Integration of Muslim pupils into our schools is more important than ever in the wake of the horrific multiple attacks in Paris. Having lived and taught in France I understand the problems there. In fact the whole reason I work to break barriers and help children achieve their full potential now is because of my experiences of teaching in a school in Clichy, close to a very deprived enclave – which the French call a cité, but which we in the UK would know as a ghetto.
These places are grim, deprived housing estates, largely ignored by the French authorities and completely separate from the communities of which they should be a part. Integration is non-existent which makes life very difficult for those living there.
We simply can’t let this happen in the UK. There is already some training to help schools handle this difficult subject -including of course their new statutory ‘Prevent’ duties to protect those vulnerable to radicalisation, extremism or being drawn into terrorism.
But I believe teachers also have a vital role to play in putting the events into context. It is important to remember that Muslims were among the Paris victims too. Many Muslims were dreading going back to school after these latest atrocities.
Whatever the political reasoning over the levels and conditions under which we welcome new arrivals to this country, I am absolutely clear about one thing – once people are here it’s our clear responsibility to ensure they are properly integrated into British society. If we fail to ensure immigrant children and their families are properly integrated into our schools and communities, then we will create terrible lives for them and problems for our society because those living hopeless lives are most vulnerable to radicalisation.
According to the Government’s Youth Justice Board in its report Preventing Religious Radicalisation and Violent Extremism “some young Muslims choose to adopt a radical religious identity which can be the outcome of an earlier ‘identity crisis’ or ‘identity confusion’ in attempting to reconcile the potential conflicts of being at odds with what the first generation perceives as a ‘Muslim identity’ while feeling that they are not accepted or do not belong to wider British society”.
Let’s pull together and ensure that Muslim children truly feel a part of our society. When the schools tell us that they have young people who are not in a place where they can take part in school life or access the community it’s usually because of language barriers. Much of the ‘bad’ behaviour reported is down to the fact that a young person with no English simply doesn’t understand what is going on, nor what is expected of them in school and their community.
Our priority is always to get language skills moving straight away. We also work to ensure school pupils understand what is expected of them culturally.
I truly believe integration can overcome these problems. Immigrants are generally very aspirational young people and they have a great part to play in our society. Mix everyone together and you will get the best of everything, making for a stronger society overall.