The high level of residential segregation for people from different backgrounds was highlighted as a factor contributing to the tension between people from different ethnic groups in the Cantle Report (2001) in response to the race riots in the same city in 2001. The Cantle Report identified that many people living in the same city led “parallel lives”; with little interaction with, or understanding of, people from different backgrounds.
Last night a Channel 4 programme explored the relationships between 8 residents of Bradford, brought together to interact with people from different backgrounds for the first time. The programme addressed the difficulties and benefits of over-coming entrenched prejudices, underlying (perhaps unacknowledged) racism in the city, and the similarities and differences between people from different cultures. The majority of participants in “Make Bradford British” found it a positive experience. Future improvements in relationships between different communities are likely to come through increased daily interaction, however, as well as the moving personal experiences witnessed on screen, and integration in schools can be a starting point.
Segregation in schools commonly results from residential segregation (as admission to schools is usually determined by proximity), but parents’ preferences can also play a role. Research by CMPO shows that pupils from most ethnic groups are more segregated in school than where they live, suggesting that there are factors, either parents’ preferences or other constraints, that restrict integration in England’s schools.
Pupils’ current level of integration in each area in England can be viewed on a website created by CMPO, funded by the ESRC and using national administrative data provided by the Department for Education. The figures for Bradford are startling: in 2009 around 80% of Pakistani pupils of primary school age attended a primary school that was primarily non-white, while just under 70% of white pupils attended a school that was primarily white. This suggests that these two groups of pupils are highly segregated in their primary schools, and the figures suggest that they remain so in secondary schools. Bradford is not alone in this high level of segregation (Oldham has similarly high levels), but the figures are higher than in other areas of the country with similar demographics; in Manchester under 60% of Pakistani pupils attended a school that was primarily non-white in 2009 and around only around 30% of white pupils attended a school that was primarily white.
Other indicators of segregation can also be compared: the dissimilarity index is a summary measure designed to capture the degree of “unevenness” between two groups of pupils (that is, the extent to which the school population reflects the wider population in the local area). Its value (between 0 and 1) represents the proportion of the group population that would have to change schools to achieve the same distribution of that of the local area, where, in general, a dissimilarity index of less than 0.3 is considered low, between 0.3 and 0.6 as moderate and above 0.6 as high (Massey and Denton, 1988).
Bradford has a decisively high level of segregation according to the dissimilarity index; in 2009 the figures show that around 70% of white and Pakistani primary pupils would have had to change schools in order for the distribution to reflect the wider population of the area, and the figure is similarly high for secondary schools.
There are encouraging signs, however; segregation according to the dissimilarity index has decreased marginally in primary schools since 2002, suggesting that the younger generation at least is becoming slightly more integrated, although levels remain higher than almost anywhere else in England.
The high level of segregation in Bradford’s schools suggest that integration and understanding between people from different backgrounds are unlikely to be fostered from direct experience in the education system, although there are some signs that the situation is marginally improving. What can make “Bradford British” and united remains unclear, but further integration of the city’s young people is not likely to harm the city’s prospects.
Notes on the author:
Ellen Greaves is a Research Economist in the education, employment and evaluation research sector at the IFS.
Recently the vice-chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference caught the media’s eye. He expressed concern about racial segregation in London schools, saying, “it can’t be a good thing for London to be sleepwalking towards Johannesburg.”
Those are headline-grabbing words but are they true? Do black or Asian pupils fill classrooms almost exclusively in some parts of the capital? The short answer is yes, they do. But, like most short answers, it is an over-simplification.
A new working paper published by CMPO today offers a new methodology for comparing differences in the ethnic compositions of locally competing secondary schools. It finds schools in London that in the academic year 2008-9 had a majority of their intake comprised by pupils of Black African heritage, some that were majority Black Caribbean, and others that were almost wholly Bangladeshi, or Indian.
Those concentrations reflect the residential geographies of where particular ethno-cultural groups live in London, with the geographies being shaped by historical and on-going processes of labour shortages, immigration, natural growth and suburbanisation (Finney & Simpson 2009: a highly recommended read). However, the differences between schools cannot solely be attributed to residential choices and subsequent constraints on which secondary schools the pupils attend because the paper uses an index of difference to compare schools that are recruiting pupils from one or more of the same primary schools. In this way it finds a secondary school that has thirty percentage points more Black African pupils than its average, locally competing school, a school that has thirty percentage points more Black Caribbean pupils, one that has forty points more Bangladeshi pupils, and another with sixty points more Indians.
So, there are differences between schools locally and some of those differences are quite stark. Nevertheless, we need to be wary of assuming the most extreme cases are representative of the norm. More commonly the differences do not veer too greatly from what would occur if all pupils simply attended the nearest secondary school to their primary. There is also little, if any, evidence to suggest the local differences between schools are growing, at least not when demographic changes are taken into consideration.
Of course, the debatable words are “too greatly”. For anyone who would aspire for schools either to represent the ethnic mix of their surrounding neighbourhoods or, even better, to ameliorate residential differences by being better mixed than neighbourhoods, any increase in the concentration of particular ethnic groups in particular schools will be a disappointment – a sentiment that is laudable. However, there are social justice arguments in favour of school choice and in not simply reproducing patterns of, for example, neighbourhood disadvantage by directing which school a pupil must necessarily attend. Choice, precisely because it is choice, can produce outcomes that some do not approve of but that are attractive, for whatever reasons, to those who make the choices. To deny them that choice, either directly or indirectly by overt criticism of their choices, raises issue of power as well as equality of opportunity.
There are three further reasons why the suggestion of ethnic segregation can be misleading. First, school allocations are not necessarily a matter of choice but of the overall matching of supply and demand for school places. Second, sorting by ethnicity may be confounded with sorting by income. In 2008, the Spearmen’s rank correlation between the proportion of pupils in a London secondary school of any of the Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani groups, with the proportion eligible for free school meals was rS = 0.568 (p < 0.001). Third, research by the Runnymeade Trust has shown overall preferences among minority ethnic parents for their children to attend ethnically mixed schools (Weekes-Bernard 2007).
In summary, and taking the evidence in the round, whilst it is undoubtedly true to say that some but a few secondary schools in London contain a high proportion of a single ethnic group, the dynamic implied by the phrase “sleepwalking” is, as other studies have also discovered, unhelpful (Johnston et al. 2007).
Finney, N. & Simpson, L., 2009. “Sleepwalking to segregation”? Challenging myths about race and migration, Bristol: The Policy Press.
Johnston, R. et al., 2007. “Sleep-walking towards segregation?” The changing ethnic composition of English schools, 1997-2003: an entry cohort analysis. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33(1), pp.73-90.
Weekes-Bernard, D., 2007. School Choice and Ethnic Segregation, London: The Runnymeade Trust.