An investigation into community cohesion within an inner-city secondary school: Introduction

1.0 Introduction

 

There is an increasing concern in the state of community cohesion within schools in England.  Following the announcement of the Brexit referendum results and recent terrorist attacks in the UK mainland, police recorded over nine hundred hate crimes in or around school and colleges, 71% of which were racially motivated (City Council, 2018; Virdee, 2017; Bulman, 2018; Camden, 2017).

England has experienced unprecedented growth in Black and Global communities over the past sixty years. BGM student population has continued to increase annually in secondary schools in England, with an increase from 29.1% in 2017 to 30.3% in 2018 (DfE, 2018). Despite this, many schools still fail to be culturally inclusive, still adopting a ‘colour-blind’ approach (Lumby, 2016) that directly impacts BAME groups. This is detrimental towards fostering an inclusive environment and constructive community cohesion.  Therefore, it is important for schools to adopt a strategic approach to address the underlying issues related to inclusion and community cohesion (Jones, 2013).

Community cohesion discourse was once a strategic government initiative that was institutionalised through policies and within schools in England, with the aim of integrating host and migrant communities as discussed by Jones, (2013). In 2011, schools’ contribution towards community cohesion was removed from Ofsted assessment framework, however, schools still have the duty to promote the policy (DfE, 2011). With the lack of framework, schools are left in a precarious position, trying to establish cohesive environments in multicultural settings.

Previous research suggests that schools need to intervene and promote a culture of inclusivity and social mixing to develop community cohesion within a school context (Lumby, 2016; Holden, 2013; Morris, 2011; Runnymede, 2018). To date, only a few studies (Rhamie, 2012; Hemming, 2011; Keddie, 2014), have attempted to investigate topics relating to community cohesion within a secondary school context. Therefore, this study offers some important insights into the dynamics of community cohesion in a multicultural inner-city secondary school and aims to contribute towards to this area of research. This dissertation is concerned with how, on a micro-level, schools implement and prioritise local policies related to community cohesion. It also investigates student perceptions regarding community cohesion within the school, with attention paid to pupil interaction and inclusion.

1.1   Research Context and Focus

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The case study site is at Spirit Academy (anonymised name), a secondary school in the North of England. The area has one of the highest levels of social deprivation within the UK, where the number of households who claim benefits is 25% higher than the national average, suggesting low employment rates within the area. The demographics of the surrounding area is predominantly ‘white working-class’. This a social class group used as a descriptor to describe British White people from a working-class area (Tyler, 2015).  The area had a 5% BGM population in 2001 which increased to 14% in the last census in 2011. This is forecasted to increase to 34% in 2021 (City Council, 2018).

In 2017/2018 there was a 61% increase in hate crime, with racially motivated offenses consistently accounting for most of hate crimes recorded (City Council, 2018). Consequently, Hate Crime has been enforced as a strategic priority within the surrounding area of Spirit Academy. During the same timeframe, there was an increased level of migration from Europe and a growth in the BAME learners that now equates to 32.1% in Primary schools and 29.1% in Secondary schools in England (DfE, 2017).  This reflects the trend throughout Europe, where migrants are concentrated in schools with a high level of disadvantaged students (Lumby, 2016). Migrants are often sent to overcrowded, community housing (Finney, 2009) and developing migrant hotspots has become a trend within the UK. This corresponds with Spirit Academy and the surrounding area. During the time of writing, the school was undersubscribed based on the number of students on roll compared to the building capacity. As migrant places are offered, an increase can be seen in the number of migrant students from a range of backgrounds. The school now has a BAME population that is over 35% of the school population which has continued to increase every year.

The primary data will be collected through a case-study. This will be achieved by obtaining the perspectives of students regarding community cohesion within the school and how the SLT facilitates community cohesion within the school. This has been framed using the following research questions;

Q1 What are the perceptions of students regarding community cohesion within the school?

Q2 What is the school’s strategy to support community cohesion?

1.2 Personal Motivation

 

My personal experiences relating to race equality and diversity have led me to a career in education and prompted this research.  Being Black and British, I have had a first-hand account of attending a traditionally white, mono-ethnic inner-city secondary school as a pupil during the multiculturalism era of New Labour and Blair’s government. During this time, there was an absence of understanding of racism and race equality in policy literature, as discussed by Gillborn (2008). Multicultural integration during 1996 – 2001 was a low priority within the school, despite the BAME cohort increasing every year. At the time, the curriculum was exclusively Anglo-centric, with topics relating to identity, cultural similarities and diversity excluded from the curriculum. This contributed towards a toxic racialised environment where pupils did not integrate, misconceptions about various cultures were not challenged and pupils from BAME backgrounds were marginalised. This led to racial tension between the host community and BAME students with little intervention from the school.

With the re-emergence of racial incidents and an overall spike in hate crime, there are still concerns regarding race equality and diversity within our schools. I intend to investigate these issues with the aim to contribute towards the improvement of equality and diversity within schools in the U.K.

1.3 Structure

The overall structure of the dissertation takes the form of six chapters. The introductory chapter first gives a brief overview of the dissertation. Chapter two begins by laying out the theoretical dimensions of the research and investigates the complicated history of migration of different ethnicities into England that has led to the introduction of community cohesion policies. It also addresses government interventions introduced on a macro level that have ultimately impacted schools and learners on a micro level. Chapter three is concerned with the methodology employed in the study, by describing the instrumentation utilized when conducting the interviews and survey design along with emergent themes influencing the analysis. Chapter four analyses the results from the survey and interviews, addressing each research question in turn. Chapter five discusses the principal findings and the implications for future research into community cohesion. The final chapter summarises the research and reflects on the research aims and questions.