In this article, I examine aspects of the community cohesion debate in the UK, with a focus on educational recommendations made by the Community Cohesion Report (chaired by Ted Cantle).

The Domains of Community Cohesion

Community cohesion is closely linked to other concepts such as inclusion and exclusion, social capital and differentiation, community and neighbourhood. In this way it has indirectly been the focus of a number of policies and initiatives aimed principally at reducing social exclusion. The Cantle Report uses the summary of the domains of community cohesion by Forest and Kearns, including the domains of Common values and a civic culture, Social order and social control, Social solidarity and reductions in wealth disparities, Social Networks and Social Capital and finally Place Attachment and Identity.

The domain of common values includes common aims, objectives, moral principles and codes of behaviour.   Support for political institutions and participation in politics.   Social order and control includes the absence of general conflict and threats, the absence of incivility, effective informal social control and tolerance.  Social solidarity and reductions in wealth disparities includes harmonious economic and social development and common standards, the redistribution of public finances and of opportunities, equal access to services and welfare benefits and ready acknowledgement of social obligations and willingness to assist others.   The domain of social networks and capital includes a high degree of social interaction within communities and families, civic engagement and associational activity and easy resolution of collective action problems.   Finally, a strong attachment to place involves an inter-twining of personal and place identity.  According to the report, the simplest observable measure of community cohesion ‘would be of groups who live in a local area getting together to promote or defend some common local interest’ (Forrest and Kearns, 2000:8).[2]  Community cohesion fundamentally depends on people and their values.

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Areas in need of 'Community Cohesion' in the UK

In the outline of themes and proposals, the report is structured under the subheadings of People and values, Political and community leadership, political organisations, strategic partnerships and community involvement, regeneration programmes, initiatives and funding, integration and segregation, the views of, and facilities for younger people, education, the funding and role of community organisations, disadvantaged and disaffected communities, policing, housing, employment, and press and media.   While all of these categories have an important bearing on the community, education is the most relevant to me as a teacher, and therefore, this is the section that I shall focus on. 

Community Cohesion in Education

The Issue of Mono-Faith Schools

Within the domain of education, a problem was posed by the existence of mono-cultural schools, which enhance separation.  The Community Cohesion Report Team (CCRT) believe that all schools owe a responsibility to their pupils to promote, expand and enrich their experience, by developing contacts with other cultures (also set out below), or by ensuring that, as far as possible, they are represented within the school intake. 

The report proposes that all schools – whether faith or non-faith based – should seek to limit their intake from one culture or ethnicity. They should offer, at least 25%, of places to reflect the other cultures or ethnicities within the local area. Despite the fact that the report recognises that it is difficult to discriminate on the grounds of culture or ethnicity (the latter would be subject to legal challenge), yet this seemingly compares to the assimilation model of the 50s, in which no more than 30% of ethnic minority pupils were allowed in one school,  resulting in ‘bussing’. Yet the report does later correctly acknowledge ‘bussing’ as unsatisfactory.  The report acknowledges that even with certain measure within but state and faith based schools,

 ‘some would remain single ethnicity or culture because the area itself reflects this, or because of perceived cultural barriers by parents. One alternative to this in the short term would be the bussing of children but this is unsatisfactory in many more respects. Parents may, of course, opt to travel where standards were high enough, or where there were other positive aspects to attract them. It is also possible that this might be achieved if funding incentives were provided to promote particular schools, possibly as a transitional programme.’[1]

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Community Cohesion in the Curriculum

There is also a need to ensure that the teaching and ethos of each school reflects different cultures within the school and in the wider community. Further, a respect for different faiths and cultures throughout the day to day activities of the school also essential. Despite previous advice to schools on this matter, a rather euro-centric curriculum and pervasive Christian worship (even in schools with few, if any, Christians), is still evident. British history, in particular, should be taught in a way in which young people from ethnic minority backgrounds, feel a sense of belonging and ownership. But, everyone should share and value the historical achievements of all nations and cultures that now make up the United Kingdom. A failure to have a shared history is to condemn some sections of our nation to be forever strangers in their own country. It is understood that the forthcoming CRE report on integration and segregation will make proposals about the curriculum content of teaching in our schools and that should be welcomed.

The main recommendation were that all schools should promote a cross-cultural programme of contact and understanding across schools, and twinning with other cultures within the educational sphere.  Ideally admissions policies should avoid more than 75% of pupils from one culture or ethnic background in multi-cultural areas.   All schools should ensure that, in teaching programmes and their daily activities, they respect the needs of different faith and cultures that make up the school and be inspected to this effect.  Supplementary schools should be funded principally for basic education, such as literacy and incentivised to provide cross cultural programmes. Pre-school programmes can also provide an opportunity for cross-cultural development. A review of FE and HE on an area by area basis should be undertaken to ensure that opportunities are equally available to all sections of the community and that barriers are addressed.   The recruitment of ethnic minority teachers and governors also requires review, as does diversity training for all staff and governors.

It was recommended that the production of a Community Cohesion Strategy should embrace the school citizenship curriculum (a compulsory subject from September 2002), but not limited to it. It should also ensure the active support of parents and embrace the cross-community programmes recommended in relation to schools.[1]