A report has claimed that East End schools are dividing by race.
While 17 Tower Hamlets primary schools have more than 90%+ Bangladeshi pupils, nine have fewer than 10%. Three of the borough's 15 secondaries have less than 3% Bangladeshi pupils, while two have more than 95% Bangladeshi pupils and three over 80%.
Absurdly, the Tories feel they can make some political capital out of this, so are highlighting it. The Tories - party of racial harmony and integration?! No - more like, the party that enjoys playing on people’s fears.
And their ‘solution’? To use the Academies programme to allow selection by race. Oh, but the Tories are against quotas, says Education Spokesperson David Willetts. Or rather, they are against the state operating quotas, but they are fine with allowing the assortment of charities, businesses, religious bodies and ‘philanthropists’ who run academies to select on grounds of race.
If there was a way of worsening racial harmony in an area like Tower Hamlets, this could well be it. Even if an Academy were able to racially-balance its intake in this manner, it would sow the seeds of racial division through the inevitable (and partially justified) resentment from families of kids who did not get a place believing that they were victims of racial discrimination. Moreover, the fact that Academies are unaccountable would prevent democratic scrutiny and challenge to their policies.
There are two major contributory factors to racial division that the Tories choose not to comment on because they are policies that they (and New Labour) support:
- Faith schools. Totally unsurprisingly, those three secondary schools with fewer than 3% Bangladeshi pupils are faith schools, two of them run by the Roman Catholic church. Firstly, since religious denomination is closely associated with race, separate single-faith schools are a recipe for religious segregation. But further, the Young Foundation’s report acknowledges that some white families are using faith schools as a ‘refuge’ from Bangladeshi-dominated schools, doubtless rediscovering a religious faith they had not practised for years in order to get a place.
- Parental choice. Despite the politicians’ mantra of ‘parental choice’ for school places, not only do many parents (and kids) not get the school of their choice, many of us don’t particularly want ‘choice’ to start with. Rather than the endless Year 6 anxiety of visiting schools, ranking them, crossing your fingers awaiting the application results, then sweating through an appeal, most of us would rather have a guaranteed place at a good local school. The ‘choice’ mantra encourages parents to choose on dodgy grounds as well as reasonable ones.
Of course, whilst different ethnic communities are concentrated in different localities, everyone going to their local school would not necessarily end racial division. Tower Hamlets in particular still suffers the legacy of racist housing policies going back to the days of a Liberal administration which created distinct Bangladeshi and white areas. Integration in schools will be partly dependant on integration in housing, which is partly dependant on the defence and renewal of council housing.
Meanwhile, I await with bated breath any comment from Respect, whose website is thus far silent on the matter, but which has a number of councillors - and its lone MP - in Tower Hamlets, and which shares the main parties’ enthusiasm for faith schools.