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Research report

Teaching, Learning and Community Cohesion: A study of primary and secondary schools’ responses to a new statutory duty

Don Rowe and Nicola Horsley with Tony Thorpe and Tony Breslin

This was inserted into the Education Act 2002 by the Inspection Act 2006 and came into effect in September 2007.  Community cohesion was of considerable concern at this time, following the London bombings of July 7th, 2005 and a series of earlier racial disturbances in a number of towns in the north of England in the spring and early summer of 2001, disturbances that had produced a significant report on the matter (Independent Review Team, 2001). In effect, the legislation overlapped with existing legislation designed to promote positive race relations, remove discrimination of all kinds and maintain respect for human rights. Other policy developments which came about as a result of the London bombings were a large number of projects aimed at preventing violent extremism, some of which focused on schools and colleges, and a National Schools Linking project which grew out of a small-scale Local Authority pilot based in Bradford.

Non-statutory guidance in support of the duty was published jointly by Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCLG/DCSF, 2007). Ofsted began to inspect the duty in September 2008, providing guidance for inspectors and schools which was revised in February 2009 and again in 2010. After the new coalition government came to power in May 2010, it signalled its intention to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools, and in December of that year announced in its first education white paper (Department for Education, 2010) that ‘unnecessary duties, processes, guidance and requirements’ would be removed, ‘so that schools are free to focus on doing what is right for the children and young people in their care’. Some believed that the duty to promote cohesion itself would be removed but the Education Bill 2011, progressing through Parliament at the time of writing, will remove the duty from Ofsted to inspect the duty whilst leaving the duty itself intact.

The research team was keen to find out how teachers in both primary and secondary schools had understood and implemented the new duty. Interviews were conducted with teachers from 27 maintained schools, most of them heads, senior leaders responsible for community cohesion or heads of citizenship/PSHCE. Two focus groups were held, followed by face-to- face interviews with 26 teachers and 3 Local Authority advisers. Schools were mainly based in three local authorities (LAs), one of which was a highly multi-cultural urban authority in the Midlands. The other two LAs were large county authorities, containing conurbations with multi-cultural populations but also with many towns and villages with low ethnic minority populations. Six schools were faith-based, four were Anglican, one was Catholic and one Jewish.