The Accord Coalition organised a meeting yesterday afternoon which explored issues of inclusion in schools. The event, sponsored by Julian Huppert MP, took place on the Parliamentary Estate, and was attended by a range of groups and individuals with an interest in the topic.
Those in attendance heard speeches from three speakers. The first was Robin Richardson, an educationalist specialising in inclusivity and diversity, and Inquiry Panel member of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s report ‘They never give up on you’.
Speaking about the report, Mr Richardson set out how exclusions were much more common among children from particular demographic groups. He urged the Government to formally respond to the report, and to investigate how it can do more to help in the tackling of ‘in school’ factors that could reduce the frequency of children being temporarily and permanently excluded.
The second speaker was Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, Director of the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education. She set out the organisation’s vision of an inclusive education system, where all children were educated in local schools wherever possible, and in particular, where children with disabilities were included. Currently a great many children with disabilities are educated outside of mainstream schools in special schools.
The final speaker was Professor Ted Cantle. Professor Cantle is Executive Chair of the Institute for Community Cohesion Foundation, which conducts research and develops policy and practice in this area. In 2001 he was appointed by the Home Secretary to chair an independent review of the causes of disturbances in a number of northern towns and cities, and the report, known as the ‘Cantle Report’, introduced the concept of ‘community cohesion’ as a way of reducing social tensions by creating common ground.
Professor Cantle noted that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found this year that schools in the UK were among the most heavily segregated in the world, which often outpaced residential segregation. Professor Cantle argued that tackling segregation in schools was relatively straightforward, as many parents wanted their children to attend integrated schools, rather than segregated ones, and because schools could be made more diverse by changing their catchment area, and by encouraging more faith schools to admit more pupils without recourse to religious belief.
Professor Cantle criticised the previous Government for undermining better community cohesion through funding community groups which had served to harden and entrench people’s religious identity. He also criticised the current Government for their decision last year to remove the requirement for OFSTED to inspect how state funded schools promoted community cohesion. He believed this sent a signal to schools that trying to advance better community cohesion was not important.
Chair of the Accord Coalition, Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain MBE, chaired the meeting and said ‘The meeting illustrated some depressing aspects of the current educational system, in which exclusion over both faith and disability is widespread, but it also offered optimistic suggestions for the way forward. A key factor is not just persuading government, but also schools themselves and popular opinion – which will then help drive political policy – that a society which is not only mixed but also mixes is much healthier for everyone within it.’