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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Twinning plan to stop race divide
By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter, Bournemouth

Secondary school playground
Schools are being told to build links across racial divides
Schools with a predominantly white pupil intake are being told to twin with ethnically-diverse schools - to foster better community relations.

The government is putting a legal requirement on schools in England to promote "community cohesion".

The duty comes into force in September and will be subject to inspections by education watchdog, Ofsted.

Head teachers' leader, Mick Brookes, said that he "winced" at this latest initiative facing schools.

Schools Minister Jim Knight, addressing the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers in Bournemouth, said the draft guidance on community cohesion would be launched this week.

The guidance stresses that schools have a duty to stamp out racial discrimination and must promote good relations between "people of different groups".

'Never met a Hindu'

Schools which do not reflect the wider diversity of society must make links with other schools and organisations in order to give pupils the chance to mix with those from different backgrounds.

SCHOOLS AND RACE
Only 2% of secondary schools and 5% of primary schools in England have no minority ethnic pupils
In primary schools, 21.9% of pupils are from ethnic minorities; in secondary 17.7%
Secondary faith schools have a higher proportion of pupils from minority ethnic backgrounds than schools without a religious character

Source: DFES

Mr Knight said links - be they actual or virtual - between schools of differing ethnic or religious make-up was one way of breaking down barriers.

"As an example, I'm quite keen on faith-based schools twinning with those of other faiths - to talk to other schools about their faith - so we can extend that understanding."

Mr Knight said a secondary school in his constituency, Dorset South, had recently received an outstanding grade from Ofsted inspectors for religious education.

"But pupils had never met anyone of Muslim faith or a Hindu."

'Unnecessary responsibility'

Describing how schools would be expected to promote social cohesion, Mr Knight identified three paths:

"First of all, as part of teaching in the classroom, as part of delivering things in the curriculum, like citizenship, like religious education.

"Secondly, in terms of the sort of ethos there is in the school to ensure that, obviously there is no racism, but more broadly that there is a tolerant attitude of mutual respect towards other people within the school and beyond the school.

"And then thirdly the external relations of the school in the wider community and things like twinning between schools of different faiths, those sort of partnerships are things that we're very keen to encourage."

Responding to the new "social cohesion" requirement, the general secretary of the NAHT, Mick Brookes, said: "I winced. Does it sound like another initiative?"

Mr Brookes said most schools were already promoting good community relations and the fact that Ofsted inspectors would now be judging them on another area was daunting

"It seems like another stick to come and beat schools with. If we're going to do that, what are we going to throw out?"

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the requirement placed "unnecessary additional statutory responsibility" on schools.

Dr Dunford said schools were often the only institutions in a community working towards social cohesion.

"It's placing yet another demand on schools," he said.

The Commission for Racial Equality says that segregation is "seeping into the fabric of communities across Britain".

"It's hard to say whether the lack of integration in our schools is further increasing segregation in our communities, or whether segregation in the communities is determining educational segregation. Either way, this is a huge problem that must be addressed," says a CRE spokesperson.




SEE ALSO
Plan to help black boys achieve
09 Apr 07 |  Education
Rise in pupils without English
26 Apr 07 |  Education

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