MUSLIM parents have branded plans to prioritise places in denominational schools for Catholics as discriminatory and divisive.
The concerns were raised during a consultation into proposals by East Renfrewshire Council to give priority to baptised children if its top-performing Catholic schools – such as St Ninian’s in Giffnock – become oversubscribed.
While the existence of state-funded Catholic schools is enshrined in legislation there is no such educational provision for other faiths.
As a result, many families of other religions choose a Catholic education and in East Renfrewshire 27 per cent of Muslim children go to denominational schools – some 260 pupils.
In a review of the council’s consultation, national schools body Education Scotland stated: “The proposal was seen by respondents of the Muslim faith to be discriminatory or divisive against other faith groups and that implementing the proposal could result in less diversity within denominational schools.”
Concerns were also expressed by the parent council of St Cadoc’s Primary School in Newton Mearns who noted their school had a number of Muslim families who disagreed with the proposal.
The council’s summary of consultation responses stated: “It was deeply regrettable in their view that the approach would adversely affect some families and that the proposal is seen by some in their community as divisive.”
East Renfrewshire Muslim Forum said many Muslim parents wanted to send their children to a faith school and, with no local state-funded Muslim school available, chose a Catholic school for a faith-based education.
Families also raised concerns the council has spent £18 million on a new joint faith campus for Catholic and Jewish pupils but there is no similar provision for Muslims who make up one third of the school population of the existing Jewish school.
Despite the controversy, East Renfrewshire Council has recommended approval of the plan to give priority to baptised Catholics.
A spokeswoman said: “The authority is not excluding any group through the proposal, but merely seeking to form arrangements to be able to prioritise places should a school be oversubscribed by catchment pupils.”
The council has also promised to step up efforts to crack down on families who try and cheat their way into East Renfrewshire schools.
Mhairi Shaw, the council’s director of education, said extra surveillance and even criminal proceedings would be considered to prevent such fraud.
She said: “We will be asking for rental agreements to be for
a minimum of one year instead of the six months previously asked for.
“Where we have significant doubt about where an applicant resides, or if we receive allegations of false information, the steps we take may include surveillance.
“Any attempts to obtain a place by deception may result in consideration of criminal proceedings.”
The education committee will consider the report next month, with the changes applying from 2017.