Schools: Rising to the Challenge ; A Year after the Riots, a New School in Bradford Is Hoping to Reverse the Trend of Segregation in the Community, Starting with the Kids. MARY BRAID Asks If Challenge College Will Live Up to Its Name
Braid, Mary, The Independent (London, England)
Just down the road from the BMW car dealership, razed in last summer's race riots, optimism and hope are getting a rare airing at the launch of a brand new Bradford secondary school. Challenge College, all atrium- enhanced light, white open space and clean architectural lines, is opening in Manningham, the predominantly Asian neighbourhood where local youths clashed so violently with police. The school's name and the launch date are telling. For Challenge is opening exactly a year after the riots engulfed the now infamous northern trio of Bradford, Oldham and Burnley.
It isn't easy fighting back from the damning reports from Lord Ouseley, the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, and Ted Cantle, the former chief executive of Nottingham City Council, which concluded that racial division in the three places is now so entrenched that Asians and whites seem to occupy parallel universes. Ouseley warned that Bradford was fragmenting. He spoke of growing intolerance, harassment and abuse, and described white flight from the city into the surrounding suburbs that left behind a poor and often unemployed Asian underclass.
Ouseley also highlighted the virtual apartheid in Bradford schools - with many either predominantly Asian or entirely white - and, like Cantle, concluded that schools would be crucial in any attempt to close a rift that had opened up over more than three decades. But it is far easier to describe Bradford's shattered society than to gather up the bits and glue them back together. That is obvious even in Bradford's hi-tech, showcase school.
The first stop on a tour of the school - a flapjack-making cookery class - provides a neat illustration of the difficulty. Yes, 20 13-year-olds are sharing the room. But it is a qualified kind of sharing, for the white teenagers are gathered at the far end of the room, while, at the other end, the Asian girls have congregated in one corner and Asian boys in another.
Challenge's headteacher, Gareth Dawkins, smiles when I mention this later. He is working hard to create a new, cohesive community. It is central to his social and educational philosophy. But Dawkins says the pupils come up from primary schools with friendship groups already formed. And there is nothing of the Benetton ad about them. With many primaries now monocultural, and pupils going home to predominantly white or Asian estates, there are few opportunities for mixing.
Another sharp reminder: Bradford's fragmentation is Challenge's racial mix - 85 per cent Pakistani or Bangladeshi, 15 per cent white. What is startling is that this is a healthy mix by Bradford standards. Cantle argued that school catchment areas be changed to ensure no culture had more than 75 per cent of a school's places. There were also reports last month that race quotas for schools were being considered by Bradford Council. But officials insist they have no plans to bus kids around the city or begin a major redrawing of catchment areas.
Some of those who watched the North catch fire last summer might consider anything less than drastic action complacent. But David Mallen, the chairman of the recently formed Education Policy Partnership, which is spearheading Bradford's quest for racial harmony, insists quotas and heavy-handed social engineering would only worsen the situation. "Apart from being illegal, forcing one group of youngsters in with another group will create alienation rather than overcome it," says Mallen. He says Cantle, unlike Ouseley, failed to take the law into account. "Cantle suggested solutions were easier than they are," he says.
The Education Policy Partnership's approach is softer. Its first aim is to encourage children and adults to mix together - through a range of projects - and persuade them of the strengths of diversity in Bradford. Its second is to address educational underachievement and so reverse the socio-economic decline that has plagued the city since the demise of its wool mills. …