Dave Speck, TES, December 14, 2018
A website which provides parents with information on local schools is encouraging racial segregation by publishing data on percentages of “white British” pupils, it is being claimed.
The SchoolDash site publishes data on every school in England, including statistics on the proportion of pupils who are on free school meals (FSM), Ofsted ratings and income per pupil.
For every school there is also a percentage figure for the proportion of “white British pupils” and a figure that allows parents to compare it to the average white British pupil population at the 10 nearest schools of the same phase.
Pran Patel, a former assistant headteacher who regularly speaks at conferences of the BAMEed Network (representing black, Asian and minority ethnic educators) promoting diversity in education, fears that the publication of white British data could lead to “racial segregation”.
“This could result in more white British pupils at schools which already have large proportions of white British pupils,” he said. “This, in turn, breeds an environment of separation and difference.
“If a school serves a community – which I believe is the function of a state school – and that community isn’t represented within its pupil body, then I would ask what happens when those pupils go back to the community at the end of the school day and do not appreciate the diversity of that community? I would suggest it breeds hatred and fear.”
But the website’s creator, Timo Hannay, said the statistics allowed users to see whether schools have pupils who ethnically reflect their local populations and says his site is concerned with integration rather than segregation.
However, it offers no figures for any ethnicity other than “white British” and so would not give a parent trying to decide whether a school accurately reflected a multi-racial area the full picture.
Mr Hannay said: “We are not suggesting that looking at the proportions of white British and non-white British pupils is the only way of measuring the ethnic balance of schools, but in a country where the former group is in the majority, it’s the most obvious indicator to examine first.”
He highlighted a report jointly authored by SchoolDash, along with the iCoCo Foundation (a not-for-profit organisation promoting inter-culturalism) and The Challenge (a charity promoting social integration), which identifies where in the country schools are most segregated, and where they are contributing to local area segregation, and calls for education chiefs to take action.
But Natalie Nezhati, an education technology specialist and former college lecturer, said she was “unsettled” by the way the data was presented on SchoolsDash.
“I can’t accept that the proportion of white British students and those receiving free school meals is more relevant to school selection than, say, academic attainment [not included directly on the site] or extra-curricular provision.”
Joint general secretary of NEU teaching union Mary Bousted said the metrics on white British pupils appeared “strange and peculiar.”
She said: “The irony is that schools with mixed ethnic intake, particularly in a city, are likely to do better than those with mainly a white working-class pupil body.”
Mr Hannay, who created the website in September 2015, describes himself as “a data geek and education obsessive”.
He said: “The statistics provided allow users to follow any progress (or otherwise) that individual schools have made towards attracting pupils that reflect their local populations, both ethnically and socioeconomically. In other words, we are concerned with integration rather than segregation.
“In my view, there is a genuinely important issue here, which is that a superficially admirable government policy (parent choice) may be at odds with another stated political aim (a cohesive society).
“For this reason, we should all care about whether or not school populations reflect their local communities. Where they don’t there are sometimes understandable reasons for this and it’s certainly not always within a school’s power to correct any imbalances.
“But if we ignore the issue then the likelihood is that it will only get worse. By paying attention to it – and having the right information to hand to act on it – there’s at least a chance that we can make things better.”
Mr Hannay told Tes that he didn’t consider the ethnicity and FSM data to be more important than academic data but said that the data was already available on the DfE website, which the SchoolDash website links to.