Madrassas in the UK: key questions answered


faith, integration, media, schools

Author(s):  Myriam Cherti
Published date:  30 Nov 2011
Source:  IPPR

Myriam Cherti, who led IPPR’s research on madrassas, addresses some of the main questions around this important but not well understood educational sector.

1. Why is it important to research madrassas?

Most of the knowledge available in the public domain on madrassas has been generated mainly by media reports, the majority of which use investigative journalism to highlight malpractice within these institutions. As a result, madrassas are not well understood outside of Muslim communities. These institutions however represent a significant feature of many British communities and it is important that their practices and impact are better understood.

Our new report – Inside madrassas – is the culmination of a year-long research project that has been undertaken by IPPR to generate a stronger evidence base on the operation and impact of madrassas in the UK. In addition to mapping the madrassas sector, the research identifies challenges that need to be addressed by policymakers, local communities and madrassas themselves. It also identifies ways in which madrassas can achieve their full potential as a positive influence in the lives of Muslim children and society as a whole.

2. What key issues emerged from the research?

The picture is much more nuanced than what has been reported in the media so far:

  • It’s an oversubscribed sector with a quarter of the surveyed madrassas having a waiting list.
  • It’s an independent sector that secures most of its funding from pupils’ tuition (90 per cent) and only 2 per cent from local authorities.
  • While most of the madrassas maintain a religious character by focusing on the teaching of the Quran and Islamic culture, nearly 30 per cent provide teaching of mainstream curriculum subject in parallel.
  • Only 10 per cent of surveyed madrassas require no minimum level of training from their teaching staff. The most common requirement for teachers was that they have received some form of theological training, with 57 per cent saying this was part of their criteria. However, only 14 per cent demand their teachers have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which is the formal qualification needed to teach in mainstream state schools. Instead,
  • One in 10 of the madrassas that responded to our survey confirmed that they did not CRB check any of their staff.

3. How are madrassas performing in relation to safeguarding children?

Eighty-one per cent said they had a child protection policy in place and 78 per cent carried out CRB checks on all of their teachers. This leaves 11 per cent of our survey respondents who do not undertake CRBs checks on any of their staff.

Under the current regulations, madrassas and other supplementary schools are encouraged, but not required, to have CRB checks for all their staff members. It is up to individual organisations to decide. This leaves a massive loophole in relation to safeguarding children in the supplementary school sector in general, and the madrassas in particular. All supplementary schools, including faith ones, should be required by law to CRB check their staff in order to fully meet their legal obligations, as required by the Children Act 1989.

There is reason to be optimistic about the ability of madrassas to adopt a stricter approach to safeguarding. There are a range of organisations trying to address the issue and many madrassas have undergone, or are currently undergoing, training in the area of child protection. Many local authorities, charities and Muslim organisations have been undertaking work with madrassas to help them develop safeguarding measures.

4. Are there issues around corporal punishment within madrassas?

Although corporal punishment was not common within all the madrassas that took part in the research, a small minority of interviewees mentioned that physical punishment was used within the madrassas they had been involved in. Some parents and previous students spoke of being smacked. In some cases, parents said there was acceptance that force may be used to discipline pupils at madrassas.

Somewhat surprisingly, corporal punishment is not explicitly banned by law within supplementary schools, and madrassa staff are able to use ‘reasonable punishment’ as a legal defence for any physical actions against children. The current legal situation leaves children without sufficient protection in madrassas – and other supplementary schools – where they are likely to spend significant periods of time over a number of years.

If there is reluctance on behalf of the Muslim community to voice their concerns around child protection, it is even more important that there are clear guidelines for madrassas to follow and greater awareness around the issue. A number of the people we engaged with raised this as an issue and felt that it is an area where continued work is required. Reassuringly, child abuse is an issue that many organisations have pledged to eradicate but there is a significant gap in terms of legislation which needs to be filled.

5. Do madrassas have a negative impact on integration and community cohesion?

Madrassas can and do reinforce the cultural, linguistic and religious identities of pupils. This is supported by the content of teaching for many madrassas, with over 70 per cent of those included in the IPPR survey teaching about the values and culture of Islam. IPPR’s qualitative research suggests that madrassas providing children with a deeper understanding of Islam are likely to strengthen children’s religious identities. In many cases, this deeper knowledge and understanding can also give children confidence in explaining their religious practices and beliefs to non-Muslims.

Madrassas also have the potential to create or increase division between a child’s religious and British identity. Although some provide a forum for discussing and reconciling these differences, some participants in our interviews raised concerns about the role of madrassas in reinforcing differences between British and Muslim identities. Overwhelmingly, the madrassa teacher was seen as the main factor influencing this. Non-British-born imams who were trained abroad were recognised as being less able to support children in understanding their dual British-Muslim identity. The IPPR survey suggests this is a significant issue for madrassas, with 40 per cent of respondents saying that their teachers were trained overseas.

6. Are madrassas playing a role in radicalising young British Muslims?

The issue was not raised by any of the research participants, despite their willingness to criticise madrassas in other areas. The only context in which the issue arose was in relation to the media coverage of madrassas, which was seen to wrongly associate madrassas with radicalisation. This issue is beyond the scope of our research and so we cannot draw any conclusions. Madrassas however do play a role in increasing children’s understanding of their roles as British citizens. A madrassa’s ability to support children to become positive citizens was consistently stressed throughout the research. Many felt that the underlying principles and teachings of Islam were already aligned to the principles of good citizenship.


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Myriam Cherti, Associate Fellow