New law to force close look at race in schools

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
In the wake of the Macpherson report, the Commission for Racial Equality is to issue a code of conduct for education. Warwick Mansell reports NEW anti-racist laws could force schools and local authorities to monitor the exam results of different ethnic groups.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Bill, due to receive Royal Assent at the end of this month, insists that all public bodies promote racial equality.

The Bill, due to become law next year, follows the Macpherson report into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Full details as to how it will affect the education sector will begin to emerge next month, when Home Secretary Jack Straw issues a consultation paper on possible duties.

But the Commission for Racial Equality, which is to have powers to enforce the new law, said that the paper was likely to insist that schools and local authorities should:

Assess the racial implications of new and existing policies.

Monitor the ethnicity of staff and pupils, and the progress of different racial groups.

Include in governors' annual reports to parents a section on race relations.

The consultation paper is also expected to propose that LEAs should assess and consult on possible racial dimensions to school admissions policies.

The commission is to follow the consultation paper with a code of practice for schools next year. The new regulations will come into being next autumn.

It already has the power to investigate complaints bout a school's policies. But in future it will be able to issue an enforcement order if it concludes that they are not up to scratch.

The Bill comes as racial

inequalities are again in the

spotlight. Last week, research for the Office for Standards in Education revealed a worryingly large gap between the GCSE performance of African-Caribbean and Pakistani pupils and their white and Indian counterparts.

The study found that one local authority's targets for promoting ethnic-minority improvement actually included predictions that the performance gap between white and black pupils would grow.

Currently, there is no formal requirement on schools to monitor ethnic minority achievement. Last year, a report for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers found fewer than one in 200 schools had effective policies in this area.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said that, although many schools would see the new law as an "imposition", the thrust of the Government's policy was right.

But Mick Brookes, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, warned of a possible "backlash" from schools because the legislation came at a time when paperwork was continuing to grow.

He said: "This is clearly a serious issue. But if the Government imposes it now, without taking more action to cut down on bureaucracy in schools, the danger is that there will be a backlash against it."

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