Ethnically mixed schools help pupils overcome discrimination

new study by academics at the University of London has found that cross ethnic friendships in schools make children more resilient to perceived ethnic discrimination. To date studies have suggested a positive effect on community cohesion from ethnically mixed schools, as they allow more cross ethnic friendships to development. However, the new report suggests ethically mixed schools also have a direct and positive effect on the psychological well-being of pupils themselves.

Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain said, ‘The new research confirms what many already suspected – that ethnically mixed schools not only help in challenging prejudicial and discriminatory attitudes in society, such as by boosting the growth of mutual understanding and trust between pupils from different backgrounds, but that they also better shield children if they perceive discrimination.’

‘Schools should be as diverse the local communities they represent. The findings provide a further boost to mixed schools and speak against those that select and segregate children on religious grounds, which can so often also serve as a proxy for segregation on the grounds of race, ethnicity and socio-economic group.’

Evidence base

The positive effect upon community cohesion and the growth of mutual understanding from mixed schooling has been identified by different research. Among the key findings of ‘Social Capital, Diversity and Education Policy’ (2006), by Professor Irene Bruegel of the London South Bank University Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group, were that:

“Friendship at primary schools can, and does, cross ethnic and faith divides wherever children have the opportunity to make friends from different backgrounds. At that age, in such schools, children are not highly conscious of racial differences and are largely unaware of the religion of their friends … There was some evidence that parents learned to respect people from other backgrounds as a result of their children’s experiences in mixed schools.” (p2)

Furthermore, ‘Identities in Transition: A Longitudinal Study of Immigrant Children’ (2008), by Rupert Brown, Adam Rutland & Charles Watters from the Universities of Sussex and Kent, found that:

“… the effects of school diversity were consistent, most evidently on social relations: higher self-esteem, fewer peer problems and more cross-group friendships. Such findings show that school ethnic composition can significantly affect the promotion of positive intergroup attitudes. These findings speak against policies promoting single faith schools, since such policies are likely to lead to reduced ethnic diversity in schools.”(p9)

The 2001 ‘Oldham Independent Review’, which was commissioned by the Government, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and the local police authority after race riots in the town that year found that:

“Educational mixing: This is closely linked to residential, and in our view it is desirable in principal that as many schools as possible, should have mixed intake so that children growing up can learn one another’s customs and cultural backgrounds and accept that stereotypes and racism are unacceptable.” (p7)

In contrast, religious selection by faith schools has been blamed on exacerbating ethnic division. At the launch of ‘The Cantle Report into Community Cohesion in Blackburn with Darwen’ (2009) its author, Prof Ted Cantle, stated that faith schools with religious admission requirements were “automatically a source of division” in the town.

Meanwhile, ground breaking research released by the Fair Admissions Campaign in December found ‘a clear correlation between religious selection and socio-economic segregation’, showing that religiously selectively schools are skewed towards serving the affluent at the expense of the deprived.