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A group of faith-based schools in London and Birmingham are trying to open the doors of their academies to girls aged five and above, despite being barred by local authorities from offering their services in their local areas.
“Our girls have been neglected by the Government, the NHS and the education system,” said the head of the Bethnal Green Academy, Emma Ritchie.
The academy is one of more than 50 faith-led faith-inspired schools in England that are being tested by local councils.
The academy has just opened its doors in the south of the city, near the home of the Muslim preacher Maulana Abdul Aziz, who founded the Bethnamel mosque.
The faith-run school says it wants to offer a range of services, from music lessons to tutoring.
It’s not yet clear if it will open at the same time as the new faith-only schools in the capital, but there’s growing pressure to allow the academies, which are not recognised by the state, to operate.
Many faith schools in Britain are being closed by local government over their links to extremism.
The Bethnamel Academy, which is run by the Bethsham Trust, is part of a growing network of faith schools around the country, including St Francis Xavier in Leicester, St Michael’s in Manchester and St Paul’s in Birmingham.
Its founder, Dr Emma Riddle, is one half of the group, and she said the school was “trying to open a door” to girls in her faith who are “not going to be able to attend other schools”.
“We want to give girls a chance to see what we do, so they can see that this is not the same as the way they’re being treated in schools,” she said.
Dr Riddle said she hoped the school would open soon in Manchester.
But local authorities in Birmingham have been unable to agree on a deal with the school, so the Bethany Academy will now have to wait until local councils approve its plans to open its doors.
“The reason we are asking for local authorities to approve it is because we believe that it is a community school,” she added.
While the school is open to girls, parents are being asked to send their children to other faith schools, including in London.
A spokesman for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “The Government is determined to ensure that schools and academies in England are free from extremism and sectarianism.
There is no place for extremism in the curriculum and we have made a number of progress towards that.””
The Government will continue to support faith-driven schools and all schools that are not affiliated with any faith.”
However, Dr Riddle told the ABC the schools “are not providing any specialised learning or teaching” at the academy.
“We do a range to support girls, so that they can go to their faith school, but they do not do that with other faith-related schools,” Dr Ritchie said.
“I think the girls who attend [the academy] do feel they have a voice and they feel they are valued.”
“And so they feel that their voices are being heard.”
Dr Ritchie added: “We don’t want to see a school close, we don’t see the school close.
We want to be open.”
The Bethany School will have a separate branch in the area for pupils aged four and up.
It is not known how many girls will be accepted to the school in Birmingham, but Dr Riley said: “If it is successful, I think we would see a big increase in the number of girls coming to school.”
The Bethnamels faith academy has been criticised for its link to extremism and extremism-linked organisations.
Last year, Dr Chris Williams, who heads the Birmingham Trust, called for the church to be banned from schools.
But a DfE spokesman said that the faith-school was in the “first year of a pilot programme” to test the feasibility of offering a programme to girls.
“We have been working closely with local authorities, who are keen to work with faith-centred schools, to test this concept, and this is the first year of this pilot programme, which aims to test whether a school can operate in the same way as faith-affiliated schools,” he said.
The DfA said the pilot was being carried out on a voluntary basis, and that it was “actively monitoring the situation”.
It added that the schools were “actively working with local authority authorities to determine how best to move forward with the pilot”.
But the school’s leader said there was a “big difference” between a faith-owned school and a faith school.
“There’s no distinction between a church school and any other school,” he told the BBC.
Dr Riddick added: I think we