The integrated school that could teach a divided town to live together

The Guardian has a detailed report from a school in Oldham which, it says, might show how we can solve conflicts between ethnic groups by forcing them to interact.

A remarkable experiment is taking place at Waterhead academy in Oldham – and the results could change how we fight prejudice.

Radiyah and Olivia live in Oldham and are best friends. They are 12 years old and met on transition day, when primary school students are introduced for the first time to their secondary school. They have been inseparable ever since. Olivia says one thing that binds them together is that they both love the colour purple…

Radiyah and Olivia’s friendship is the happy result of an experiment, although that is not a word anyone is prepared to use. You could say that it is an experiment in racial integration. But it is also a test for one of the most important theories about how to combat bigotry – and the results could change the way politicians in Britain tackle the problem of prejudice…

Until a few years ago, OL4 3NY was the postcode for an abandoned and derelict cotton mill. Now, in its place, stands an impressive red brick and glass structure. The corridors and reception areas are generously laid out, the classrooms pristine, the facilities first-rate. Welcome to Waterhead academy. Ted Cantle calls it “a unique school”. Miles Hewstone likened it to mixing a pint of milk and a pint of Guinness in a quart pot.

The idea for Waterhead goes back to 2007. It was designed to take advantage of the Building Schools for the Future programme, introduced in the last term of the Labour government, which set aside money to construct new buildings for Britain’s secondary schools. For most of the schools that received this funding, the new building or school was intended to symbolise a new educational start. But for Waterhead, it symbolised something more: the academy was created at least in part to bring communities together.

Waterhead was born from two turbulent parents. Breeze Hill was an almost entirely Asian school, Counthill almost entirely white. They both drew from working-class communities. They both had what educationists call “challenges”. Attainment levels were low. Aspirations were low. Both schools had serious disciplinary and drug issues. The idea was that Breeze Hill and Counthill would shut and their students be relocated to the brand new Waterhead academy…..

The merger between Breeze Hill and Counthill was handled with caution. Between 2010 and 2012, the schools continued to operate on separate sites, and the children were brought together for particular classes or activities. The new building was opened for business in September 2012. Like many of her colleagues, one former Breeze Hill science teacher, Faizal Ahmed, who now teaches at Waterhead, was afraid that “there were going to be clashes every single day, there was going to be uproar; we were going to be in the papers.”…

This, then, is a slow, incremental evolution, not an overnight revolution – and one susceptible to setbacks. As for the two girls, will they be best friends for ever? Olivia thinks so, but Radiyah is less convinced. “Maybe not forever, because sometimes she’s really annoying.” Olivia looks momentarily pained. “But I like it that she’s a bit annoying, because I don’t want boring friends.” And with that, they are off down the corridor, nudging each other and giggling.

More at: The integrated school that could teach a divided town to live together


This is a fascinating story with just a short taste given above so do read the full article.

It is perhaps too soon to draw definitive conclusions but there appears to be much to feel positive about in terms of the potential impact of using contact to overcome prejudice.

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Categories: Secondary.


  1. wasateacher

    And yet so many of the ‘free’ schools have a religious bias and nationally there is more and more segregation by ethnicity or religion.  A government policy of divide and rule?

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