To the rest of the world, being British is defined by loving tea and having an unrivaled ability to queue. But recently, the term ‘British values’ has been used as a means to overcome growing racial segregation in the UK.
Last week, the publication of the Casey Review saw the government come under criticism for its failure to promote social integration. During a year-long investigation, commissioned by former Prime Minister David Cameron, Dame Louise Casey discovered that the lack of racial integration is still a big problem in British schools.
As of January 2016, 31.4 per cent of primary and 27.9 per cent secondary pupils are from ethnic minorities. However, 50 per cent of these students are attending schools where ethnic minorities are the majority. These figures suggest that there is a growing need for schemes which promote racial inclusivity within schools.
There is also a limited understanding by students of the ethnic makeup of the nation. Students at one school in England believe that 50-90 per cent of the British population is Asian, a far-cry of the actual figure of 7 per cent. This perceived majority is “even worse in areas with diverse populations,” explains charity worker Angela Eshun, “where white, often working class people consider themselves the minority and feel threatened by this. For example in Barking and Dagenham, 60 per cent of the population are now ethnic minorities.”
@GMB Has it taken the Casey report to confirm what has been obvious for decades? In the 90s I drove though Asian only villages in W.Yorks.
— Carl Madigan (@carl_madigan) December 8, 2016
The review’s recommendation of promoting ‘British values’ has also proven divisive amongst those working with young people. Georgie Everett, a primary school teacher in London comments: “certainly the teaching of ‘British values’, which is now a part of the primary curriculum, has helped me and my colleagues to have more conversations with the children about tolerance and diversity and to counteract any problems with integration if they did arise.”
However, there is much debate and confusion surrounding what exactly constitutes British values. There is also the issue of how these values contribute towards integration.
“There is quite a bit of promoting British values,” states Sue Arnaouti, Deputy Head and designated Safeguarding Lead at a secondary school, “but nothing at all about promoting racial integration.”
Angela Eshun is sceptical of the idea of promoting British values, believing it to be lacking in nuance. She identifies a disparity between the integration of specific ethnic minorities, suggesting that some are more accepted than others. “In terms of (non-Muslim) black minority groups, segregation is not a massive issue in schools, particularly because of the appropriation of black culture is so accepted and commonplace in society.”
Casey report fails to address racism and austerity – the real causes of social division https://t.co/6PNkiXba6G
— maggie oneill (@maggieoneill9) December 7, 2016
Angela goes on to identify another key issue of segregation. “In my opinion racial segregation is at is greatest and most pronounced when intersected with religion.” Due to anti-extremist policies, institutional discrimination against certain religions continues to be rife. Professor in Education at the University of East London, Doctor Mike Cole, similarly references “other forms of non-colour-coded racism which are much more enduring are antisemitism, anti-Irish racism and anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller racism.”
Casey Report has reiterated old info – but the ‘intentions’ are blatantly clear – ‘why can’t these Muslims assimilate?’
— Anjum Anwar (@AuntyG) December 8, 2016
We spoke to a number of teachers following the Casey Review. Georgie Everett teaches at primary level and maintains that she has not witnessed a distinct segregation amongst her pupils. “Friendship groups in my class and across the school are very racially and religiously mixed,” she explains, “perhaps as the children are so young and are less aware of differences between themselves.” Working at what she considers to be a “very integrated” school in London, Georgie also questions how the issue would be solved in schools where it is a problem. “I’m not sure what techniques and policies would be put in place to overcome the issue.”
This suggests a lack of clarity from the government and the Department of Education on how to tackle issues of racial segregation with young people. Sue Arnaouti told us “policies are always written by schools, the Department of Education don’t provide them.” This suggests a confusion surrounding which body should be facilitating integration in schools. Secondary school teach er Geoff Jones said that despite there being numerous policies aimed at promoting social cohesion, not all of the underlying problems are addressed:
The Youth Select Committee revealed “in schools, we found evidence racist taunting is being dismissed as banter.” Bronagh insisted that “we’ve made it clear this is not acceptable, and called on schools to empower teachers by giving them better support so they are able to confidently tackle and report incidents of such behaviour.”
The overwhelming impression amongst the teachers we spoke to is that they are not made wholly aware of racial segregation amongst pupils. Mark Tooms, who teaches Film at secondary school level, believes that teachers are often left unaware of more nuanced racial discrimination. “As a teacher one does what one can, but if problems occur in the study body (like bullying) teachers are usually the last to hear.” Similarly Tracey Morland, who teaches at a Catholic secondary school in Cardiff, says that any segregation is based on age rather than ethnicity, and specifically that their Polish community is successfully integrated with their peers:
The question of how to facilitate this education for young people is being tackled by numerous organisations. The Youth Select Committee has suggested that PSHE lessons should be a compulsory element of the syllabus and would have more success in promoting integration than simply promoting British values. Chair of the Youth Select Committee Bronagh Hughes, 18, told us, “the issues of racism and religious discrimination should form part of the compulsory content of PSHE lessons.”
The Casey Review directly cites specific groups which have been found to have a positive impact on inclusion, confidence and communication. These groups included Scouts, Brownies, Guides, St John’s Ambulance, Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade.
Similarly, Sin Fronteras is an organisation specifically targeted at helping Latin American girls aged 14-21. We spoke to Project Coordinator Illary Valenzuela Oblitas (below), who explained how they help girls. “We talk about the systems, we talk about how to understand the British education system, and how to get a place.”
“They want to talk much more about their experiences without it being taboo or without having to feel like a migrant that is passive that integrates into a British society with culture and values, although we’re very confused about what ‘values’ it holds,” she continues.
One teen helped by their work was Mairi Sanchez, who experienced difficulty enrolling in school upon arriving in London. Hear her interview below:
Examining the public reaction to the Casey Review, it is clear that these issues are unsurprising to many. The problem lies, then, not with exposing the racial segregation, but in how we tackle it moving forward. Particularly, as Georgie identifies, given the current political climate. “Post-Brexit, some people working at my school came across as fairly hostile to immigrants and non-British people, despite there actually being very few in the area.” The concept of ‘British values’, looking at the issue through a post-Brexit lens, actually contributes to the issue rather than tackling it. Championing unidentified values as a means of integration, particularly in young people, could lead to more confusion and deeper-rooted disenfranchisement in our younger generations. Although the Casey Review provides some sobering statistics surrounding the issue, it runs the risk of being resigned to the long list of reports providing the same information.