social segregation

Intergrating Britain

Today marks one year until Brexit. This time last year the Government triggered Article 50 following a vote to leave the European Union that was overwhelmingly driven by scepticism among voters towards Britain’s current immigration system. While immigration is mostly beneficial to the UK economy, there is some concern that the social impact of immigration may be less beneficial, and this social impact may be causing the scepticism among voters. This concern led to the Government, two weeks ago, publishing its social integration green paper.

The problem

Britain has long been a multicultural country. However, since World War Two the number of immigrants choosing to settle in the UK has increased substantially. The passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act (since  repealed) gave individuals from across the Commonwealth the right to live and work in Britain. While the EU’s freedom of movement allowed all EU citizens the same rights. 

However, the increasing number of immigrants has led to concern that integration and cohesion in British communities is being eroded. Two weeks ago, on March 14, Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced the Government’s new Integrated Communities Strategy green paper.

The green paper drew upon Dame Louise Casey’s independent review into opportunity and integration. Casey’s review exposed the lack of integration, social and economic exclusion, and inequality in British society. Two key factors which contributed to these results were religion, and English proficiency.

Casey’s report found that 760,000 people aged 16+ in England (1.8% of the population) could not speak English well or at all. In addition, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups are underrepresented as compared to other ethnic minorities within the professional workforce, and Muslims had the lowest median hourly income among religious groups.

The cause?

Casey connected the low levels of English speaking to lower levels of employment as well as inequality and harm within British society, the statistic is even worse for women than for men. The Equality Statement for Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper stated that, “English language proficiency is identified to be a diver of integration in the relevant literature - it is a fundamental to social mixing, trust, education and employment potential”.

It is the English factor which has captured the public’s attention. Although the green paper details numerous methods for integration, English has become centre-stage. Perhaps, this is because, as the paper states, “87% of people with English as their main language felt they belonged strongly Great Britain compared to 79% of people without”; therefore, knowledge of the English language both helps foster integration into British society and enables employment.


The Sun newspaper was very critical of the Government following the release of the Green Paper, believing that Casey’s recommendations were ‘watered down’, and became largely ineffective. The Sun claimed that according to Casey, the problem of integration stems from the Government “failing to handle the downside of mass immigration. Instead, segregation along religious and race lines has spiralled and worsened the pull of extremism.” Therefore, the Sun and others from the Right would like to see the original policies proposed to mitigate these problems, such as swearing-in of British values for public office holders, English speaking targets, and a homeschooling council. Perhaps most importantly, the green paper slashed Casey’s recommended £200 million budget to a mere £50 m.

The slashing of the Budget has been denounced on all sides.  Opposition MPs were outraged by the proposal, claiming the Government to be perpetuating their old negative stereotype: “the party of the hostile environment and go home vans”. Specifically, the Opposition became outraged at the emphasis on English as an integration tool given the Coalition Government’s history of cutting funding for English programs by 60% since 2009-10. Claiming, if English is such an important part of British culture, why was the funding cut?

Other criticisms, echoed in a letter written to The Guardian, argued the Government could not ask people to learn English without offering free classes. Unfortunately, with cuts to local government, “funding for free English classes went up in flames.”


Martin Parsons praises the Green Paper’s divergence from Casey’s review on the issue of extremism. Particularly, respecting freedom of religion whilst denouncing extreme terrorist actions-- a line which Casey’s review blurs. This is important as both publications emphasise religious schools and religious practices, such as shari’a law, as obstacles in integration.

On this note of differentiating religion and religious extremism, Chuka Umunna MP, and chair of the Integration All Party Parliamentary Group, praised Sajid Javid for the understanding that “integration is a two way street, and he doesn’t fall into the trap of conflating integration with counter-terror”.


British society has a perceived integration problem, which the Government has identified and attempts to resolve. So far many of the policies suggested by the Government relate to English language courses. However, the Government faces criticism here since the Conservative Party previously presided over cuts to English course funding for migrants during the Coalition Government. The Government has stated that its integration program needs to have the ability to evolve. However, it still remains unclear how the Government will seek to integrate our communities outside of English lessons.

The Government launched an open consultation for the Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, responses to the Green Paper can be submitted here.

Sharon Sethna is a research assistant at Bright Blue


How segregated are English schools?

Last week, parents across England found out which secondary school their children would attend in September.

School admissions really is critical to how socially integrated we are in the UK. The segregation of school pupils – by ethnic or socio-economic background - is a barrier to achieving real social integration.

Increasing social integration is currently a major focus of Government policymaking. In a speech last year, the Prime Minister said: “It cannot be right that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths.” Later this year, the Casey Review will be published, suggesting policies to improve the opportunities and integration of Britain's ethnic minorities.

This piece reviews the evidence for how segregated English schools are and what causes the segregation.

How segregated are English schools?      

The answer to this question depends on which measure of segregation is used: ethnic or socio-economic background.

Ethnic segregation

A 2015 study found that 61% of ethnic minority pupils in England are in primary and secondary schools where ethnic minority pupils are a majority, while 94% of pupils classified as white British are in primary and secondary schools with a white British majority. Although the study does show that, as English school pupils have become more diverse, ethnic segregation in schools has begun to decline.

This data also showed that the level of ethnic diversity in a town is not necessarily associated with the level of ethnic diversity in schools. For example, towns such as Bradford, Birmingham and Oldham have significant levels of ethnic diversity, yet have some of the highest levels of ethnic segregation in their schools.

Socio-economic segregation

Socio-economic segregation in schools is more difficult to measure than ethnic segregation. Nonetheless, a widely publicised 2012 OECD report found that England had some of the most socio-economic segregated schools in the developed world. In contrast, a second study found England to be a mid-ranking country in terms of socio-economic segregation. Countries with high socio-economic segregation include Austria, Belgium, Germany and Hungary, while countries with low socio-economic segregation include the four Nordic countries and Scotland.

What causes segregation?

There are a number of potential causes of school segregation – both in terms of ethnicity and socio-economic background - in England. These include: self-segregation, residential segregation, and selection bias.


In England, parents apply to a shortlist of schools. Self-segregation occurs when parents, consciously or unconsciously, choose schools which contain pupils of similar backgrounds. There is some evidence that this does in fact occur. For example, usually, pupils attend their nearest school. However, this is much less likely to occur, if the nearest school has a different dominant ethnicity to the pupil. This suggests that some parents are choosing to send their children to schools which contain pupils of a similar ethnicity.

There is also some evidence that the ‘choice agenda’ – whereby parents are given increased choice in the destination school of their child – has led to increased segregation. A 2006 Equalities and Human Rights Commission report found that there had been a significant increase in segregation as a result of increased parental choice.

Residential segregation

Around two-thirds of English schools prioritise applications from children who live nearest to the school. The schools population is therefore likely to closely mirror its ‘catchment area’. If residential areas are themselves segregated, then it is likely to that schools too will be segregated.

While residential segregation is almost certainly one of the primary causes of school segregation, it does not account for all segregation. A 2006 report – in line with many other reports – found that school segregation was “substantially and significantly” greater than residential segregation.

Selection bias 

Around 25% of students in England are in schools which give at least some consideration to a child’s ability and/or the recommendation of feeder schools. The profile of such schools vary. Grammar schools, of which there are 164 in England, explicitly select students who are academically excellent. Other students in academically selective schools may attend comprehensive schools. Comprehensive schools that specialise in particular subject areas (including languages, arts, sport, and design and technology) are permitted to select up to 10% of their pupils on aptitude for the relevant subject. Selecting by aptitude may lead to increased segregation because parents of white, middle-class pupils are more likely to apply to selective schools and are more likely to prepare their children to pass the entrance requirements or test.

Schools in England may also select for other criteria. For example, faith schools are permitted to prioritise the admission of students who follow the school’s religion. Clearly, this is likely to cause significant ethnic segregation since religion is closely associated with ethnicity. There is evidence that selective faith schools also cause socio-economic segregation. For instance, around 12% of pupils at state funded primary faith schools are eligible for free school meals compared to just over 16% of all primaries


If the Government is to make real progress in boosting social integration, it will need to focus on reducing school segregation. The evidence shows that there is substantial socio-economic and ethnic school segregation in England. Levels of segregation vary by region. The causes of this segregation are diverse, including: self-segregation, residential segregation and selection bias.