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Backs to the future under Section 11

British cities look like they are heading the same way as some North American ones. Communities without hope, alienated in a sea of discrimination, unemployment and poverty - a recipe for devastation.

The need for co-ordinated regeneration of our urban centres has never been greater. In this sense, the Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) must be welcomed. At the heart of regeneration is education, and at its heart is mastery of oracy and literacy. Yet we have a major basic skills problem.

For Peter Davis, chairman of the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, too many people have a level of basic competence unsuited to a complex industrialised society. Basic skills in literacy and oracy underpin education and training. Education, in turn, underpins the economic survival of our cities. This is what Section 11 is about.

The fact that Section 11 will become one of 20 activities brought under the banner of the SRB endangers the educational progress of thousands of pupils. More than half the Pounds 100 million in the SRB pot comes from Section 11 projects ending in March 1995, and business start-up schemes. There is no guarantee Section 11 will survive.

In Bradford Metropolitan District, Section 11 is worth Pounds 3.8m in education and pays for 455 staff who support more than 21,000 (26 per cent of the total) pupils from ethnic minorities. Withdrawing or reducing this money would have disastrous consequences educationally for these reasons: * large numbers of pupils are still brought up in homes where the first language is not English;

* The majority of these pupils come into nursery or reception classes with little or no English;

* expectations of pupils' performance have increased;

* work to improve links between home and school would stop;

* the bulk of Section 11 funding is used to provide expertise to improve oracy and literacy skills, so pupils are able to learn effectively in all areas of the curriculum. This would stop.

The recently-announced Pounds 15m addition to Section 11 should be welcomed. This makes the national pot Pounds 30m. When one looks at the work Section 11 supports, across the country, this sum is small.

Worryingly, there are signs that Section 11 bids within the SRB might not be approved. Bradford has heard that its priority bid for Section 11 activities within the SRB has been rejected, although the whole point of such a budget was for local communities to determine their own priorities.

Since most of the Section 11 monies were put into the SRB, the consequences for urban communities will be destruction of their capacity to regenerate economically. What commitment is there for race equality?

Why all the fuss? Leisha Fullick, director of education for Lewisham, reminds us of the 1985 Swann Report, Education for All. She points out that the issue was not how to educate children of minorities, but how to educate all children.

Britain is a multi-racial society and will remain so. What each child brings to school is important - schooling is not just reinforcement of their existing systems, it is about development of the multi-cultural society in which we live.

Swann points to the enormous importance of minority language issues as central to mainstream education, as well as fluency in English usage. At the heart of it all is achievement levels of particular ethnic minority groups, and pupils in general. Since Section 11 was reviewed and changed in 1990, there have been marked improvements in the use of resources allocated to address achievement.

Where now? As a first step, Section 11 should be removed from the SRB or ring-fenced within it, allocating at least the current level of resources. As a second step, clear recognition needs to be given to the funding of the educational needs of minority ethnic communities, principally through the Government's standard spending assessment (SSA). The "ethnicity" element should be transparently identified as additional to basic SSA.

It is through education and community support that we facilitate many of the economic hopes of our minorities. It is through schools that European nations have chosen to pursue enlightened ends for their peoples. It is here the battle for the future of our cities will be won . . . or lost.

Michael Peters is the assistant director of education for Bradford

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