A DEDICATED school for Portsmouth’s Muslim community will open to pupils in October.
The Madani Academy is taking over the former council-owned Merefield House in Buckland, which has been empty since early last year.
The Muslim community has been fundraising to pay privately for the school to open, and has raised more than £300,000 so far.
But a petition launched on the internet has attracted 266 signatures protesting about the school, saying it promotes segregation of the Christian and Islamic faiths.
One of the school’s directors Luthufur Rahman said that wasn’t the case.
He said: ‘There are many faith schools all over the country, lots of church-led schools in England. This is the same thing.
‘The pupils who will come here will be taught to contribute to their city and their country.’
There are around 40 Muslim schools already established in England and Wales, though none in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Ireland.
Some are state-funded though many, like the Madani Academy, raised the cash needed to buy or build their schools privately.
The people behind the Madani Academy bought Merefield House, in Lake Road, from the council for £750,000, and the £300,000 sum raised has allowed them to pay the final deposit.
The organisation is now raising more money to be able to pay for the building in full.
Mr Rahman said: ‘Everybody in the Muslim community has helped, and everybody has contributed either physically or financially. It is a real community project.’
Officers from Ofsted visited the school last month and said the building was not yet ready to become a school.
A fire certificate needs to be granted before it can open, which the directors hope will be in October.
Only then will the boards come down from the Lake Road building’s windows and children be allowed in.
Mr Rahman said: ‘We’d hoped to open on September 4 but that’s too close. Now we think the earliest pupil registration time will be October.’
The school hopes to eventually teach Muslim children aged five to 16, though to begin with five-year-olds in Year 1, to nine-year-olds in Year 4.