Manchester schools will be able to close for Islamic holidays under new plans to reduce high absence rates.
Many Muslim children already miss school to celebrate religious festivals such as Eid. Chiefs at Manchester City Council are considering allowing schools with large numbers of Muslims to close during Islamic holidays.
But critics point out that Christianity remains the state religion in England, and warn of segregated communities if schools in different areas are allowed to take separate school holidays.
Douglas Murray, director of think-tank the Centre for Social Cohesion, said: “Either people are British and go to British schools and have a particular holiday system, or we decide to carve the country up into areas that are Muslim and non-Muslim, and I think that’s what this does.
“To have a quota above which schools are designated as Muslims seems to be, putting it at its mildest, an unhelpful way to bring cohesion to Britain.
“I don’t see why, under pressure, education departments should alter the way in which schools are run.”
Under the current system schools close for Christian holidays, but parents are allowed to take children out of lessons for other religious festivals.
This particularly affects Manchester which has the third worst school attendance rates in the country.
Almost one in ten of all absence days in the city’s schools is noted as religious observance.
In an attempt to improve these figures, schools will be allowed to opt to close if 40 per cent of pupils are likely to take time off.
Schools will be encouraged to use these extra holidays to facilitate teacher training days while traditional school holidays will remain unchanged.
Some east London schools where the majority of pupils are from Muslim families already close for two days over Eid.
The local authority states: “Tower Hamlets policy is that schools should close for Eid (these dates have been advised by the East London Mosque).
“It is important to ensure that all Muslim pupils and staff can participate in religious observance without being absent from school. This is consistent with the council’s attendance policy that “every day matters.”