Oldham – Bridging Gaps or Creating New Ones?Efforts are being made to end the racial turmoil in the town of Oldham, Greater Manchester, as two of its separatist schools are being brought together under the same umbrella.

Oldham as been subjected to intensified racial disputes for almost a decade now. It has caused an incurable segregation between the Asian and the white communities, and people believe the tension may have adverse effects on students’ education.

Hifza Munir, a year 7 student at the Breeze Hill, has been suffering racism at her school. She describes that it happens both ways, “They don't like us, so then we won't like them.”

“There are a lot of white people who are quite racist - they don't like us Asians,” she adds. “My friends think they're going to be racist towards them because they're Asian and they just don't like them.”

Hifza’s father, Mohammad, dreads that merging the two schools may increase the already present racial tension. “That demonstrates the prejudice within the Asian community, and I'm sure it reflects the prejudices within the white community,” he said.

Oldham’s schools have students from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and the current status of racial turmoil indicates the fear that the present generation is growing up without having respect to the opposite community.

Alun Francis, principal of Oldham College, and the Waterhead Academy’s sponsor, however, believes that the mergence will prove to be effective. He said: “Everything we can do to make this successful we think we either have done or are doing.”

He further stressed that although the authorities will be aiming to improve things, they will at least remain the same if not bettered. “I can't see how we could be accused of taking a risk, because we're not offering anybody anything worse,” says Mr. Francis.

The schools, after the mergence, will be running from their respective school sites for the first two years. They will be, nevertheless, sharing a common uniform, sports facilities and some lessons.

The faculties are also suspicious about the whole concept of bringing two ethnically different schools together. Counthill’s current headmaster, David Lack, says that attempts should be made to bring together ethnically different students together from an early age. He said: “To start with pupils that are 11, 12, 13, 14 years old and to suddenly bring them together in one school when you know there's been the racial tension that there's been in Oldham - it could pay off… but do you experiment with children?”

Despite the unforeseeable danger that hovers over the concerns of several parents and students, there are a few people who are hopeful about the potential of the project.

Charlie Parker, chief executive of the local authority, Oldham Borough Council, says that merging two different schools can be a starting point to solve racism in Oldham. He believes this can be an inspiration for the other communities and schools.

“We do have a whole lot of history that we've got to deal with. But what we're not going to have is a situation where we don't understand the issues, we don't address them, and we don't work within those communities to make sure this is a success,” he says.

Gordon Cowie who lives with his son, Robbie, on a street between the two merging schools, is optimistic about the project and is favouring it.

“It's the unknown isn't it - where children don't know about something then they're a bit nervous about it,” he says. “But once they learn about it - children are children - they just get on don't they?”

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