Education chiefs plan race quotas for schools

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The Independent Online

The city hit by the worst of last summer's race riots is to consider introducing the first ethnic-minority quotas in British schools to try to heal the rifts caused by classroom segregation.

The city hit by the worst of last summer's race riots is to consider introducing the first ethnic-minority quotas in British schools to try to heal the rifts caused by classroom segregation.

Proposals from education authorities in Bradford would mean that no single ethnic group would be allowed to take more than 75 per cent of places in any of the 26 state school sixth forms and three sixth-form colleges. If the plan is adopted, all-white, middle-class schools in the West Yorkshire city and its surrounding towns would have to allocate a quarter of the prized sixth-form places to ethnic-minority students. The same would apply to schools where the overwhelming majority of students are Asian.

It would be a controversial solution to what most accept is a desperate problem: only six of the city's schools have achieved an ethnic mix of 75:25 or better in the year since the riots. But although a minimum 75:25 classroom ratio was a key recommendation of the Cantle report into last summer's disturbances in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, it took many by surprise when it resurfaced in documents issued to members of the policy-forming Education Policy Partnership ahead of a meeting later today.

"We will review catchment-area boundaries with a view to ensuring greater interaction between different ethnic groups of young people," states the proposal, part of a strategy for post-16 education in the city produced by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) – the government body that funds further education – and Bradford council's education directorate. "We will review admissions policies to ensure no school has a pupil population from one culture making up more than 75 per cent ... in line with Cantle's recommendations."

The sensitive nature of the proposals also provide an indication of the problems ahead. After criticism from teachers and politicians yesterday, the council appeared to step back from its plan, stressing that the proposals were only a "working draft". The council would not reveal details of any amendments.

Ted Cantle, author of the report on the riots, urged Bradford council not to be "intimidated" by de-segregation. "There's nothing magical about establishing this mix. It's only in the last 10 years that schools have become intensively monocultural. This is doing nothing more than restoring the balance," he said yesterday.

His report found that ethnic communities in the towns led separate lives – different schools, estates and social lives – and said schools should change their catchment areas to attract a broader mix. One in four primary schools in Bradford is more than 70 per cent Asian while half are totally white.

The city has an unhappy history of trying to desegregate. Its 1970s policy of busing children from different ethnic areas is now accepted to have failed. But Bradford has demonstrated a willingness to tackle sensitive ethnic education issues in the past year. The city is also embarking on a highly delicate strategy to halve the amount of absenteeism allowed for Asian children to visit families abroad.

Phil Green, director of education at Bradford council, conceded that a policy of imposing ethnic targets would be controversial. He said: "Achieving it will be very difficult but we have got to look at it. It's not good enough to say we can't do anything. At this moment it is an aspiration for post-16 education."

But David Ward, a Liberal Democrat councillor and education spokesman, said: "It's undoable and nonsense."

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