ACT News

Islamic school denied registration after highly critical review

Education minister Joy Burch.
Education minister Joy Burch. Photo: Jay Cronan

A proposed new Islamic school in north Canberra will not be allowed to take enrolments for this year after being roundly condemned in a government review for failing to plan for basic teaching, curriculum or child-safety requirements.

The At-Taqwa school, conceived by the Islamic Society of Belconnen, was slated to take kindergarten to year 4 enrolments from February 6 but it is in limbo, having been rejected for ACT government provisional registration on several counts.

This proposed school is not connected to the Islamic School of Canberra in Weston, which has full government registration, meets all curriculum and child-welfare requirements and consistently performs among the best schools in the ACT in National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy results.

The independent review panel that assessed At-Taqwa's registration application comprised principals of one government and two private schools, a deputy principal of a government school and bureaucrats at the Education and Training Directorate. It gave a swingeing condemnation of the school's administration and educational framework.

The 15-page report was presented to Education Minister Joy Burch, who formally rejected the school's provisional registration last month for "non-compliance across a range of areas".

However, chairman of the board of governance for the At-Taqwa Islamic school, Hassan Warsi, said the report was a compliance report and did not portray the whole vision of the school. The Islamic community was determined to get the school fully operational by February 2015.


''We are fully committed to it, there is no question,'' Mr Warsi said.

The review recommended the school should not be registered on a number of counts - critically, its failure to show it could be financially viable; failure to consider child-protection procedures; failure to ensure staff had primary school education experience and qualifications; failure to demonstrate education leadership, and process for background checks of volunteers.

The report was highly critical of the proposed school's education programs and curriculum, noting that much of the documentation had been ''sourced'' from other institutions and was not contextualised for the new school.

''Interviews with the principal and board members revealed an absence of thorough pedagogical understanding and principles of curriculum design, as it applies to a primary context,'' the panel concluded.

There was ''an absence of resources suitable for literacy and numeracy development'' and while the board accepted the appropriateness of Arabic language instruction, despite it not being one of the ACT's priority languages, there appeared to be no understanding of the need to properly register the language teacher.

At-Taqwa school had used the Catholic Education Office's employment agreement as its own, without seeking permission from the chief executive, the panel noted.

At-Taqwa school has come under considerable scrutiny since it was proposed for Gungahlin in 2012.

It was controversially given provisional government approval to set up in the old Spence Primary School site in Belconnen when the school said it could not raise the money for a purpose-built site in Gungahlin in time to take enrolments in 2014.

At the time, public education groups warned that west Belconnen was also the site of a new Christian school which, alongside At-Taqwa, had the potential to threaten enrolments for existing government schools in the area.

Mr Warsi said it was recognised that the school had some gaps in provision at the time of the review, but that it would spend the next few months bedding down its curriculum and staff.

"We will have everything compliant for next year, so perhaps this is a

blessing in disguise. We will take more time and make a fresh start,'' he said.

Mr Warsi confirmed the Spence site was temporary and that Muslims in Gungahlin and Belconnen were fund raising to build a permanent Islamic school in Gungahlin.

The review panel criticised the lack of physical infrastructure suitable for a school setting at the temporary Spence site, including a lack of chairs and tables for children; of fencing; playground and sporting areas; and classroom and toilet facilities.

The school has since lodged a development application with the government to allow installation of fences, demountable classrooms and toilets.

The school said it had 100 students seeking enrolment in four different classes from February but the panel noted that some student enrolment forms were incomplete or unsigned.

The registration review panel noted that interviews with the principal and board members did not ''alleviate the panel's concerns''.

An Education Directorate spokeswoman said the school had received in-principle approval but the provisional registration had been rejected.

She noted that the review for provisional registration was ''a rigorous and thorough process to ensure the best outcomes for the Canberra community and students'' and that the school was welcome to reapply for provisional registration at a later date.