Bring back sense of belonging

2nd May 2008 at 01:00
Schools are being urged to think ahead about how they can help local communities to gel

Schools are being urged to think ahead about how they can help local communities to gel

A sense of belonging has characterised Welsh communities for generations. But experts argue that neighbourly feeling is under threat from increased migration. And new guidance says schools in Wales need to act now to prevent racial tensions developing.

A briefing on community cohesion, produced by community learning charity ContinYou, argues that the potential for racial conflict is no longer a problem confined to northern English cities with a high ethnic minority population. It cites Burnley as an example of a situation in which racial tensions spilled over into violence in 2001.

And the charity says that with a quarter of the Welsh population now born within the borders, and the population expected to rise to around 3 million by 2021, schools need to be considering how they can promote good relations when they offer out-of-hours services.

"Although issues of community cohesion are currently not high-profile in most areas of Wales, the dynamic nature of population change suggests that unless positive action is taken, issues may arise in unexpected ways and places," says the briefing paper, which calls on schools to get to know their communities better.

According to Ian Bottrill, the briefing's author, the way schools go about cohesion will differ.

But he says it is not just to do with indigenous populations accepting newcomers, but a two-way process.

"Community cohesion is about everyone getting along together and accepting each other's differences," said Mr Bottrill. "This doesn't mean just accepting different races, but also different religions, lifestyles, even language."

"It will also depend on where you live; Cardiff will have different needs compared with a small town in rural Powys."

In England, a new addition to the key stage 3 citizenship curriculum this September, Identities and diversity; living together in the UK, will place a greater statutory requirement on schools to teach pupils how to live harmoniously with their peers.

But the way schools tackle citizenship and cohesion is much more locally determined in Wales.

The Assembly government says cohesion underpins the citizenship element of the personal and social education curriculum.

But how schools open their doors to the community with out-of-hours learning is seen as best left to them and local authorities.

Recent advice to schools about their governing role, also launched recently by ContinYou with Governors' Wales, says schools need to view themselves as offering much more than simply an extra facility or service.

Heads who have been singled out for showing good practice in promoting cohesion agree that their schools are best placed to know their community's needs.

Collette Aston, head of Betws Primary School in Bridgend, said: "I know my school's community, and although it has similarities with other schools in Bridgend, it is still different to them."

Mrs Aston said the school's community work over the past two years has helped to ease existing tensions locally, which are mostly the result of poverty.

"Before we turned our focus on community activities, the school was averaging about pound;4,000 worth of vandalism per year," she said. "Now we don't have any, and it's seen as a place where good things happen."

The school runs skills and parenting courses. The local health visitor is now based there, and a mobile dentist visits regularly.

At Swansea's Pentrehafod School, which has a pupil population with 25 different mother tongues, community cohesion is a real challenge.

Under a community education development officer, the school's overriding priority is the prevention of racial tension and the promotion of cultural diversity.

Maureen Harris, head of Bishop Hedley RC High School in Merthyr Tydfil, said the needs of her community were religious.

The school has developed strong faith links locally which have helped to integrate migrant children from Polish and Portuguese backgrounds.

The community work has also strengthened inter-generational links. During after-school clubs, children finish homework while their parents learn IT skills.

The Assembly government has so far invested pound;10.2 million in community- focused schools, and funding will continue until 2011.

Community cohesion has been an education buzz-word since 2002 and the Cantle Report that followed riots in Leeds, Oldham and Burnley. The Assembly government has just launched the All Wales Community Cohesion Project, which aims to share good practice.


Develop a vetted email pen-pal scheme between pupils of different cultures locally and globally

Build partnerships between faith and secular schools

Provide extra pastoralmentoringbuddying support for childrenrefugees or asylum-seekers

Run women-only keep fit classes for those unable to attend public classes on religious grounds

Set up inter-generational projects

Arrange coffee mornings, cooking or arts-based activities for parents.

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