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News Code: 706


Australian Islamic schools booming

The number of Islamic schools in NSW has tripled over the past 15 years to 22. And, while the number of students in the state’s public schools dropped slightly over the past decade, the student population of Islamic schools has doubled to more than 10,000.

Al-Faisal College at Auburn has almost doubled in size over the past five years to 1600 students. Last week, it bought a four-hectare property at Austral in Sydney’s west where it plans to build a campus for a further 600 students. It may soon be the biggest independent school in the state.

Deputy principal Peter Rompies said the school has ”huge waiting lists” of between 200 and 300 students and will probably have to reject at least half of next year’s kindergarten applications.

The state’s largest Islamic school is Malek Fahd Islamic School, which has almost 2500 students across three campuses and has stopped adding names to its waiting list.

Al Noori Muslim School at Greenacre has grown by more than 70 per cent since 2008. Unity Grammar College at Austral had 741 students in 2012, up from 196 in 2008.

Rissalah College at Lakemba is at capacity with about 480 primary students, also has waiting lists. ”Even looking at kindergarten next year, it’s going to be hard to take anybody who’s not a sibling of someone already at the school,” the principal Bill McKeith said.

Last year, more than 10,000 of the state’s students were enrolled in Islamic schools, four times the number enrolled in 1998. The growth was not surprising given the number of Muslim children between the ages of five and 14 in NSW increased by more than 20 per cent between 2006 and 2011, according to census data.

Peter Jones, who spent seven years researching Australia’s Islamic schools for his PhD, said only 15 to 20 per cent of Muslim students attended Islamic schools. ”The demand is there, they just don’t have the room,” he said.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said there was no doubt the schools would continue to grow.

Many of the schools were achieving strong academic results. About half of the teachers at most of the schools were not Muslim and all the schools approached said they would happily enrol non-Muslim students.

While some of Sydney’s elite private schools charged up to $30,000 a year for senior students, fees at most Islamic schools were between $1000 and $4000 a year.

Islamic schools are among those set to benefit from the Gonski funding reforms, given they have a high proportion of students from poor backgrounds and language backgrounds other than English.

Some have been plagued by controversies involving financial mismanagement, with four having their state funding frozen in recent years.

"Funding to Malek Fahd Islamic School was stopped by the state government because it was found to be operating for profit. Risallah College’s funding has been frozen pending the school providing evidence it is complying with NSW government funding requirements,” a Department of Education and Communities spokesman said.