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Casey: Schools regulation ‘going in the opposite direction’ in fighting segregation

Children are at risk of being segregated in education because of a lack of council oversight, the head of a government review into integration has said.

Dame Louise Casey’s review attracted controversy when it was published in December, arguing that British society has become more segregated by culture and ethnicity aided by “a misguided but well-meaning desire to support and respect cultural differences” in the public sector.

In a Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry yesterday, Dame Louise warned about the danger of children being placed in home schooling and unregistered schools, where they might be unsafe and unlikely to mix with others from different backgrounds.

“It’s going in the opposite direction, and therefore public policy needs to keep up, and I don’t think it is,” she told MPs.

Dame Louise argued that councils “need to be able to have a sense” of how many children are living in their area and how they are being educated, and that a greater level of communication was needed.

She also suggested that the government policy of transferring education powers away from councils towards academies could be encouraging some councils to disengage from education.

“Most local authorities don’t do this, but some do – they say we can’t do anything about education, that’s all academies now, that’s all run out of DoE [Department for Education],” she said.

In addition, Dame Louise called for more youth services, and for all young people to have the opportunity to take part in the National Citizen Service as a way of allowing them to mix with others from different backgrounds.

Rushanara Ali, a Labour MP, asked her if government spending cuts could make it harder to provide these services. For instance, Lancashire County Council has been forced to close libraries and youth services at over 100 sites.

But Dame Louise replied that while funding was a concern, local authorities should look at other organisations to help deliver services.

“We need to be clear that we have to do this, and we’re going to be reliant upon many voluntary groups and community groups and church groups to do it anyway, because that money isn’t going to come back,” she argued.

She also defended her calls for the public sector to do more to tackle extremist views in minority communities: “We have the extreme right wing in our country, which we’re all utterly appalled by.

“And we have Islamist extremism in play, but I’ve felt at points it is easier to talk about one than the other.”

In 2015, Dame Louise conducted the inspection which found that “misplaced political correctness” contributed to Rotherham council’s failure to stop systematic child sexual exploitation. She said she had “a sense” there had been other local authorities with similar problems who “should have asked similar questions”.

‘Juncture’ for trust in officials

In the inquiry yesterday, Dame Louise described the UK as “at a juncture in terms of trust in public office” and that it was “incumbent particularly on local authority members” to reinvigorate standards in public life.

She argued that while she supported the abolition of the Standards Board for England, local government regulation had been “toothless” without it, creating a risk that councillors could continue serving despite holding extreme views or being convicted of offences.

When asked about communities and local government secretary Sajid Javid’s suggestion that public officials should swear an oath of loyalty to British values, Dame Louise claimed that the government should think about the suggestion, and that it would be a symbolic gesture but could help.

Her integration review from 2016 also raised cases of council officials attending community meetings which were segregated by gender. In the inquiry, Dame Louise said that the government should “think it through before making hard and fast rules”, and that sometimes the right thing to do was for officials to refuse to attend these meetings, and in other cases, they should attend and use their position to ask for meetings not to be segregated.

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