College puts a stop to racism

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Three years after the race riots that raged in Oldham, segregation still thrives. The town remains divided into neighbourhoods that are either predominantly Asian or predominantly white.

There is one Church of England primary school, St Hilda's, where 100 per cent of the pupils are from Bangladeshi backgrounds. Several more primaries have more than 90 per cent Asian pupils.

Yet nearby there is a C of E secondary school, a high-achieving one with an 86 per cent GCSE grades A*-C pass rate, that is almost exclusively white.

It is at the two post-16 colleges in the town that many youngsters get the first opportunity to mix. And when race riots erupted, they remained oases of calm.

Both colleges have an approximate 70:30 white-Asian mix. Both work tirelessly to promote racial harmony, and as a result racial incidents have been virtually eradicated.

The town's mayor Abdul Jabbar, who is also vice-chair of governors at Oldham college, where he was a student, said: "We do have issues with some parts of the borough being heavily dominated by a single ethnic group.

"The two colleges are immensely respected in all the communities that exist in Oldham.

"At the height of the disturbances, and in the face of outright hostility, they were able to continue with the business of education and learning."

Kath Thomas, principal of Oldham college, said: "We need to lose the image that developed as a result of the disturbances. It is still causing problems with recruitment and staffing. It is not fair for Oldham to have that image."

Her college has been running a "celebrating diversity" competition for several years which is an important part of its strategy to develop equality.

"The feedback from students is that the college is a safe place and that they all feel equal and valued," she said.

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