Community duty to ease mix of races help races mix

6th July 2001 at 01:00
AS an Oldham resident, who taught in the town for 22 years before moving to Manchester, I find the claim of Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, quite bizarre (TES, June 22). He appears to argue that race relations in Oldham are damaged by the fact that the local Church of England school does not admit more Muslims. I believe that many local Muslims would find it patronising if they had to seek education in a C of E school.

In Oldham, and in my own school, ethnic-minority groups gained most from the Assisted Places Scheme. Both independent grammar schools are open to pupils from all ethnic backgrounds. But the withdrawal of the APS hit many low-income families in the Asian and African-Caribbean communities. It is a bewildering travesty of social democracy that the Government's one "old Labour" policy should hit poor families hardest. In my own school, recruitment from the local African-Caribbean community has fallen significantly with the loss of APS. We have tried to use our bursary funds to maintain the school's ethnic mix but we do not have the resources to support every child who could benefit from education in our school.

As a head, I have been deeply moved by the huge sacrifices many families make to send their children to an independent school.

My own has the largest proportion of ethnic-minority pupils of any HMC school in the country. I believe that our role extends far beyond the classroom and the provision of education. We also have a role in enhancing understanding in the wider community. This understanding is helped by the fact that if pupils mix, then parents tend to mix, and the barriers of ignorance and suspicion break down.

Of course, the ideal solution is to provide equal opportunity in the maintained sector and when this happens there is no case for assisted places, but the fact is that, until the maintained sector can achieve this, we should be allowed to do the job.

Stephen Patriarca Headmaster William Hulme's Grammar School Manchester

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