Schools chief in 'cultural' row

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

Controversy surrounded one of the Government's senior education advisers last night after he condemned "watered down multi-culturalism" and said children should learn a strong sense of their British identity.

Nick Tate, chief executive of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, was forced to defend himself after making the comments to a group of headteachers. While accepting that schools must respect and even foster the varied racial identities of their pupils, he attacked the "prevalent" view that no set of customs or traditions was superior to any other.

"There is a mistaken notion that the way to respond to cultural diversity is to try to bring everything together into some kind of watered down multi-culturalism. The best guarantee of strong minority cultures is the existence of a majority culture which is sure of itself," he said.

"From this perspective there is no more need to teach Latin than Sanskrit, classical civilisation than the history of the American West, Milton than Mills and Boon or Christianity than New Age cults."

He was attacked by both teachers and race relations leaders for his comments, which follow recent remarks about the value of Latin and about the central role of Christianity in religious education. Under the national curriculum, children must learn British history and the classics of English literature. They must also attend a mainly Christian daily assembly.

Claude Moraes, director of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said he did not think Dr Tate was being racist, but added: "I believe he is being stupid, misguided and provocative. He appears to be adopting the tactic of the new right in Britain and elsewhere, which is to provoke an extreme reaction so that his arguments appear more credible."

Gillian Klein, editor of the thrice-yearly magazine Multicultural Teaching, said: "This is a narrow view of British culture which is not only irrelevant but also exclusionist. What are Britain's two million Muslims supposed to make of a culture that has to be Christian?"

Last night, Dr Tate said the challenge for schools was to fuse together the different threads within British culture: "You don't bring them together harmoniously by trying to play down the differences."