Alexandra Frean, Times (London), May 8, 2007
All-white schools should be twinned with predominantly black or Asian schools to help to heal social, racial and class divides, the Government said yesterday.
Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said that he would also like to see pupils in faith schools becoming pen pals with their peers in schools of different faiths, and for children in rural schools to visit their inner-city counterparts.
Such partnerships could be crucial in promoting community relations and would allow pupils to meet youngsters from different backgrounds. “I’m quite keen on faith-based schools twinning with those of other faiths so they can talk to each other about their faith and extend their understanding. Muslim schools that I represent are pretty homogeneous and mono-faith and very much single-ethnic background.
“Equally, I have a secondary school judged outstanding for its religious education, but when I talked to a class of 15-year-olds about faith, they had never met anyone of the Muslim faith or a Hindu.”
Where there was no local school with children from other backgrounds, Mr Knight suggested that schools should forge virtual relationships on-line in other parts of the country or the world.
A primary school in his Dorset constituency, for example, had formed a link with an inner-city school in East London and made a visit there so that the children could meet. The link was forged by a member of staff who moved from Tower Hamlets to Weymouth.
Mr Knight’s comments, at the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Bournemouth, came a week after a warning by the Commission for Racial Equality that Britain was in danger of becoming a “mini-America with racially determined schools”.
Nationally, only 2 per cent of secondaries and 5 per cent of primaries in England have no pupils from minority ethnic groups. But in areas where the ethnic minority population is above the 8 per cent national average, partial segregation along race and faith lines can be entrenched. In Bradford, for example, 62 per cent of secondary schools are predominantly white, and 21 per cent are predominantly nonwhite.
The Government is introducing a statutory duty on schools to promote community cohesion, defined as “a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities”.