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All-white schools will be forced to build multi-cultural links

UK Daily Mail | May 08, 2007 
LAURA CLARK

Schools with mainly white pupils will be forced to send their children to mix with other races and religions.

A legal duty for schools to promote community relations comes into force in September.

Government guidelines to help them comply could require staff to take children on visits to multi-ethnic schools, stage joint plays and sporting events or twin with other schools.

Ministers said some suburban teenagers had never met a Muslim or Hindu and needed more contact.

Ofsted, the schools watchdog, will be given the power to force schools to comply. Those who do not risk being consigned to a failing list.

Teachers' leaders said the guidelines were heavy-handed and unnecessary.

The advice says schools should "give their pupils the opportunity to mix with and learn with" pupils from other ethnic, religious and class backgrounds.

Lessons in all subjects should help to teach children tolerance and break down prejudice.

Schools must encourage pupils to strike up e-mail friendships with children at schools with a different racial or religious mix. They should also consider inviting imams and vicars to talk.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said one school in his Dorset South constituency had been rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted for its RE teaching.

But pupils had only limited experience of those from other backgrounds.

"They had never met anyone of the Muslim faith, they had never met a Hindu," he said.

"As part of delivering the duty, we could encourage more of that sort of contact. You could do it online."

He gave the "perfect example" of a link between a primary in Weymouth and another in Tower Hamlets.

The inner London borough has among the highest concentration of ethnic minority pupils in the country.

"The relationship had been forged by a member of staff who moved from a school in Tower Hamlets to Weymouth.

"They developed a relationship by e-mail between individual pupils, and then were going to visit."

Mr Knight unveiled the guidance at the National Association of Head Teachers annual conference.

"I am quite keen on faith-based schools twinning with those of other faiths," he added.

Schools where pupils are predominantly one faith or ethnic group will need to "do more" than those with diverse populations, the guidance says. But Mick Brookes, the Association's general secretary, said: "It seems like another stick to beat schools with."

He criticised the "mechanistic" system which threatened heads with losing their jobs if they failed to comply with Ofsted demands.

"It's a pretty brutal type of regime. Lots of schools do fantastic things like this in their community already," he added.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This is an unnecessary and additional statutory responsibility for schools in an area where schools are already in the front line."

One in five schoolchildren is from an ethnic minority, official figures show. Two per cent of secondary schools and 5 per cent of primary schools in England have no ethnic minority pupils.

Alan Johnson brought in the requirement for schools to "promote community cohesion" after abandoning plans for admissions quotas for faith schools.

The Education Secretary wanted all faith schools to reserve a quarter of places for non-believers but changed the plans after opposition led by the Catholic Church.

Instead, he said schools should be required to demonstrate they are improving community relations.

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