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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 June 2006, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
School choice 'means classroom ghettos'
By Mark Easton
Home editor, BBC News

School sign
Critics says faith schools are divisive
Giving consumers choice in public services - and particularly in schools - is causing acute risks to racial equality.

That, at least, is the view of the Commission for Racial Equality which warns that Tony Blair's commitment to increasing choice undermines that other current political mantra of increasing integration.

Indeed, it's feared that choice will encourage racial segregation in an already highly segregated country.

In Blackburn in Lancashire, 22% of the population come from ethnic minorities but 90% of non-white primary school children go to overwhelmingly non-white schools - up from 60% in just six years.

In secondary schools too, segregation is increasing.

Twenty-five years ago Pleckgate High School was predominantly white.

Today, 30% of pupils are white and the latest intake is 20% white.

We have had the debate with the government about one size fits all and our society values choice
Reverend David Dickinson

"It is the parental choice that is having the main impact," says head teacher Robin Campbell.

"How do you resolve that? We are then into the realms of social engineering and I don't think that would work in any borough, let alone Blackburn and Darwen."

There are some efforts to encourage more mixing.

Nervous groups of teenagers have been bussed in from other schools to "integrate" with youngsters from different cultures in a maths classroom.

Pupils from St Bede's - 99% white - meet pupils from Beardwood High - 95% non white.

A group from St Wilfrid's Church of England High - 91% white - sit across a table from a row of Asian faces from Pleckgate.

"I don't see faith schools as being divisive at all," says St Wilfrid's Anglican chaplain, the Reverend David Dickinson.

"We provide an option. We have had the debate with the government about one size fits all and our society values choice."

But Blackburn's director of children's services, Peter Morgan, suggests there are real concerns about the impact of parents choosing faith schools.

"It is going to make our work in terms of building bridges between these communities and these young people more challenging," he says.

Saints' names

This year, Blackburn's Education Authority welcomed a new secondary school into the fold: the Tauheedul Islam Girls School.

Among primaries, 27 school names feature a Christian saint - from St Aidan, St Alba and St Andrew, via St Cuthbert, St Edward and St Gabriel to St Silas, St Stephen and St Thomas.

Ted Cantle, who advised government on what lessons might be learned from the race riots in Oldham, Bradford and Burnley in 2001, says segregation of schools along racial or religious lines is dangerous.

"It is not just Blackburn," he says. "The problems of segregated schools can be found in towns and cities across the country."

In London, the white middle-class is abandoning state schools

In central London, the white middle-classes are increasingly abandoning state education.

In total, 75% of inner London's population is white and yet only 35% of state pupils are - a fall from 42% seven years before.

In outer London, the polarisation is clear. In the borough of Havering 80% of all secondary school pupils are white British. In Brent, it is 8%.


The Commission for Racial Equality warns that Britain may be "heading towards a US-style education system" where schools tend to be clearly divided along racial lines.

Already in the UK, nine out of 10 white children are in white majority schools - and 45% are in schools where more than 90% of the children are white.

The CRE's view is that choice in other public services risks greater racial segregation.

They claim to have evidence that choice in council housing may be further ghettoising communities and that even in health services, patient choice may result in ethnic segregation.

The language of choice is about individual needs, about self-interest. The language of integration is about society's needs, about the collective interest.

Our natural desire to be surrounded by people like ourselves means the specific is often in conflict with the general - a contradiction that presents a huge challenge for our diverse consumer society.

Students in Blackburn talk about segregation

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