Muslim students outnumber Christians in more than 30 church schools in England, according to new reports.
St Thomas in Werneth, Oldham – a Church of England School - has a "100 per cent Muslim population", with no Christian pupils, The Times reports. Staincliffe CofE Junior School in Batley, West Yorkshire, states that 98 per cent of its pupils "come from a Muslim background".
The Church of England estimated that about 20 if its schools hosted more Muslim than Christian students, while the Catholic Education Service (CES) reported that 15 of its schools had Muslim pupils in the majority, with one school where nine out of 10 pupils were Muslim. The CES said that the change is due to the increasing immigration of Muslim communities into areas that used to be predominantly Christian.
Some Church schools reflect this makeup in their practice, for example including Islamic prayers in their services, while All Saints Church of England Primary in Bradford sells hijabs to its pupils. Emphasis may be put on observing Islamic as well as Christian festivals, or making pupils' time off coincide with the Muslim festival of Eid.
The tension arises in particular because Church schools – both Anglican and Catholic – receive government funding and are expected to feature a daily act of Christian worship. The disproportionate demographic figures have led some to suggest that these Church schools should become secular institutions.
Professor Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education at the University of Buckingham, said: "The Church of England has traditionally provided education in this country but now that risks being an uncomfortable experience for the Muslim pupils that fill many of these schools.
"It must also be very confusing for the handful of Christian pupils in some of them. It would seem logical these schools become secular institutions."
The Church of England's chief education officer, the Rev Nigel Genders, said that at Bishop Bridgeman CofE Primary School in Bolton 90 per cent of pupils were Muslim "yet it feels like a Church of England school".
He added: "It goes back to the principle that we are not faith schools serving a Christian population but Church schools serving the local community."