State schools should introduce ethnic quotas into admissions criteria to break down the extreme segregation of pupils along cultural and religious lines, the head of the Local Government Association said yesterday.
In remarks that sparked an immediate debate about the state of social cohesion in Britain, Lord Bruce-Lockhart said that Britain would never achieve integration and full social cohesion while neighbouring schools were divided along ethnic lines.
It was unacceptable that non-white pupils should form 90 per cent of the population of one school, when white pupils formed 90 per cent of a neighbouring school down the road.
One solution, he suggested, would be for schools in areas with high concentrations of minority ethnic groups to incorporate some kind of ethnicity quota into admissions policies. Although reluctant to specify a quota, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, the former Conservative leader of Kent County Council, said other experts had suggested that schools should offer at least 25 per cent of their places to those from other ethnic groups.
Lord Bruce-Lockhart’s comments drew a mixed reaction. Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, agreed that urgent action was needed but was sceptical about the use of quotas. “I’m open to discussion, but I would not have said this is the first place we need to go,” he told the Commons Education Select Committee.
He warned MPs that school segregation had now become a “settled pattern” in many towns, often with disastrous effects. “The information we get from the front line . . . is that (segregation) contributes to conflict among young people. Gangs form at school and the ethnicisation of gang culture is part of that,” he said.
Twinning agreements between schools and summer camps where children from different backgrounds mix would be more workable, he said. Tahir Alam, education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said that ethnic quotas had been shown to be unworkable in the US, where the problem of pupil segregation was far more extreme.
“You cannot tell a parent that they cannot send their child to the school of their choice because it has met its racial quota. The right of parents to send their children to the school they want is a fundamental right in this country,” he said.
Sir Dexter Hutt, executive director of the Ninestiles federation in Birmingham, who has dealt with the problem of segregated schools at first hand, said that if quotas were to be used, the level would have to be set closer to 40 than 25 per cent.
Although he was sceptical about how practical quotas would be, he accepted that urgent action was needed. “Children learn by rubbing shoulders with each other and by having arguments with each other in a restrained situation like a school. A multiracial school population would be far more likely to lead to social cohesion,” he said.
Lord Bruce-Lockhart accepted that such policies would be difficult to put into practice, but said the most important thing was that a debate on school segregation should take place.
“Proactive admissions policies could be used to establish a better ethnic balance in schools. In towns where the totality of the minority ethnic population is 15 per cent of the whole, we should consider the use of numbers in admissions policies.
“We have to get to a situation where people regard the total ethnicity of a town as being represented in schools, otherwise we are never going to be properly integrated,” he told The Times.
“Children start off being colour-blind and this is a wonderful thing. But if you have schools where the children are being educated in different ethnic groups you are going to lose that and you are simply not going to have integration.
“If we are to have stable communities and to prevent the rise of the far Right, our job now is to put all these issues on the table and open a public debate,” he said.
He added that pairing, or twinning schemes, where predominantly white schools link up with predominantly non-white schools for sports and drama activities, were another way forward.
So too were federations of white and non-white schools that brought the management of the two institutions together under a single leadership.
Lord Bruce-Lockhart’s comments follow new research published by Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics at the University of Bristol. Entitled Sleepwalking towards Segregation, it reports that ethnic segregation in schools is now fully entrenched in areas where the minority ethnic population is above the 8 per cent national average.
In Bradford, 62 per cent of secondary schools are predominantly white, while 21 per cent are predominantly non-white. In the London borough of Tower Hamlets 47 per cent of secondary schools are described as “exclusively non-white”, while 33 per cent have a white majority.