Integration is currently a key focus for public policy and debate. There is some consensus that integrating different communities is perhaps more important than previously recognised, with most now agreeing we should avoid having significant minorities living completely “parallel lives” from the rest of society.
David Cameron has said he wants to end "state multiculturalism,” which he characterizes as the idea that “we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them – indeed encouraging them – to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream."
Ed Miliband made very similar points in his recent speech,1 saying how he’s not comfortable with people living “side-by-side in their own communities, tolerating each other’s backgrounds, but living separate lives.” Miliband picked up on how essential an understanding of English language is, particularly in schools and for the next generation, as part of an overall strategy for integration.
Devising a coherent integration strategy is however is particularly challenging, partly because it affects a very wide range of issues: welfare, housing, healthcare, jobs – and, of course, how schools deal with diversity.
There are two questions in the British Social Attitudes survey that address issues around integration in schools – on English language support and wearing traditional dress.
Looking first at support for additional classes in English language for children, as the chart above shows, there has been very little change in attitudes to this over time – and there is very little difference between generations. In general, people think it’s a good idea, and that support has only softened very slightly in the most recently published survey in 2010. Over seventy percent of each generation support it.
There is a more varied pattern seen in the data from the question on whether those from different cultures should be allowed to wear traditional dress in school. This can be a hugely controversial issue, and, when it is publicly debated, it frequently becomes focused on Muslim dress. It was, for example, brought to attention in the UK in 2006 and 2007 when a pupil lost her appeal against being banned from school for wearing full Islamic dress.
The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, subsequently gave head teachers the right to decide on their own school’s dress policy. Jack Straw also famously got involved in the debate, in the wider context of visitors to his MP’s surgery. He wrote in a local newspaper about how he would prefer Muslim women to remove their veil so he could see their face when talking to them, and later raised concerns about it being a mark of “separation and difference”. He subsequently apologised for the comment in 2010, but in his recently published memoirs he admitted being glad he had raised it, as it was clearly something people wanted to debate.
The British Social Attitudes survey question is very basic and not specific on the type of traditional dress people are considering, so it needs to be interpreted with caution. But the trends and differences between generations are fairly clear. Overall, we’ve seen a fairly marked decline in support for traditional dress in schools, from around half (48%) to a third (33%) between 1983 and the latest available data in 2010.
And this downward trend has applied to all generations. There is also a fairly clear generational ordering, with older generations tending to show lower support – but it is generation Y that stands out. Their level of support is still around the 50% mark, and in the region of 20 percentage points higher than other generations.
Integration of different religious and ethnic communities is currently a key focus for public policy and debate. Do different generations have different views of approaches to integration in schools?
This may reflect the more general individualised view of rights that we see in other generation Y data (the belief that people should decide for themselves), or something more specific to this issue, based on their more recent experience of school. With only a small number of data points, we need to be careful not to read too much into the trends and differences. For example, the data from 2007 (at the height of the debate about the wearing of traditional dress) shows fairly evenly dispersed generations, and it’s only the one point in 2010 where the three older generations again converge, while generation Y stays relatively more supportive. But, still, this issue seems to be an example of generation Y being the outlier, in contrast to many other questions where the pre-war generation stand out as different.
1 Read Ed Miliband's speech here.