English Schools and Community Cohesion

The Education and Inspections Act 2006 placed a new duty on the governing bodies of maintained schools in England to promote community cohesion.

In order to see how much progress schools had been making, the previous Labour administration commissioned Ipsos-MORI to survey a sample of them, through a combination of self-completion postal questionnaires and telephone interviews. 804 schools responded, of which 321 were primary, 348 secondary and 135 special schools. 174 were faith and 630 non-faith schools.

Although fieldwork took place between 10 February and 14 May 2010, the Ipsos-MORI final report (by Chris Phillips, Daniel Tse and Fiona Johnson) was only published by the Department for Education on 28 February 2011 (as Research Report DFE-RR085). Entitled Community Cohesion and PREVENT: How Have Schools Responded? it is available to download at:

http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DFE-RR085.pdf

This post highlights only those findings which touch on religion.

82% of all schools associated the term ‘community cohesion’ with faith, which came third in a list of fifteen possible word-associations, only citizenship (87%) and multiculturalism (85%) scoring more highly. Bottom of the list came violent extremism (31%) and radicalization (27%).

In 56% of schools the senior leadership team was said to have a great deal of knowledge about the different faiths in the school and the local area. This proportion was somewhat less than for knowledge of different ethnic origins and cultures (60%) and different socio-economic groups (63%).

In 47% of schools the teaching staff was said to have a great deal of knowledge about the different faiths, but this fell to 26% in secondary schools (compared with 52% in primary schools). The topline figure was better than for awareness of different ethnic origins and cultures (43%) and different socio-economic groups (41%).

School governors were felt to be relatively uninformed about the different faiths, just 33% of schools reporting that they had a great deal of knowledge about them (a mere 2% above the level for support staff). Statistics for governors’ knowledge of different ethnic origins and cultures and different socio-economic groups were not that much better, 35% and 38% respectively.

In trying to learn more about and understand better the different religions in the community, the most frequently-cited tool was contextual or demographic data for pupils on the roll (72%), followed by consultation with or surveys of parents (62%), local authority guidance or training (55%), consultation with or surveys of pupils (50%), and guidance from Government or Teachernet (42%).

Schools were asked how much knowledge they had about the performance and experience of pupils from some different religions relative to other pupils. The proportion claiming to have a great deal of knowledge was 41% for the achievement of worse academic results, 38% for a greater likelihood of exclusion, 38% for a greater propensity to be bullied, and 23% for a reduced likelihood of applying for a place at the school.

All these percentages were lower than for the comparable questions about different ethnic origins and cultures and different socio-economic groups.

In respect of pupils from different faiths, just 10% of schools had taken any action to address academic under-performance of these groups within the past two or three years, the statistics for exclusion (3%), bullying (4%) and application for places (4%) being still smaller. In each case many more schools had conducted a review of the topic and concluded that no action was necessary, but another third had not even carried out a review.

Just 3% of schools (virtually all primary schools) reported that they used links with local faith groups and places of worship to promote community cohesion. This is somewhat difficult to reconcile with the subsequent claim by 14% of schools that they had developed such links since the introduction of the statutory duty to promote community cohesion.

Religious education topped the list of curriculum subjects used to promote community cohesion, being cited by 89% of schools. This was 2% more than for citizenship lessons and 8% above geography and English.

Differences between faith and non-faith schools in tackling community cohesion were more limited than expected. While issues of faith and religion appeared to be more of a concern for faith than non-faith schools, as reflected in their perceived knowledge of them (especially by senior leadership teams), the approaches used to promote cohesion, monitor its effectiveness and involve the broader community did not vary dramatically between faith and non-faith schools.

The survey also covered the extent of school compliance with the then Government’s agenda for preventing violent extremism (PREVENT). 7% of all schools (but 14% of secondary schools) said that they had actually obtained information and/or support from local religious leaders in this matter. Five times that number (37%) wanted local religious leaders to provide more help in building pupil resilience to violent extremism, which was only 8% less than those looking to the police for assistance.

Attitudes to PREVENT overall and approaches used were broadly similar between faith and non-faith schools, except that faith-status primary schools were more likely than their non-faith counterparts to say they knew a fair amount or more about the PREVENT-related schools policy. No similar difference emerged among secondary or special schools.


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