Segregation in schools fuels racial tensions

Jeremy Sutcliffe

POLARISATION in Bradford's school system was this week identified as a major symptom of deteriorating race relations in the city.

The report of an official inquiry set up to investigate racial tensions months before last weekend's riots, warns of communities fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines.

"Segregation in schools is one indicator of this trend. Rather than seeing the emergence of a confident, multicultural district where people are respectful, people's attitudes appear to be hardening and intolerance is growing," says the report chaired by Lord Ouseley, former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

The warning, which follows claims last month that Church of England schools in riot-torn Oldham have also fostered racial segregation, is likely to fuel the debate over government plans to increase the number of religious secondary schools.

In another report published this week, a group of philosophers joined forces with the British Humanist Association to call for the planned expansion to be put on ice following the unrest in Bradford and other cities. They also urged ministers to extend guidelines requiring non-religious schools to teach multi-faith religious education to church schools (see Another Voice, 22).

However, the call is unlikely to deflect Education Secretary Estelle Morris, who was busy on several fronts this week.

Following a review of this year's AS-level debacle, she pledged to rationalise the examinations facing students in their first year of the sixth form (see story, right).

She also signalled a further retreat from the Government's previous hard line on school exclusions. New measures will include changes to the law to ensure appeals panels reflect the challenges facing headteachers and the interests of the school community.

She also announced plans to extend "parenting orders" to make parents legally responsible for their children's behaviour and promised to maximise support for schools dealing with disruptive children and violent parents.

A generally sombre week of education news continued with the announcement of a judicial inquiry to establish who, if anyone, was to blame for the tragic death of 11-year-old Bunmi Shagaya, the British girl who drowned last week while on a school trip in France. Lambeth council is also to commission an independent inquiry into Bunmi's death.

The tragedy renewed pressure on the Education Secretary to improve swimming tuition for primary school children, after inspectors last year warned of a "worrying number of schools which fail to teach water safety and survival skills".

While the continuing teacher shortage crisis forced one school in Andover, Hampshire, to turn to Bulgaria to fill vacancies, the county of Kent was able to offer a juicy carrot to recruit a new director of education. On a salary of up to pound;130,000 per year, the lucky man or woman who gets the job will earn pound;10,000 more than the Education Secretary. Go for it.

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Jeremy Sutcliffe

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