The Government has announced a new £3million project aimed at “twinning schools” in an effort to break down barriers and create community cohesion. The National Secular Society said that it was “money down the drain” and showed an “irrational refusal by the government to face the real problem of rising segregation in schools.”
The School Linking Network is a new agency that the Government says will support schools and local authorities in trying to fulfil their duty to use schools to create community cohesion. It will provide a website for schools to find partners online.
Schools Minister Jim Knight, put the responsibility for tackling this problem of separation and division squarely on to the shoulders of the school. “All schools and teachers should be considering what more they should be doing to promote tolerance and harmony, so they become real dynamos of change within their communities inside and outside the school gates. School linking is one way of achieving that.”
But Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The Government is handing a problem of its own making over to teachers and saying ‘you sort it out’ while at the same time refusing to face up to the real problem – so-called faith schools. When you are not only permitting, but actually encouraging self-interested clerics into the school to separate children down religious lines, this new project is doomed from the start. Simply having the occasional joint lesson or playtime is not enough. Indeed, such activities have been shown to be counterproductive.”
Mr Sanderson pointed to research from the London South Bank University carried out by Professor Irene Bruegel, professor of Urban Policy, in which she writes: “We argue that it is important to distinguish between ongoing and sporadic contact [in schools] where the former is part of the day to day accepted routines and the latter is artificially structured to ‘address’ difference. However worthy and imaginative, such contact will tend to be distorted by prior group identification among potential rivals. We looked at one particular twinning between primary schools in the North to get a feel for its impact on white children. There were positive aspects to it… But the children from the village referred to the twinned school as ‘the brown school’, ‘down there’; they couldn’t remember any of the children’s names because they were ‘difficult to pronounce’ and the visits of the children did little if anything to assuage the sense of grievance of the white parents that the outer areas were losing out in funding ‘Banglatown’, for example in the closure of the sixth form in the all white semi-rural secondary school. The children from the white community envied the resources of the inner city school, but treated their days as external to them and their concerns. The twinning earned the school ‘brownie points’, but appeared to make only very superficial difference to attitudes.”
Professor Bruegel also found that “Friendship at primary school 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.”
This is all common sense, but Government policy is the complete opposite, insisting that separating children by religion and allowing them to mix only on a formally-arranged occasional basis will somehow break down barriers between them.
The Bruegel study makes quite clear children need to be together every day at school in order to make lasting friendships with people from other cultures.
The Government is stubbornly ignoring this perfectly obvious conclusion and still permitting religion to drive a wedge between the children of different cultures.
Read the whole of Professor Bruegel’s report here.