By Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College
The UK education system is a divided one. It is commonplace for children in the UK to attend schools with homogenous student bodies. It is therefore understandable that British schools are amongst the most socially segregated in the developed world. Once again, this division has come under fire recently, due to the furore over free schools. For many, this division is not a surprise as schools are, and long have been, a reflection and continuation of a wider polarised society. But the tide is beginning to turn. As we become more socially and racially diverse, institutions such as schools will play a crucial role in building bridges across divides, making integration one of the most important contemporary educational debates.
There are many good reasons why young people from all backgrounds should be encouraged to mix more. When people live and learn separately, the networks and relationships which are integral to building a fair and empathetic society, built on trust, are diminished. We stop understanding one another and levels of social equality and mobility drop. Furthermore, pupils spending time with people who are different to them makes for a more holistic learning experience, better preparing all young people for the 21st-century world.
Since opening in 2009, Wellington Academy has been entirely committed to becoming an integrated school, building relationships between students and adults within the wider community as well as various organisations in the local area. Both schools have also focused on providing all pupils with a well-rounded educational experience, encouraging pupils to explore their own unique interests and passions in the creative arts, media and sport with members of their wider community.
One way to tackle the educational divide is to encourage partnerships between the private and state sectors. In a recent report published for the Social Market Foundation, I argue for the development of more relationships between state and private schools which allow both to blossom. As Master of the fee-paying Wellington College, and Executive Head of its sponsored state school, Wellington Academy, I know it is possible to create such a relationship of mutual benefit. Such partnerships are not without their challenges and take time to cultivate; but the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.
Opening up the ambitions of all young people can only occur when they are encouraged to bond with individuals from all walks of life. It is for this reason that I have chosen to be a Commissioner on the Social Integration Commission, which will assess the impact of social division on our economy and society, making practical recommendations across key policy areas, including education. I look forward to being part of this endeavour as it seeks to explore how individuals, institutions, and communities can play their part in building a more united society.
Anthony is one of our Commissioners