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Expanding school linking integration project a 'funding challenge', minister admits

Lord Bourne says he would like to expand scheme which brings together pupils from different backgrounds

Lord Bourne raised questions about expanding Linking Network

Lord Bourne says he would like to expand scheme which brings together pupils from different backgrounds

The challenge of finding more funding could hold back the expansion of a “great” scheme to bring school children from different backgrounds together, a government minister has said.

Faith minister Lord Bourne visited the Stockwood Discovery Centre in Luton yesterday to see first-hand the work of the Linking Network, to help pupils learn more about different faiths and backgrounds in their local communities.

The national scheme first started in Bradford in 2001 as a way of partnering schools to allow pupils from different communities to meet and work together.

It is now run across 26 areas of the country backed by £394,000 government funding and is also supported by the Pears Foundation. The scheme has worked with 21,000 pupils this year linking together 760 classes.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth told Tes there was interest from other areas benefiting from the scheme.

He said: “I think anyone who has seen this programme for themselves would want to be able to extend it to more areas because the benefits are clear.  The challenge of course is finding the funding.”

He added: “Schools linking is a great example of how children and young people from different backgrounds can come together to meet, learn and share interests that help them prepare for life in modern Britain and make them great citizens of the future.

“The government is determined to support programmes such as these to ensure young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to take part in challenging and rewarding experiences.”

In March this year, the government published its Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper.

Its aims include proposals to boost English language skills, increase opportunities for more women to enter the workplace, and “promote British values and meaningful discussion between young people”.

The government recently announced that it was retaining the faith cap on new free schools which means that they can only select half of their intake on the basis of faith.

However, the Department for Education is also making funding available to support the creation of new voluntary aided schools which can select all their pupils on the basis of faith.

Earlier this year the British Futures group said faith schools and other state schools in areas which are highly segregated by religions, ethnicity or social class should be made to "twin" with other schools in different settings.

The original Schools Linking Project dates back to Bradford, in 2001, when Girlington Primary School and Eldwick Primary School began working together with a literacy consultant at Bradford Council. 

This followed concerns in the city over the separation of ethnic groups after riots in Bradford that year.

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