Fourteen years ago I reported the ‘parallel lives’ found in our Northern towns. Segregation in schools, workplaces and residential areas has hardly improved and in some cases have been further set back, according to the new Demos ‘integration hub’ which provides a comprehensive analysis area by area. Local authorities can now examine the trends within their boundaries. At the same time, councils have to recognise that the advent of virtual networks that can both promote more openness or just reinforce closed communities. Many will be concerned – especially in the light of the Prime Minister’s recent comments on extremism – as it is clear that segregation leads to a partial view of the world, tends to make people fear others and allows prejudice and intolerance to go unchallenged. Local authorities need to see segregation as a threat to their community relations.
Schools remain the area which offers the greatest potential to change – young people are open to new ideas, if they are given the opportunity to hear them. However, the advent of free schools, academies and the extension of faith schools, means that many schools have been given licence to operate in isolation from each other, developing their own admissions policies which allow them to target separate communities without considering community cohesion. Local authorities have all but lost their strategic role for the education service and it is left to groups like the Fair Admissions Campaign to expose the manipulation of the school admissions code, which has itself been found to be inadequate. Little wonder that the Demos Integration Hub is able to report that ‘In 2013, over 50 per cent of ethnic minority students were in schools where ethnic minorities were in the majority (and over 90per cent in London year 1). This compares to over 90 per cent of White British pupils who are in majority White British schools’.
One of the most surprising developments is that schools are no longer expected or entrusted to provide education ‘fit for modern multicultural Britain’ despite this Ofsted pronouncement – for example the Greater Manchester, the police have taken it upon themselves to provide ‘resilience training’. Perhaps this is the time for councils to start asking searching questions of schools about both their admissions and how they are encouraging mixed communities and good relations (schools are still under a duty to promote community cohesion even though Ofsted do not inspect on this). A more pro-active role might have prevented the Trojan Horse affair, whatsoever the truth if the allegations.
More generally, local authorities also need to use their influence to challenge employers, schools, voluntary organisations and faith groups to ask them how they are fostering good relations and to recognise that the consequences of the lack of contact between groups is intolerance of others and the continuation of prejudice and extreme views about difference.
It remains to be seen if the Government will help them with this task, previous policy signalled a retreat from community cohesion and tended to dismiss it as a local issue. The Prime Minister’s speech in Birmingham today at least recognised the problem, but while it was strong on rhetoric he gave no details of any new policy interventions.
Demos Integration Hub is found at http://www.integrationhub.net/module/education/