Children create cross-cultural harmony

Where's the best place to fight the attitudes of the BNP? Why, in primary schools, of course


The children of Shirley Manor, a primary school in a run-down part of Bradford, an area far-right activists call a powerbase, are stunned. They have just returned from a visit to a school in another part of Bradford, where almost every pupil is Asian. "But actually, they like pizza," the children report. "And they watch television. And one has an Xbox!"

Almost all these children are white British; some of their parents have played a part in the British National party's electoral successes in Bradford. For most of them, it has been their first social interaction with British Muslims. Barriers came tumbling down as representatives of the two schools began to list the things they had in common. Friendships were formed. "When are we meeting them again?" is the question ringing in teachers' ears.

Shirley Manor is one of a host of primary schools across Britain emerging as an unexpected frontline in the fight to stem rising support for the BNP. As battle lines are drawn for local and national elections, schools in areas with BNP councillors, or where BNP candidates are finding support, are taking radical steps to change the hearts and minds of future generations of voters – and their parents.

Predominantly white schools in deprived areas as far apart as Bradford, Solihull and Essex – all regions where the BNP has gained a presence on local councils over the last decade – are initiating programmes of exchange visits with inner-city schools that are predominantly non-white. The visits provide stimulus for public art projects and performances, to which parents are invited, celebrating diversity in Britain and condemning racism.

The action is not nationally co-ordinated. A series of independent schemes have come to life during the current academic term, most aiming for completion before the mooted May elections.

For example, this job advert was found in November on the internet noticeboard artsjobs, for a creative practitioner to work on a project with pupils at a primary school in Solihull, West Midlands: "The school is in an extremely mono-cultural area of high deprivation ... The area has a BNP councillor." The project? To oversee a series of exchange visits with a Birmingham school that is "100% Muslim", then help pupils to create a piece of "outdoor/environmental art or sculpture", to go on public display by May 2010.


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