Leading the way building bridges across communities

Published Friday 24 March 2017 at 16:52

People from all walks of life in Blackburn with Darwen have some of the best opportunities in the country to get together.

Blackburn with Darwen Council, along with other community groups and organisations in the borough, spoke out following the publication of a national study ‘Understanding School Segregation in England: 2011 to 2016’ which is calling on Government  to address segregation issues in schools.

It’s a fact that local people often choose to live with people from a similar backgrounds and in turn choose to go to the nearest school and divisions can then appear,” explained Council leader Mohammed Khan.

Nobody is about to start telling people where to live or go to school though there are other things we can and are doing, even though we have challenging financial times. It’s something schools take seriously. We would welcome further initiatives to support the Council and schools to do more.

Already efforts are being made to encourage parents to send their child to a school where they may be a minority; safe in the knowledge the school will embrace their needs.

As a Council we think the most valuable thing we can do is to continue to have some of the best opportunities for people to get together, mix and enjoy themselves and as a result break down barriers.

That’s everything from helping schools to successfully link up, high quality events and major cultural activities to running sports and leisure and youth facilities.

Recent Government policy has resulted in a lot of different types of schools. In Blackburn with Darwen we have an enviable number of parents getting their first choice school. Local authorities have seen their role change with less funding available to support schools. Instead schools make a choice as to what sort of activity they do to promote friendship and ways to get people together to bridge any divides.

Thankfully in our two towns we have forward thinking school head teachers across all our different types of schools  who are passionate about making sure children get opportunities to get together on many occasions,” added Councillor Khan

Everybody benefits from this relationship building, it increases understanding and tolerance.  You only have to spend time with our young people to see there is hope for the future.

Behind every headline and report on what divides us is a really positive story about what we have in common and how we find ways to mix well. We need to talk about that much more. We are fed up keep hearing the same old clichés and stereotypes.

The views are shared by others working to make sure both towns are successful places where people enjoy living including Blackburn Youth Zone, The Blackburn with Darwen Schools Headteachers Forum , Blackburn MP Kate Hollern, and The Tauheedul Trust .

The work going on in Blackburn with Darwen has already been recognised nationally.

Professor Ted Cantle said

Blackburn with Darwen has done more than most areas to build bridges between communities and, indeed, I have often quoted their campaigns and policies as good practice – this includes their ‘Belonging to Blackburn with Darwen’ campaign and their ‘Investor in Cohesion’ Toolkit. They have had a dedicated team of officers, committed councillors and supportive voluntary and business sectors. I am sure that, like any area, they could do more but they do have a good record on which to build.’

With regard to schools, it must be remembered that local authorities no longer control school admissions and schools are now much more autonomous. This means that the local authority, faith organisations, academies and trusts, – and of course parents, should be working together and cooperating to ensure the most mixed intake possible and not working in isolation.

The RT Hon Jack Straw added:

Severe social segregation has been a persistent feature of the English educational system forever – and was there well before the Asian heritage communities began to be established in the late 50’s. It’s why 7% of parents chose to pay for their children to go private, and why house prices reflect the competition for popular schools.

I would much prefer children to be educated in schools with a good mix. But ‘bussing’ pupils to secure that mix won’t work. Nor is there much that policy makers can do to overcome the subtle but powerful process of ‘white flight’ from mixed areas.

Within these realities Blackburn with Darwen has been working extraordinarily hard to ensure that white and Asian youngsters – and adults – have more shared experiences – as Professor Cantle has himself recognised. I became Chairman of the Blackburn Youth Zone on my retirement as the town’s MP precisely to help that process – and we have a membership which mirrors the area.

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