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No opt-out from race equality

The reports by HMIE and the researchers from Edinburgh University (page four) will not surprise many people. The change in the legislation, which requires schools, education authorities and other public bodies actively to promote race equality rather than just preside benignly over it, only came into effect at the end of 2002. The trickle-down effect in education, from pronouncement to implementation, is notoriously lengthy. It is hardly likely therefore that awareness of legislative requirements affecting ethnic minority pupils will be complete, in a notoriously complex field.

The inspectorate's judgment is, as ever, suitably judicious: "Good practice in tackling racism and promoting race equality is not consistent across Scotland." In other words, some schools are doing a grand job and others are not. The abiding question that arises, as in other areas of educational endeavour, is why success appears to come apparently easily to some and not to others. The case studies of good practice in the HMIE report do not suggest we are looking at rocket science.

Interestingly, there are problems at either end of the balance sheet: a school with a large presence of ethnic pupils may feel it is doing enough by having some tokenistic nods in their direction. Others with overwhelmingly white rolls may consider that they can be comfortably free from any obligation to do anything. In one or two cases, schools could be tempted to do the bare minimum, jolted into action only where problems arise.

The successful schools, however, teach us that racial awareness is not just about a mechanistic response to a legislative requirement: it ought to be a central part of everyone's education - for educational reasons. The winners are those from every ethnic shade.

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