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Last Updated: Monday, 26 February 2007, 11:49 GMT
Burnley's radical schools plan
By Sally Chesworth
BBC Radio 4

Burnley is rebuilding all its secondary schools in a reorganisation aimed at raising achievement but also creating community cohesion in the wake of the 2001 riots which drew attention to the poor relations between the white and Asian communities.

Shuttleworth College
The new colleges will be state of the art

One phrase peppered the welter of reports and analysis following the disturbances - parallel lives.

In Burnley more than 1m worth of damage was caused and scores of people injured as white and Asian youths went on the rampage over the weekend of 23-25 June 2001.

Segregated schooling, unemployment, housing and health problems were all cited as factors contributing to the town's divisions in a recent report for the Burnley Action Partnership.

This former mill town has major social problems on a big city scale - with school results well below the national average and a problem of falling rolls.

One of the strategies Lancashire County Council has embarked on to tackle this decay is a radical social experiment it hopes will transform education and improve community cohesion.

It is going to demolish all eight secondary schools in Burnley and three in nearby Pendle and replace them with eight high tech colleges by 2010.
The aftermath of the Burnley riots
Social segregation was cited as a cause of the riots

These would not just open during traditional school hours but be available for the whole community as places to learn and interact. The buildings will double as social hubs with cafes and faith centres. Until then however, students will have to exist in the existing dilapidated buildings.

The 200m plan is being financed through the government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, but is the most radical shake up in the country - rebuilding all of the schools in the scheme.

Angela Rawson, principal adviser for the BSF project said: "We felt we needed to do something far braver and creative than just closing one or two of the less popular schools to bring about the transformation of learning and opportunity in this part of Lancashire."

The council sees the state of the art colleges providing a good quality education as one of the building bricks of community cohesion.

"Schools within their programmes of Personal, Social and Health Education and social and moral learning that takes place have a duty to promote cohesion and to do it in key ways to get young people and children experiencing each others' lives as far as possible and working on activities.

"This is not just to be told about things but to learn through drama, music, theatre, dance and the whole range of cultural experience as well as project work which we feel is a way not just to learn about each other but to work with each other," explained Ms Rawson.

This massive experiment means everyone has to make a sacrifice.

When the closures began last June it signalled the end of single sex education in the area, a move that concerned some Muslim parents.

"By building schools you are not getting everyone together, you are creating a division because the Asian public aren't going to those schools," said parent Mohammed Amir.

"I won't send my daughter to a mixed school - never in a million years."

But other Muslim parents are less doctrinaire.

Hamid Mahmood believes the educational excellence promised by the investment in the new schools is more important.

And he added. "We live in England, not an Asian country and we should send them to mainstream schools."

Kay Denson
Schools can try but it will not work because it comes from home
Kay Denson, parent

Many parents are supportive of the plans if it means a better education for their children.

"Everything is going to be state of the art and that is what you want for your child really - these are the things you tend to think only the people who pay to go to private school get and we don't have to pay," said Sandra Ward, whose daughter Jessica, 11 will be attending Marsden Heights Community College, one of the new schools.

The new schools want to achieve a social and racial mix which reflects the local area. Marsden Heights is expected to have 70% Asian pupils because of parental choice. Sandra Ward has already encountered some negative vibes from other white parents.

"They look at me as if to say 'your child is white, what are you doing sending your daughter to Marsden Heights where it is full of Asians?'"

And families who cross the ethnic cultural divide are sceptical abut the long term outcome.

Kay Denson, who is white and her husband Danny Sheikh, who is of Indian descent, are sending one of their sons to Marsden Heights but still think it will be an expensive flop in terms of improving community relations.

"I don't see this making any difference - if anything it'll make it worse because now you don't have two or three Pakistanis who are friends because they are at a smaller school, you now have 15 friends in the same school.

Elaine Dawson
We have got to ensure in Burnley that we do have community cohesion - it starts with students, with the way they act and react with each other
Elaine Dawson, head teacher

"And subsequently on the other side you have 10 whites at the same school who are now friends. So you have bigger groups fighting and you are going to cause a bigger rift. I think they've made a bad mistake a bad judgement," said Danny.

Kay added: "Schools can try but it will not work because it comes from home. It is uneducated thinking.

"Children have to go home at the end of the day and if the kids are told anti-Asian policies or anti-white policies by their families then they will think like their parents."

But there is no turning back on this social gamble.

The changes have begun although the new school communities will have to wait a couple more years for their brand new buildings.

It is too early to judge their effectiveness, but for new head teachers such as Elaine Dawson there is no alternative:

"We have got to ensure in Burnley that we do have community cohesion - it starts with students, with the way they act and react with each other.

"We as a school will create that ethos, where we are all equal and get on together."

Hopeful words which the communities are pinning their hopes on.

Divided Britain: Schools, Segregation and Strife will be broadcast 2000 GMT BBC Radio Four on Monday, 26 February and Monday, 5 March 2007.

Straw discusses 'parallel lives'
24 Nov 06 |  Lancashire
Council policy 'aggravated' riots
30 May 06 |  Lancashire
Race riot town seeks answers
03 Jul 01 |  UK News
Burnley's 'midsummer madness'
25 Jun 01 |  UK News

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