Department for Education research supports mixed schools over segregated schools

3 August, 2017

Pupils in ethnically mixed schools are more trusting and have more positive views of children from different backgrounds than do pupils in segregated schools, new Department for Education-commissioned research has revealed. Humanists UK has stated that the findings represent a further blow to Government plans to increase religious selection in the school admissions system.

The study, which examined the contact between young people from White-British and Asian-British pupils at secondary schools in Oldham, sought to assess the extent to which mixing in school can ‘improve both attitudes towards outgroups and intergroup relations.’ Researchers found that:

  • ‘Attitudes were more positive and, as would be expected, mixing was more frequent in mixed than segregated schools’.
  • ‘Mixed schools do result in more social mixing between ethnic groups over time, and mixing is reliably associated with more positive views of the outgroup.’
  • ‘Attitudes of pupils who mix with other backgrounds were more positive compared to those who remain with their own ethnicities.’

In addition, the study examined the outcomes of a merger of two ethnically segregated schools into a single mixed school, finding that ‘over a four-year period, intergroup anxiety significant decreased, and liking and outgroup contact significantly increased for both Asian-British and White British pupils.’  

Oldham was previously one of a number of northern towns in which racially motivated riots broke out in the summer of 2001, with many reports noting at the time that the ethnic divisions between schools were a key cause of the violence. The Cantle Report, the main report into the riots, which was commissioned by the Home Office, noted that riots were particularly prominent in areas where schools were ‘operating discriminatory policies where religious affiliations protect cultural and ethnic divisions.’

The findings represent yet another blow to the Government’s proposals to remove the current 50% cap on religious selection at free schools and once again allow new religious schools to become entirely segregated in their intake. Evidence previously published by Humanists UK using official Government data found that religious free schools subject to the cap were significantly more ethnically diverse than schools which selected all of their places on the basis of religion. For instance, at Christian free schools opened under the cap, 18% of pupils are from Asian backgrounds, while at Christian schools that are fully religiously selective, just 5% of pupils are from Asian backgrounds.     

Responding to the findings of this latest report, a Government spokesperson said, ‘Schools have a vital role in encouraging integration and teaching pupils about tolerance and respect for all faiths and communities. We will consider the findings of this report and how we can use them to better support schools’.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘This situation is now beyond a farce. The Government is proposing to usher in a significant expansion of religious and ethnic segregation in the education system, and yet has just published a report demonstrating that mixed schools overwhelmingly outperform segregated schools in driving mutual understanding and social cohesion. If the Education Secretary is as committed to evidence-based policy as we have been led to believe, this report must surely represent the last nail in the coffin for what was always an entirely counterproductive and incredibly dangerous proposal.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read the full DfE report Diversity and social cohesion in mixed and segregated schools in Oldham:

Read Humanists UK’s research on ethnic diversity at religious free schools:

Read Humanists UK’s previous news item ‘New evidence shous Government proposal to allow 100% religious selection in schools will lead to increased segregation’:

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At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and campaigning work, we’re committed to creating a fair and equal society for all.

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