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This page was last updated on 11/04/2007 15:52:13

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

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One part of the picture
20 March 2007

Roundup logo - illustration by Swava Harasymowicz

Mira Katbamna looks at Sir Keith Ajegbo’s review of the teaching of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity

Sir Keith Ajegbo’s review, published in January, has been a great success. Asked to look at the teaching of ethnic, religious and cultural diversity, and to explore whether modern British social and cultural history should be included in ‘citizenship’ lessons, Sir Keith’s conclusions have ignited excitement and – that New Labour favourite – ‘a national debate’.

The report outlines plans for an addition to the citizenship curriculum: ‘Identity and Diversity: Living together in the UK’ will cover such topics as the slave trade and the legacy of empire, alongside the existing subjects of social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy.

schools can and should play a leading role in creating greater community cohesion

Naturally, Education Secretary Alan Johnson, who commissioned the report in the wake of the London bombings, was delighted. ‘I believe that schools can and should play a leading role in creating greater community cohesion’, he said. ‘The values that our children learn at school will shape the kind of country Britain becomes.’

It is hard to find fault with Sir Keith’s measured approach, and his belief that education can make a difference, but Johnson’s idea that ‘values’, rather than politics, could affect social cohesion seems wildly ambitious. It’s unlikely that an hourlong, once-a-week citizenship lesson is going to make much difference (particularly as Ofsted labels provision in one in four schools as ‘inadequate’).

Nevertheless, I’d like to believe Johnson’s heart is in the right place. I’d like to think that he really is interested in helping students to treat each other with dignity and respect. I will try to go along with the idea that diversity is something you can teach, rather than something you learn simply by being best friends with the other boy in your class who supports Chelsea (and who happens to be non-white). I will even try to understand that, sometimes, while one’s right hand endorses cohesion, one’s rather dodgier left hand is busy endorsing faith schools. Hey – stuff happens.

But what I can’t accept is that the report’s remit ignores the most important dividing lines in British society: those of social class. And nowhere are those lines more starkly drawn than in our schools; middle-class children go to middle-class schools, working-class children go to working-class schools, and educational outcomes and aspirations typically prove more divisive than race, religion or culture.

if white and Bangladeshi working- class children from Oldham were taught, not ‘diversity’, but the history of the working class, would they discover they shared more than they thought?

Worrying about the individual cultural and religious issues which result in poor results for black boys, working-class white boys, and Bangladeshi children of both sexes is important – but not nearly as important as recognising the challenges resulting from poverty and lack of aspiration, which they share. Examining class as a force for cohesiveness, as well as fragmentation, also raises interesting questions: if white and Bangladeshi working- class children from Oldham were taught, not ‘diversity’, but the history of the working class, would they discover they shared more than they thought?

However, ultimately, this review is not just about addressing educational under-achievement. Johnson argues that schools have an important role to play in teaching and, presumably, in defining ‘Britishness’. But apart from trotting out platitudes about ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’, policy-makers ignore the fact that social class primarily defines how individuals relate to their additional or non-British identities.

For example, as a ‘young Asian woman’, editors calling for my take on the latest culture clash story are disappointed to find that I do not worry about whether my family will approve of my choice of partner, or fear a forced marriage. As an Oxbridge-educated broadsheet journalist, it is social class that really defines my experience.

I am not suggesting that social division along class lines is a good thing. But I do believe that trying to address diversity and cohesion in education, without also examining the effect of class, can only give a partial picture.

So, it is ironic to observe that, although ‘whether to pour the milk in first or second’ is an issue that an embarrassingly large number of Britons have at least heard of, we don’t include ‘an obsession with class’ along with tolerance and fairness in our definitions of Britishness. We should. It would, apart from anything else, be a little more honest.

Diversity and Citizenship Curriculum Review by Sir Keith Ajegbo, Dr Dina Kiwan and Seema Sharma Commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills (2007)

Mira Katbamna is a journalist specialising in education

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Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

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This page was last updated on 11/04/2007 15:52:13

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo