Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Britain: Schools with mainly white pupils could be labelled failing if they don't encourage children to mix with other races and religions

This is London:

Ministers will unveil guidance to heads on how to comply with a new legal duty to promote community relations.

Schools in rural or suburban areas will be urged to twin with multi-ethnic schools, for example by staging joint plays or sporting events.

Faith schools should link up with different denominations while schools with no religious affiliation should arrange trips to churches, mosques and synagogues.

Schools should also bring together local parents from different backgrounds by holding coffee mornings, curriculum evenings and parent and child courses.

Ofsted inspectors will be handed powers to check schools are meeting the new duty, which comes into force in September.

Those judged to be falling short face the prospect of their governing bodies taken over by council hit squads or even closure.

The new law is aimed at preventing schools breeding prejudiced attitudes which could lead to extremism.

It is binding on all schools although those with high proportions of a single faith or ethnic group will need to "do more" than those with diverse populations.

The then-Education Secretary Alan Johnson championed the requirement for schools to "promote community cohesion" after abandoning plans for admissions quotas for faith schools.

He wanted all faith schools to reserve a quarter of places for non-believers but backed down after meeting opposition led by the Catholic Church.

However head teachers are concerned at the additional burden the duty will place on schools.

They said schools cannot be expected to solve society's problems and the extra regulation will further detract from the core task of educating children.

The guidance is expected to recommend schools take action on three fronts - by promoting common values in lessons, by monitoring the performance of different ethnic groups and by encouraging children and parents of different backgrounds to mix.

This could involve forging partnerships with schools serving different types of communities. Pupils could even strike up long-distance email friendships with counterparts abroad.

"Every school - whatever its intake and wherever it is located - is responsible for educating children and young people who will live and work in a country which is diverse in terms of culture, faith, ethnicity and social backgrounds," the guidance is expected to say.

"The staff and pupil populations of some schools reflect this diversity, allowing pupils to mix with those from different backgrounds.

"Others do not, and need to make links with other schools and organisations in order to give their pupils the opportunity to mix with and learn with, from and about those from different backgrounds."

Outlining the new duty earlier this year, Schools Minister Jim Knight said some suburban teenagers had never met a Muslim or Hindu and needed more contact.

He said a school in his Dorset South constituency had been rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted for its RE teaching but pupils had only limited experience of youngsters from other backgrounds.

Official figures show that, overall, one in five schoolchildren is from an ethnic minority - a doubling of the numbers in a decade.

One in eight pupils now speaks a language other than English at home.

But five per cent of primary schools - 750 - have no ethnic minority pupils, while 360 have more than 50 per cent.

The Commission for Racial Equality has warned the UK is in danger of becoming a "mini America", with schools separated along religious and ethnic lines.

However Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This new duty seems like another stick to beat schools with."

John Dunford, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "In many troubled communities, schools are almost the only institutions creating community cohesion, which is why it's so unnecessary to have an extra law."

New Definition of Failing Education

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