Oldham lives: still parallel or converging?
Press release issued: 26 May 2011
Ten years after the Oldham race riots, academics at the University of Bristol have examined whether ethnic segregation in the town’s schools has changed at all – and the potential impact of initiatives to promote greater integration.
Shortly after the major civil disturbances in Oldham, a town of over 100,000 people that forms part of Greater Manchester, similar riots took place in Bradford and nearby Burnley.
There was a strong ethnic component to the unrest, with confrontations between gangs of white and Asian, largely Pakistani, youths. While the precise triggers of the rioting remain controversial, there is general agreement that a key underlying factor was the polarised nature of schools and communities in the towns.
The research, led by Simon Burgess, Professor of Economics in the University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation, and Dr Rich Harris, Senior Lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences, finds standard statistics of segregation for the largest ethnic groups in Oldham show little evidence of change over the past ten years:
While the precise triggers of the rioting remain controversial, there is general agreement that a key underlying factor was the polarised nature of schools and communities in the towns.
- Over 80 per cent of primary school pupils of Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnicity are in ‘minority white’ schools (defined as schools where at most 20 per cent of the pupils are white British); and over 70 per cent of white pupils are in ‘majority white’ primary schools (schools where at least 80 per cent of the pupils are white British).
- These numbers are lower in secondary schools, in part because there are fewer, larger secondary schools: 60 per cent of Pakistani pupils and 65 per cent of Bangladeshi pupils are in ‘minority white’ secondary schools.
- The data show that since 2002, these fractions have changed little: there are no more white pupils in ‘minority white’ schools nor are there more Pakistani or Bangladeshi pupils in ‘majority white’ schools.
What of the future? The Oldham Academy North opened in September 2010 as part of a broader plan for three new academies in the town. The school describes its ambition as follows: ‘We want pupils from different backgrounds to learn, work and play together? creating greater understanding that can be shared beyond the school community’.
Professor Burgess said: ‘Parents may prefer a mixed, integrated school, but the fact that the school system is so highly segregated means that they are forced to send their children to essentially mono-ethnic schools.
‘If this is the case, the new academy will attract parents from all ethnicities seeking an integrated education for their children.
‘More pessimistically, it could be that there are few mixed schools because no one really wants a mixed school.’
The study’s publication coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Oldham 2001 riots.