Head to head debate: Is it the duty of schools to promote community cohesion?

Sunday 1 November, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Henry Moore Gallery

Schools now have a legal duty to promote community cohesion. Education Secretary Ed Balls has called on schools to do more in shoring up a sense of unity in a post 7/7 world, arguing they should be key sites for promoting understanding between communities and combating intolerance and religious extremism. The curriculum is seen as the solution. From September 2009 a new strand known as ‘Britishness and Diversity’ is to be added to the remit of Citizenship teaching. Former head teacher Sir Keith Ajegbo, author of the report that inspired Citizenship education, believes teaching ‘core British values’ will help strengthen national identity. Pupils will be encouraged to think critically about issues of race, ethnicity and religion, whether through current affairs, or historical studies of the legacy of the British Empire, for example. Recognising that ‘many indigenous white pupils have negative perceptions of their own identity’, all pupils will be encouraged to explore their own identity through educational programmes such as ‘Who do we think we are?’

Critics reject this increased role for schools in fostering community and social cohesion, and exploring identity. They argue schools are in danger of seeing their primary role being redefined from one of transmission of knowledge to social engineering; they warn against the ‘corruption of the curriculum’. Professor Frank Furedi argues in his new book, Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, that the curriculum has been overloaded with instrumental demands external to education. Academic disciplines are treated with indifference in an attempt to right social wrongs. The danger is that schools will not only be unable to solve what are in effect broader political and social problems, but that their traditional academic-based aims will be degraded in the process as knowledge-based subjects are hollowed out to make way more explicit and instrumental demands. Is it the job of schools to promote community cohesion or should such a task be outside of the remit of teaching?

Sir Keith Ajegbo
education advisor, Department for Children, Schools and Families; chair, School Linking Network

Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What's Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, On Tolerance and Authority: a sociological history

Kevin Rooney
politics teacher and head of social science, Queen's School, Bushey; co-author, Who's Afraid Of The Easter Rising?

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Recommended readings
Wasted: Why Education Isn't Educating

Education is praised for its potential contribution to economic development, as a central instrument for encouraging social inclusion and mobility. Increasingly, the promotion of education has little to do with learning as such.

Frank Furedi, Continuum, 30 September 2009

Guidance on the duty to promote community cohesion

The guidance explains how every school will make an important but different contribution to community cohesion, depending on a range of factors including the nature of the school's population and the location of the school.

Teachernet.gov.uk, 1 October 2008

Schools 'must teach Britishness'

Schools in England should teach 'core British values' alongside cultural diversity, a report says.

BBC News, 25 January 2007

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