I was on an inspection recently when the team inspector covering community cohesion asked the headteacher for his community cohesion audit. The head smiled ruefully, ‘Hmm, that could be a bit challenging,' he replied.
‘Okay,' said the inspector, ‘we'll make do with your action plan; after all, you graded community cohesion as good in your SEF.'
The head smiled again, ‘You do like setting me challenges!' he remarked and disappeared to ‘look for' the relevant documents.
This is not a wholly unknown situation; at one of the schools I support I asked the head a similar question, to be met with ‘I didn't know we had to have one.'
Just so there is no misunderstanding, let's be quite clear; there has been a statutory obligation on schools to promote community cohesion since 1 September 2007 (Education and Inspections Act, 2006) and that makes it not only one of the qualitative judgements that Ofsted will make but one of the compliance checks. It may be possible to convince the inspection team that you are actually engaged in good community cohesion, but ticking the compliance boxes is a good start. This brief article will explain what those expectations are.
In August 2001, following race riots in Bradford and some other cities, the home secretary, Jack Straw, commissioned an independent review - the Community Cohesion Review Team - chaired by Ted Cantle, who had considerable local authority experience at senior level. The report, known as ‘The Cantle Report', was published in December 2001 and made around 70 recommendations. The concept of ‘community cohesion' outlined in the report was subsequently adopted by the government. Cantle spoke of communities leading 'separate and parallel lives'. It is this idea of ‘parallel lives' that is at the heart of efforts to improve community cohesion.
The report points out that ‘there is little wonder that the ignorance about each others' communities can easily grow into fear; especially where this is exploited by extremist groups determined to undermine community harmony and foster divisions.' While it is inevitable that different ethnic communities will lead their own lives because that is the nature of ethnic groups (look at British ex-pats anywhere in the world) the Department for Communities and Local Government has published Face to Face and Side by Side: A framework for partnership in our multi-faith society and it is this spirit of partnership that underpins the community cohesion that should be promoted by schools.
With the new coalition government committed to maintain Labour's support of faith schools it seems unlikely that community cohesion is going to fall off the agenda and it is therefore likely to continue to be inspected - certainly so long as we have the current Section 5 Framework.
So, what is it that schools are expected to do in relation to community cohesion?
The Ofsted framework makes it clear that there should be an audit and that the audit should lead to an action plan. However, headteachers are sometimes unclear what this means.
Advice can be found on Teachernet but it is important to read this with the inspection framework. The advice sets out three broad perspectives:
- teaching, learning and curriculum
- equity and excellence
- engagement and extended services.
It also sets out four dimensions of community:
- the school as a community
- the community within which the school is located
- the UK community
- the global community.
But audit and plan around these and you miss the whole point. As the inspection framework makes clear, the starting point is understanding the school's identity across three strands: religious, ethnic and socio-economic. By understanding its identity and the identity of its community across these strands the school can begin to shape its provision. Miss this out and you end up with a list of actions related to local, national and global communities that have no firm foundation.
To take an example, Anytown Primary is in a predominantly white, working class area where there are high levels of social deprivation. It carries out its community cohesion audit around the three strands. This confirms that there is little diversity and the few pupils from the largely Eastern European migrant community are picked on in the streets and isolated in school. They stick together and do not mix much with the other pupils. There are two black pupils who speak English well and have friends in school but their families do not tend to mix with the other children's families. The majority of the white British children are described as ‘C of E' but very few local families attend any church. On the other hand, the two black pupils attend a Pentecostal church in the next town and most of the migrant families are strongly Catholic. Knowing this will help the school to identify the provision it should make to support community cohesion. It might decide, for example, to include a curriculum unit on refugees and to celebrate Black History Month; it might adjust its RE curriculum to include a unit on Catholicism and on religion in the community. It might identify links into the migrant community so that cross-cultural events could be organised that will start to bring families together in the safe context of the school, and it might use its VLE to set up links with a culturally diverse school. As this work develops, the school might find that it naturally becomes a more cohesive place, builds better links with more carefully targeted community groups, shares work and cultural activities with its diverse partner school and realises its commitment in linking with a school in the Czech Republic or Malawi.
Community Cohesion starts at knowing who we are and that helps us find out what we need to do to build in our pupils attitudes of respect, tolerance and appreciation of diversity. This diagram sums it up.