Heads must ensure they promote equality
Some schools may be reluctant to do this as admissions policies that favour one ethnic group automatically discriminate against others. Nevertheless, schools should bear in mind that they now have a statutory duty to promote racial equality.
In fact, they should have had policies in place since May - difficult, as the statutory code of practice was only approved by Parliament at the end of May. Heads may be relieved to know they will not necessarily incur the wrath of the law if they still do not have a policy, provided that the code has been considered by governors.
Schools, like all other public bodies, must endeavour to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and promote equal opportunities and good relations between people of different races.
Each school can tailor the policy to match its specific circumstances, and can get advice from the statutory code as well as a guide published by the Commission for Racial Equality.
The code recognises that race relations could well be part of a wider equal opportunities policy. Schools should also set out what this means for staff and pupils, and explain how the policy's effectiveness will be assessed.
Heads are likely to be exercised by the recommendation that the policy should clarify what will happen to those who ignore the advice.
The issues that schools should address, in addition to admissions procedures, are pupil assessment and progress, the relevance of the curriculum to the cultural and language needs of pupils, discipline, exclusions, racial harassment, staff recruitment and development, and the make-up of the governing body.
The lack of any mention of special needs pupils in the code is surprising as there has been much concern about labelling children from particular racial groups. However, schools are free to address this issue - and any other not included in the recommendations - if they believe it will help to develop better relations.
If schools are seen to be failing in their duties they can be challenged in the High Court by the CRE or any other body. Already there are reports of local action groups requesting copies of school policies. But heads, as well as activists, will also be hoping that this legislation is more successful than previous government initiatives.
Refer to: Race Relations Act 1976; Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000; statutory Code of Practice on the Duty to Promote Race Equality (available from the CRE); Guide for Schools (CRE); CRE website: www.cre.gov.ukdutyduty_pack.html Chris Lowe is honorary legal consultant to the Secondary Heads' Association and editor of Croners' School Governors' Manual