Religious segregation a major problem in English schools

By staff writers
8 Jun 2011

Research released by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation on the 10 year anniversary of race riots in Oldham has shown that religious discrimination in schools continues to present a large barrier to integration, and that ethnic segregation throughout English schools has become entrenched.

Writing in the current edition of the journal ‘Research in Public Policy’ on the ongoing levels of segregation in schools in Oldham, Simon Burgess and Rich Harris from the CMPO argue that the problem may be occasioned by local attitudes that have prevented greater mixing in schools, but also because the of the "... prevalence of faith based schools ... [that include] demonstrable practice of a faith among their admissions criteria."

Oldham was rocked by uprisings and riots in 2001, which reached their peak on 26 May and had a strong ethnic component.

The academics declare, on the basis of their research, that "... over England as a whole, there has been essentially no change in levels of ethnic segregation over the last ten years".

Their comments coincided with the Centre for Market and Public Organisation creating an interactive website called ‘Measuring Diversity’, which publishes detailed local statistics on ethnic segregation in schools from 2002 onwards and helps users assess the level of segregation in schools in England by each local authority responsible for education.

The chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, commented: "Segregation and intercultural tension have many causes – their roots are often economic, accidental and residential. However, we know that mixed schooling has a very positive effect upon increasing mutual understanding and improving community cohesion."

He continued: "It therefore seems reckless for the government to be actively encouraging religious division by allowing faith schools to have admission policies that divide children on religious lines, which can so easily lead to division on the grounds of social background, race and ethnicity too."

Dr Romain said: "State funded schools should be open and suitable to children of every background, no matter what their parents’ or their own beliefs. Our society is becoming increasingly diverse. Schools that discriminate on religious grounds must not be part of this future."

The Accord Coalition brings together both religious and non-religious groups and individuals, including Christians, Humanists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others, to work for the substantial reform of faith schools.

Other research backs up the latest findings. ‘Identities in Transition: A Longitudinal Study of Immigrant Children’, by Rupert Brown, Adam Rutland and Charles Watters from the Universities of Sussex and Kent (2008) found that “... the effects of school diversity were consistent, most evidently on social relations: higher self-esteem, fewer peer problems and more cross-group friendships. Such findings show that school ethnic composition can significantly affect the promotion of positive intergroup attitudes. These findings speak against policies promoting single faith schools, since such policies are likely to lead to reduced ethnic diversity in schools.”

Among the key findings of ‘Social Capital, Diversity and Education Policy’, by Professor Irene Bruegel of the London South Bank University Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group (2006) were that: “Friendship at primary schools can, and does, cross ethnic and faith divides wherever children have the opportunity to make friends from different backgrounds. At that age, in such schools, children are not highly conscious of racial differences and are largely unaware of the religion of their friends... There was some evidence that parents learned to respect people from other backgrounds as a result of their children’s experiences in mixed schools.”

The ‘Oldham Independent Review Report 2001’ was commissioned by the Government, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and the local police authority in the aftermath of the 2001 riots. It found that “Educational mixing: This is closely linked to residential, and in our view it is desirable in principle that as many schools as possible, should have mixed intake so that children growing up can learn one another’s customs and cultural backgrounds and accept that stereotypes and racism are unacceptable”

* More on Accord: http://accordcoalition.org.uk/

* Ekklesia is one of the founding members of the Accord Coalition.

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