New Research identifies different approaches in schools and authorities to Community Cohesion
Community cohesion is about ensuring different groups of people share a common vision and sense of belonging, where similar life opportunities are available to all. It is defined as working towards a society in which there is a common vision and sense of belonging by all communities; a society in which the diversity of people’s backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and valued; a society in which similar life opportunities are available to all; and a society in which strong and positive relationships exist and continue to be developed in the workplace, in schools and in the wider community.
Since September 2007, schools have had a legal duty to promote community cohesion and their inspectorate, Ofsted has had to check that they are doing so. The requirement – enshrined in the Education and Inspections Act 2006 – was introduced in part to combat fears of a rise in support for the British National Party and Islamophobia. But the coalition government is now scaling back Ofsted’s role and confining its remit to inspecting what it sees as core elements- the quality of leadership in schools, teaching , pupil behaviour and child safety and achievement. The plans seek to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools and this in effect means an end to Ofsted inspections of the duty, but, importantly, the duty itself remains.
Research on community cohesion, just published by CfBT Education Trust, was conducted in English schools in 2010.
The research uses an opportunity sample of 27 primary and secondary schools in three local authorities to generate insights on how the duty to promote community cohesion has been interpreted, enacted and accounted for since its beginning in 2007. The significance of this report is not in the sample size or spectrum but in the themes that emerged from the semi-structured interviews.
The researchers found that, overall, the duty to promote community cohesion received an ambivalent response from school leaders and teachers. Yet most regarded it as important, not only for their students’ wellbeing but as essential to the building of a successful school. The schools also see a focus on community cohesion as an opportunity to improve relations with and between parents – and it provides a chance to draw on resources available within the local authority and wider community.
Tony McAleavy, director of education at CfBT Education Trust, wrote in the Guardian on 26 July that the report ‘ identified promising schemes with the potential for integrating parents not only into the school, but also into their communities. These could offer a template for local authorities. Crash courses in English have been set up in response to the arrival of a large group of newcomers; a primary staged a community week when parents were invited to take part in a range of activities including playing games with local children.’
The requirement for schools to foster community cohesion has been interpreted differently by different local authorities: an equal opportunities self-evaluation scheme for schools had been developed in one authority, while there had been a strong emphasis on respect in another programme. Where money had become available to prevent violent extremism, this was drawn on to support police working with schools in one area, but spent on training teachers about Islamic fundamentalism in another.’.
Two reports are available:
A Perspective Report, School Leaders, Community Cohesion and the Big Society sets out the background to the duty to promote community cohesion, including its inception as a policy and its roots in other measures, is discussed in an opening section. The findings from group and individual interviews with teachers and school senior leaders are analysed under themed headings. Pointers for future policy development, including links with the ‘Big Society’ agenda, are discussed.
A Research Report, Teaching, Learning and Community Cohesion: a study of primary and secondary schools’ responses to a new statutory duty, provides more detailed guidance for teachers and school leaders.
McAleavy poses an important question- whether it is sensible to have a statutory duty to promote community cohesion, but for Ofsted not to inspect that function in schools.