Regrets amid fragile calm

16th June 1995 at 01:00
Harvey McGavin on the prospects for youth in post-riot Bradford. The glaziers were doing a brisk trade up and down Westgate. On the road out of Bradford's centre towards Manningham, the freshly-boarded-up pubs and shops were making the area look even more run-down than it was before the weekend riots.

In the Town Hall they were picking up the pieces, assessing the damage and sifting through the wreckage for clues.John Ryan, chairman of the education committee, said: "There's still a sense of shock. Most people regard it as a tragedy for the city. Over the years, when riots have happened in other cities, we have been able to stop it happening here because of our strong links with the community. We have to discover what it is that is causing so much dismay. "

Social deprivation, unemployment and insensitive policing have all been blamed. But the state of the city's schools is also a factor. Frankly, Mr Ryan says, "they are falling down." Crumbling buildings, chronic underfunding and rising rolls are behind Bradford's poor showing educationally.

An average of 26.7 per cent of pupils passing five or more GCSEs at grades C or above left it languishing tenth from bottom in last year's exam league table of LEAs. But there are great discrepancies within the authority. Four inner-city schools returned single-figure percentages, while relatively high-achieving schools in the richer suburbs and outlying towns and villages made the average appear more respectable.

"As the people in charge of education in Bradford, we have high aspirations for our citizens and we want to see them succeed through education and stay in the city," says Mr Ryan. "If our young people are going to move on we will have a major problem in the future. It's in our interest as well as theirs."

Officially, the city has two failing schools, Fairfax Community School and Broomwood Middle School. Fairfax gained notoriety two years ago when Bangladeshi parents took the council to the High Court in an attempt to have their children allocated places elsewhere. But most of Manningham's Asian population are from Kashmiri families. Could recent events suggest that the system as a whole is failing the city's pupils?

John Ryan disagrees, citing initiatives, such as a Reading Recovery programme for five to seven-year-olds, a teacher exchange scheme with Pakistan and supplementary classes after school.

"Bradford led the debate over Section 11 funding and successfully beat off the Government's attempts to get rid of it. People have said that had we not retained that money then there would have been riots earlier."

"We wouldn't want anyone to think we are complacent. We recognise that there are all sorts of problems and some young people are not doing as well as they ought to be. It is up to us to do something about that."

The talking has already begun. Headteachers met with council education officers and representatives of the Muslim community this week to discuss the weekend's events, aware that many of those involved are pupils at their schools.

"The schools have good links with the community and we have to consolidate these," says Ishtiaq Ahmed of Bradford Racial Equality Council. "Nobody wants these events repeated and the schools have a a very important role to play in preventing that."

"There is a lot of unemployment and a lack of opportunities for youngsters to improve their quality of life." Immigrants who came to Bradford in the 1950s and 1960s were left without work when the mills closed and their children do not want such a raw deal.

"There's also an emerging view among the youth that they think their elders have been too polite and too submissive," Mr Ahmed says. "They feel that they need to speak out and assert themselves. Schools can help them make more of their opportunities in life."

Bruce Berry, head of Belle Vue Boys, an upper school which draws much of its intake from neighbouring Manningham (and where just 8 per cent of pupils achieved five or more higher grade GCSEs last year) says the riots came as a complete surprise.

"There have been mixed reactions among the pupils - some have been excited and others are shocked that this could have happened. That's something that's been lacking in the media coverage - a sense of regret. But everyone at the school has settled down back to work."

Two sixth-formers from Belle Vue, Zafir and Imran, are hanging around outside the Cop Shop, a former police station which now serves as an advice and drop-in centre for young people. Imran offers a bandaged hand to the photographer, whom he recognises from the night of the riots.

Asked how it happened and assuming he is being asked about the trouble, he launches into a stream of anecdotes about the police and racism.

The young men calm down when asked about their education - it appears that that's not so much of a problem. "People say ours is not a good school and you'll never learn anything there but the teachers don't let you mess about, " says Zafir. "They talk to you as friends and urge you on.

"My brother has worked in a mill since he was 16 and the conditions are terrible, so he tells me to take the chance that he never had. My family says 'get an education'. If you want to learn the opportunity is there. No one else is going to help you."

"He's going to be a doctor," says Imran, gesturing at his friend. Zafir, looking a bit embarrassed, admits to his ambition.

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