflection of the local community.
Geraldine Bradbury, director of education at the Diocese, said population shifts meant there were only “five or six” Catholic pupils left at the school.
‘We have never experienced a change to this extent before,’ she said. ‘We want to make sure that the educational needs of the community are met.
‘We would not be serving the local community by insisting that we run the school. It brings things like having a Catholic headteacher and devoting 10 per cent of the timetable to RE. It would be very wrong of us to insist on putting a school community through that.’
The Tauheedul mosque is already responsible for a voluntary aided Islamic girls’ secondary school in the town.
Under the mosque’s leadership the school would ”provide increased diversity… and offer a faith school that matches the population in this area of the town,” the report says.
Hamid Patel, principal and chief executive of Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School, said the mosque would like to take over the running of Sacred Heart.
‘Given that almost all of the pupils are Muslim it makes sense for us to engage with the school,’ he said.
‘We will need more information on the expectations of the local authority, but if the community and the school want us to be involved, then yes, we are interested.’
But James Gray, education officer at the British Humanist Association, criticised the move.
”This demonstrates that religious authorities do not always see education as a means of serving the local community,’he said. ‘They have decided there are not enough Catholics and want to wash their hands of the school.’
The new provider will be decided by a competition, under which different organisations bid to the local authority to be put in charge.
It is understood that the Church of England diocese is also interested in potentially taking over the primary school.
According to the report, the council believes that any attempt to turn Sacred Heart into a non-religious community school would be rejected by the Government because of the Coalition’s “stated preference for… new faith schools and free schools”.
Education Secretary Michael Gove named five faith schools among the list of the first 16 free schools to open next year, including two Jewish schools, a Sikh school and a Hindu primary.
Harry Devonport, director of children’s services at Blackburn with Darwen Council, said: “The decision to cease to maintain the school as a Catholic school has been taken by the RC Diocese.
‘The recommendation is to establish a new school which will be looked at by the executive board after an extensive consultation has taken place.
‘This is merely a technical change which will involve the same staff. There will be no disruption for our children at this school. Our main focus is ensuring that pupils have access to quality education.’