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Schools 'must share blame'

Among the many plausible explanations put about for the Bradford rioting, the most convincing is straightforward, says Akram Khan Cheema: poor policing.

Khan Cheema is one of the best-respected Muslim educationists and a man who, as a former adviser with the local education authority, knows Bradford and Bradford Muslims well.

There is, he says, no adequate relationship between the police and the Asian community and little or no attempt to address the problem. This in turn is symptomatic of a much wider failure, he believes, one which drags in a range of social institutions, schools in particular.

He is joined in this view by Professor Bhikhu Parekh, from Hull University, who further believes that public perception has been badly distorted by the most appealing explanation of all: that a "generation gap" has arisen, leading to an outpouring of frustration.

"This has no explanatory power for two reasons," he says. "First, the generation gap happens in every community. It explains nothing. Second, the theory attempts to transfer the blame to the victim: 'You know you guys should sort out your generational problems'. And the wider society washes it hands. "

He believes it is not so much the fact of a gap that is problematic as the failure of British society to help younger Asians come to terms with the gap. A failure for which schools must take a disproportionate share of the blame. Scandinavian countries, he says, manage to do rather better.

"There's a tendency to treat the generational conflict as if it were an earthquake - striking uncontrollably and unannounced. But that is to present a social event as a natural one. The tension occurs because there is a rupture in the transition of values. That shared framework is missing for Asian pupils, because schools say, 'You're here to learn about British society - which is all we're going to teach you.' "The sort of generation gap we have in Bradford is the fault of society at large as it operates through its social and cultural institutions, in particular through its schools.

"So we have a context of little understanding between parents and children. A feeling that, for example, parents are more interested in religion than in racism or the concern their children face."

Nor, Khan Cheema and Professor Parekh say, is there any reason to believe that things are improving. Khan Cheema points to the almost wholesale collapse of local authority programmes to educate staff about ethnic minorities, and to the serious reductions in Home Office (Section 11) grant aid for underachievement.

As chairman of governors at one of the two privately-run Muslim schools controversially refused Government (voluntary aided) funding, he is also acutely aware of the feeling that, as a group, Muslims are ignored by the state. A simple, symbolic gesture - such as the creation of a publicly-funded Muslim school - would, he believes, go a long way to countering such scepticism.

Professor Parekh describes the 1988 Education Reform Act as regressive, with an overemphasis on Christianity, on European culture, and on an instrumental view of education to the exclusion of its social responsibilities.

"Education is where we should be teaching about social cohesion, not only across class boundaries but also across the generations."

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