An analysis by researchers at Bristol University has found that secondary schools in Oldham, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and Luton have the highest levels of segregation between pupils of different ethnic groups.
The research, based on the annual census for schools in England in 2001, used two indices to measure segregation. A ‘dissimilarity index’ ranked the proportion of students in a local education authority area who would have to move school if each school in the area were to have similar proportions of students from each ethnic background. An ‘isolation index’ measured the probability of someone from the same ethnic group being in the same school. Combined, these two indices gave a guide to the level of segregation in any local education authority area.
The study by Simon Burgess and Deborah Wilson of the Leverhulme Centre for Market and Public Organisation found that levels of ethnic segregation are generally high. Nationally, the proportion of Whites in the school-age population is 87 per cent but half of England’s schools are over 97 per cent White. However, the level of segregation varies significantly between different groups and areas. A number of Asian communities outside London seem to have been hardest hit by segregation, notably in Oldham, Blackburn and Bradford.
In these three local authority areas, a system of separate schooling for Whites and Asians is at its most extreme – all three areas qualify as ‘ghettos’ according to a technical measure used by US academics to describe the exclusion of African-Americans. In Bradford, even though 29 per cent of students are from an Asian background, the degree to which they are educated separately from Whites is so high that more than half of them would have to be admitted to schools that are at present disproportionately White, in order to achieve an even representation of groups across the city.
Leicester, which has been held up as a model of community cohesion following the riots in 2001, also ranked poorly on the ‘dissimilarity index’ with similar scores to Bradford and Oldham.
Levels of segregation are higher for Asians than for students with an African or African-Caribbean heritage. But Black pupils are also disproportionately concentrated in certain schools. In an average local education authority, over half of the Black students would have to be admitted to other schools in order to achieve a common representation across the authority’s schools.
The researchers suggest that the introduction of a quasi-market into secondary education, with the Education Reform Act of 1988 and the emphasis on parental choice, have worsened levels of ethnic segregation. Given overlapping catchment areas, school league tables and devolved budgets, there has been greater competition by parents over schooling and some groups have lost out.